The fault lies with plummeting births



July 19, 2011

Abbotsford Times, April 13, 2011: A recent letter by James Breckenridge (‘The fault lies in ourselves . . .’, Times March 25) expressing his chagrin at citizen’s demands for ever increasing government funds, bemoans saddling our children (and grandchildren) with the massive debts we have incurred in the process.

These two things are both connected to a serious problem in Canada (and, indeed, many parts of the world) of which many are unaware, namely our demographic decline due to plummeting birth rates.

While it is true that the world’s population is increasing (due mostly to improvements in healthcare) the number of children in the world is in serious decline. To avoid population loss, couples in modern societies must have about 2.1 children yet in about 70 countries today birth rates are far below this. What are the economic consequences of this? Consider Japan, which has experienced sub-replacement fertility rates (1.2 – 1.3 children / woman) and a declining population for the last 50 years. Japan is poised to become what demographers call a “4-2-1 society. It’s a family in which one child supports two parents and four grandparents. In a country with a public debt more than twice the GDP, what do you suppose will happen when the ratio of working aged to elderly drops to 1.3 : 1.0 as is projected to occur by 2055?

Canada, like Japan, is undergoing a significant demographic transition with an aging population and a slowing of the rate of growth in the labour force. A recent (2006) Senate committee investigating this issue can be summarized in the following key points: 1. Canada’s birth rate is 40 per cent below the level required to avoid population loss.

2. The fraction of the population older than 65 is expected to double by 2031.

3. So too is the ratio of the working aged to retirees.

4. Consequently the fraction of our GDP spent on Old Age Security and Healthcare is expected to roughly double by 2040. But I’m sure that the ever shrivelling pool of Canadian youngsters circa 2040 would love to stick around and pick up the cheque for this extra spending, not to mention to cover our obligations to the national debt. No one will think of emigration. Right?

We’ve been hearing a great deal of “families first” in B.C. these days. I would suggest that our governments should also adopt policies that encourage people to have families in the first place.

Wes Zandberg,


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