Walking in a Demographic Winter Wonderland

How Population Change Will Transform Our World Sarah HarperOxford University Press, 2016; 160 pages, $24.95 Throughout the last 40-plus years of the no-fault divorce revolution, observers have noticed a phenomenon aptly labeled “divorce happy talk.” This is an attempt by adults to overcome the initial distress we might feel about the spike in divorces, based on our intuitive sense that divorce is hard on spouses and, particularly, on children affected by the decision. The happy talk is a way of changing the subject by proposing a counterintuitive “bright side”: children are resilient; divorced parents will be happier, and happy parents lead to happy children; the problem is fighting, not divorce, so as long as the parents are mature and friendly, there will be no significant ramifications.  It rings hollow, of course, but the ideological investment in choice guarantees it will continue. Though it is certainly not didactic, How Population Change Will Transform the World engages in some demographic happy talk, perhaps for the same reason. Many of the causes that have led to the changes it chronicles are supported, enthusiastically, in large swaths of the academy and government, so there is an incentive to downplay possible problems. The basic idea—more and more countries do not have enough children to replace the adults who are dying, and nearly all are moving in that direction—is familiar. The strength of the book is its broad look at international trends and its exhaustively chronicled description of them. The book sets out to explain “an unprecedented change in [the world’s] age composition.” It explains that “advanced economies” are facing an increasing percentage of older adults; “emerging economies” are characterized by a large percentage of young and middle-aged adults, with smaller percentages of children and the elderly (for now); and only the “least developed economies” have large percentages of children.&
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