Elderly folks now outnumber children younger than 5 for first time ever
What does this mean for economies?
- For the first time in recorded history, there are more over-65s than under-5s.
- Aging populations worry economists that certain countries will undergo profound financial stress.
- Yet the current distribution of resources does not allow for further population explosion.
In 1979, the Chinese government decided to implement its infamous one-child policy, which was actually a revision of the nation's two-child policy. Beginning in the '50s, China installed safeguards to protect against an unsustainable and booming population. Most Americans — especially those who believe bearing children is a duty mandated by God — frowned upon any state that would negatively impact fertility rates; their agenda is to legislate in the opposite direction. The Chinese government, however, believed it to be an economic imperative.
Today, the population of China is approaching 1.4 billion. While some scholars believe the country's one-child policy resulted in 400 million fewer births, others claim that it was useless. Regardless, in 2013 officials noticed a worrying trend: the increasing aging populace was not being replaced fast enough. In 2018, they relaxed the policy. Ironically, China recorded 15.2 million births that year, the lowest level in over 60 years.
China isn't the only nation experiencing a replacement problem. According to the United Nations, as of late 2018 there are, for the first time in recorded history, more over-65s on the planet that under-5s — 705 million seniors to 680 million infants.
As the chart above details, all nations are not experiencing declines at the same rate. For global population rates to sustain and grow, each woman needs to produce 2.1 children over the course of her lifetime. In 1960, women worldwide averaged 5 births; 50 years later that number dropped to 2.4.
The country with the highest fertility rate: Niger, with 7.2 births per woman. At the other extreme sits Japan. With an average life expectancy rate of 84 years and boasting 27 percent of the population over 65, the country leads the world in both measures. To combat the upcoming economic stress, the Japanese government recently announced a five-year increase to the retirement age, which is now 70 (also the highest in the world).
The reasons for this decline in birth rates — and the Japanese are not alone in this — often point to millennial dissatisfaction with sex and smartphone addiction, which are both factors. Yet they're not the only ones. Widespread availability of pornography has been cited for helping move social skills from public spaces to virtual and augmented realities; hook-up culture fostered by dating apps; and more women in the workforce are all important factors.
Economic insecurity also plays a major role. There is no shortage of CEOs willing to exploit this fact. The Japanese have a word for it — karoshi — which means "death by overwork." Employers manipulate their workforce by offering fewer benefits and no overtime, ensuring the fear of losing their job always lurks. In China, Jack Ma, co-founder and executive chairman of the Alibaba Group, recently endorsed a 12 hours a day, six days a week schedule. He thinks his countrymen should take pride in their overworked and undersexed positions. Ma's net worth is $39.9 billion.
Most humans will never have such financial luxury. A billionaire "paying tribute" to a 72-hour work week shouldn't surprise us — it's the ultimate dangling carrot and part of the reason one acquires such wealth in the first place. Yet such a mentality does not bode well if you're rooting for population increase. It's hard to imagine raising a family when you have the stress of potential unemployment hanging over you every day.
While the economic perils of an aging population are often discussed when reading over such data, less questioned is a parallel issue: How do we deal with a world with too many humans?
We've been evolving for millions of years. As a convenient starting point, in year 1 of the common era there were 200 million humans on the planet. It took an entire millennia to add 75 million more. We don't actually achieve 1 billion until 1804; a century later, 1.6 billion. This was in important century, with the first medically implemented use of vaccines and the introduction of germ theory into hospitals changing our understanding of medicine. Something was shifting.
In 1950, we're at 2.8 billion. By now, the Industrial Revolution is turning into the Technological Revolution. Medicine, though not without its problems, has vastly improved. Let's jump ahead to Prince's year, 1999, as we've doubled the human population over the last half-century, to 6 billion. Within a quarter century more we'll hit eight billion.
This hockey stick graph of population increase has a correlate in medicine: cancer. What we treat as the biological victory of the species is the leading factor in our unraveling. Nobody likes to treat humans as data points on distribution graphs, but that does not change the fact that we're overtaxing the planet's resources at unsustainable rates. The economic consequences of an aging planet pale in comparison to a planet that cannot provide for our voracious appetites.
This doesn't have to be a doomsday story, though if we continue to exploit finite resources in the current manner, there's no other choice. Humans are terribly reactive and never quite proactive enough; a serious population decline might be required for course correction.
Unfortunately for the under-5s, they're going to have to brunt this fallout, a reality that has led some to speculate on whether having children in an era of climate crisis is even worthwhile. The gut reaction is "yes," but sadly emotions are in part what got us here to begin with: we simply feel we're above it all. In the future, stronger minds must prevail.
Step inside the unlikely friendship of a former ACLU president and an ultra-conservative Supreme Court Justice.
- Former president of the ACLU Nadine Strossen and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia were unlikely friends. They debated each other at events all over the world, and because of that developed a deep and rewarding friendship – despite their immense differences.
- Scalia, a famous conservative, was invited to circles that were not his "home territory", such as the ACLU, to debate his views. Here, Strossen expresses her gratitude and respect for his commitment to the exchange of ideas.
- "It's really sad that people seem to think that if you disagree with somebody on some issues you can't be mutually respectful, you can't enjoy each other's company, you can't learn from each other and grow in yourself," says Strossen.
- The opinions expressed in this video do not necessarily reflect the views of the Charles Koch Foundation, which encourages the expression of diverse viewpoints within a culture of civil discourse and mutual respect.
Learn how to redesign your job for maximum reward.
- Broaching the question "What is my purpose?" is daunting – it's a grandiose idea, but research can make it a little more approachable if work is where you find your meaning. It turns out you can redesign your job to have maximum purpose.
- There are 3 ways people find meaning at work, what Aaron Hurst calls the three elevations of impact. About a third of the population finds meaning at an individual level, from seeing the direct impact of their work on other people. Another third of people find their purpose at an organizational level. And the last third of people find meaning at a social level.
- "What's interesting about these three elevations of impact is they enable us to find meaning in any job if we approach it the right way. And it shows how accessible purpose can be when we take responsibility for it in our work," says Hurst.
Erik Verlinde has been compared to Einstein for completely rethinking the nature of gravity.
- The Dutch physicist Erik Verlinde's hypothesis describes gravity as an "emergent" force not fundamental.
- The scientist thinks his ideas describe the universe better than existing models, without resorting to "dark matter".
- While some question his previous papers, Verlinde is reworking his ideas as a full-fledged theory.
TuSimple, an autonomous trucking company, has also engaged in test programs with the United States Postal Service and Amazon.
PAUL RATJE / Contributor
- This week, UPS announced that it's working with autonomous trucking startup TuSimple on a pilot project to deliver cargo in Arizona using self-driving trucks.
- UPS has also acquired a minority stake in TuSimple.
- TuSimple hopes its trucks will be fully autonomous — without a human driver — by late 2020, though regulatory questions remain.