A New Take on the Population Bomb

September 6, 2018The Topic: A New Take on the Population BombThe News Story: South Korea’s Fertility Rate Set to Hit Record Low of 0.96The New Research: The European Welfare State—Strained by Infertility In 1968, American biologist Paul Erlich published his highly controversial The Population Bomb, in which he predicted that in the coming decades, “overpopulation” would bring about global famines, climate change, and a host of other ills. Fifty years later, even Erlich himself admits that several of his predictions have not come true. The latest evidence of such miscalculations comes out of South Korea, where experts estimate that fertility will hit a global low of 0.96—well below the required replacement level of 2.1. The Guardian reports that this decline will set “the country up for a host of problems including underfunded pensions, expanding debt and economic decline,” also observing that “such a low fertility rate is normally only seen during wartime.” The story blames South Korea’s patriarchal society, as well as the rising age of first marriage. Government efforts such as “free childcare until the age of five, cash payouts to pregnant women and supporting youth clubs” have had little effect. In Europe, researchers take their cues from the countries of Asia to discuss what such plummeting fertility will mean for their continent’s strapped welfare states.  (Source: Benjamin Haas, “South Korea's fertility rate set to hit record low of 0.96,” The Guardian, September 3, 2018) The New Research: The European Welfare State—Strained by Infertility When European policymakers designed their welfare states in the decades after World War II, they assumed that female citizens would bear enough children to maintain a viable balance between the financially dependent old and the financially productive young. But the dramatic retreat from childbearing in recent decades is rapidly creating an im
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