MCDB 150: Global Problems of Population Growth

Lecture 11

 - Low Fertility in Developed Countries (Guest Lecture by Michael Teitelbaum)


Concerns about low fertility have been present in many countries for at least 100 years. A large population was considered essential to national power. But the issue is never simply a shortage of warm bodies: overall the world population has increased dramatically over this period and untold numbers would immigrate, if allowed. The issue is the number of the ‘right sort’ of people, defined as those having preferred national, religious, racial, ethnic, or language characteristics. Fertility levels are below replacement in many economically advanced countries. As a result, these countries are aging; medical and retirement costs are increasing. Countries must either raise fertility, accept immigrants, or adapt to a smaller, older population. Policies to raise fertility have not been very effective, except in severe dictatorships. To keep the ratio of working age people to dependents constant, hundreds of millions of immigrants would be required such that 70-80% of the population of receiving countries would be immigrants and their children. Adaptation is probably best, but the required changes (raise retirement age, tax the pension benefits of the wealthy, etc.) are politically difficult.

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Global Problems of Population Growth

MCDB 150 - Lecture 11 - Low Fertility in Developed Countries (Guest Lecture by Michael Teitelbaum)

Chapter 1. Introduction [00:00:00]

Professor Robert Wyman: Today we have our first guest lecturer. I have the pleasure of introducing you to Dr. Michael Teitelbaum. He was an undergraduate at Reed College where he double majored in biology and sociology; that’s an interesting combination, he’s Phi Beta Kappa and at the end of that became a Rhodes scholar. How many prospective Rhodes scholars do we have in the class? Then he went to Oxford as a biologist to study reproductive biology and his advisor died.

Dr. Michael Teitelbaum: Well first he was paralyzed for–he died a horrible slow death, yes.

Professor Robert Wyman: Something bad happened.

Dr. Michael Teitelbaum: Something terrible happened.

Professor Robert Wyman: Then got into the statistical and quantitative aspects of that and then eventually he got a PhD in demography itself, and since then he’s come back to America and he’s taught at Oxford, and Princeton, and here at Yale. Unlike most academics, he actually ventured into the real world, although I’m not sure some of these are really like the real world, like the U.S. Government.

Dr. Michael Titlebaum: Yeah, somewhat unreal.

Professor Robert Wyman: He was the staff director of a Select Committee on Population for the U.S. House of Representatives and then was U.S. Commissioner for the Study of International Migration and Cooperative Economic Development, so that’s pretty important. He’s been with the Ford Foundation, The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and he’s now with The Alfred Sloan Foundation where he’s been vice president and in charge of science and technology programs.

He’s been on the advisory boards at National Academy Sciences, National Institutes of Health, American Association for the Advancement of Science. He’s authored seven books, but I could only find four: one, two, three, four. So in addition to your reading packet, which I hope you all picked up–this is just your reading for tonight. In addition to–this is half his books–five major government reports, 75 articles, etc. One of his major contributions is what we’ve–one of the topics we’ve just been–just finished discussing, he wrote–I think I mentioned this to you during the lecture that part of the Princeton project on Britain, the book on the British fertility decline, there’s the author. And The Times Higher Education Supplement, wrote on that book: “An unsurpassed profusion of original data presented and analyzed with clarity all too often lacking in works of this kind. The book is invaluable; it clarifies and orders the complex rang of forces, which underlay the modern decline in rates of fertility.”

He’s also worked on global environmental issues and population and resources, he wrote this, an environmental book, is one of the best investigations. So, you have the honor, not only the lecture today, but he’s agreed to come to dinner and all the students are invited. It’s going to be at Timothy Dwight starting at 5:30 and I know you have other things. If you can’t–we’ll probably have a leisurely–casual leisurely dinner, so if you can’t get there at 5:30, come when you can–or if you have something else afterwards, come and go. At TD. There’s some sort of a small dining room as you leave–as you come around.

Okay in the last lecture we discussed the fertility declines in Europe and Tuesday we discussed how this fertility decline–started discussing–has continued in Europe and spread around the world. I showed you a graph of the decline in fertility rates globally. In the developed countries–so in the world as a whole, as you’ve been told, the fertility decline has not been enough to keep the population from still going up very rapidly, we discussed that, but in Europe, Japan, the advanced countries, the fertility decline has caused the population to come down enough, and these countries are now facing rather serious problems of a decline, a possible decline, in their population, certainly a change in behavior structure and this is what Michael is an expert on and so that is what he will discuss today as soon as I shut up.

Dr. Michael Teitelbaum: Well thank you very much Dr. Wyman and it’s a pleasure to be here. I just want to say, you’re a very lucky bunch of undergraduates to have Robert Wyman as your professor. He’s a–I’ve heard him lecture and I know him and he’s a wonderful academic and scholar. Going through that list of–

Professor Robert Wyman: We give each other $100 tip.

Dr. Michael Teitelbaum: Going through that list of publications makes me realize why my wife has been so annoyed with me for the 40 years nearly that we’ve been married, because a lot of that work has had to be done when I wasn’t an academic and that means it comes out of your hide or out of your summer holidays, or weekends, or evenings, but it’s interesting, exciting, and wonderful to do, and I’ve enjoyed doing it.

I know that you have been discussing–because I’ve seen your prospectus for this excellent course. I know you’ve been discussing high fertility rates and the demographic transition and you know therefore that high fertility has attracted a great deal of attention for at least two centuries and has always been related to poverty issues, concerns about poverty, underdevelopment, developing countries and so on, or poverty back in the 1800s when Malthus was writing, and also related to concerns about the environment and so on.

Chapter 2. Low Fertility [00:06:34]

What is less known though is that, for at least 100 years of those two centuries, there’s been discussion about low fertility as a problem as well. This has a long and, I would say, tumultuous history, lots of proponents worrying about it, often very prominent people in politics or science. I would say the debates have been plagued by misunderstanding and confusion as have the debates about high fertility, so there’s something about population that stimulates misunderstanding and confusion. Now in general, low fertility has been linked to a decline in power.

You have to think about this in political and economic terms. National power, empires, the decline of empires and so on, but the links have been made, but it’s often very fuzzy as to what the causal flow is. Is the low fertility a cause of the decline of empires or decline of national power, or is it a symptom? Often the commentators don’t make it very clear what they’re talking about. Those of you who know the French debates about these issues will know that it’s a very prominent feature of French intellectual discourse going back into the 1870s, for example.

The French are hardly alone in this. You will find many such anxieties expressed in Germany in the 1930s, in Great Britain, Sweden, U.S., Russia, etc. More recently, let’s say over the past four decades or so, in Eastern Europe, in Japan, in the U.S. certainly, and in the Asian Tigers most recently: Singapore, Taiwan, and Korea. Because it’s about power, national power, or sub-national power low fertility has long been closely tied to political ideology and to cultural values. In some cases, low fertility has even been used as a tool to achieve desired social policies.

I want to make one point, that I hope you’ll take away from this, which is that the concern about low fertility has never, ever, been solely about the number of warm bodies, human being warm bodies that is, but instead it’s been visualized through the lens of these sociocultural values. The reason I say it’s never been about warm bodies can be illustrated there, because if what I said is not true there really could never have been any concern about fertility since at least 1950.

The world’s population, as you see, has grown dramatically over that half century and neither could there be any concern about future population demographic trends because the projections no matter which variant you take from the UN all show substantial growth going forward. In reality, the fears about low fertility are also framed in terms of regional or national, or religious, or ethnic or sub-national populations defined culturally. I would put it rather crudely, if I may, that since the onset of mortality decline which you’ve heard about already, at least two centuries ago, there have never been any shortages of humans. There have only been perceived or relative shortages of particular kinds of humans.

The most critical category is national groups in these discussions and then you can get into language, or religion, or the other subgroups. To give you an example of this I just want to point out that when he was Mayor of Paris, the later President of the Republic of France, Jacques Chirac, he warned about the decline in the population of France. This is consistent with French perspectives that right to left, all French people think that there are two few French people and yet at the same time he urged the repatriation of Arab immigrants and the restriction of future immigration. I mean now that classically shows you that it’s not about the number of warm bodies; it’s about the number of French warm bodies in France.

There is no ideological uniformity in these things. I’ve already said that in France the range of concerns is right from the left to the right, right across political spectrum. Democratic thinkers of what you might call liberal in the U.S., or left wing in Europe say, and of conservative orientations, have all expressed concern about this in one form or another.

Those are democratic thinkers, non-democrats such as the nationalist right in inter-war Germany and Italy, and nationalists parties such as the Front National in France and other European countries have expressed such concerns, as have the authoritarian lefts of Stalin and Nicolea Ceausescu in Romania. There’s a whole story about Romania which I’ve written about. If you want to see a bizarre situation read about what the Romanian government did in the 1960s.

On the political right, low fertility has generally been seen as a threat to national power, imperial power, or from the point of some with a more economics orientation, to the capacity to restrain wages and the power of unions. Many on the right have also expressed alarm about fertility differentials between social classes and races, ethnic groups and so forth, but frankly such concerns are subliminal but there in other political persuasions than the right. Meanwhile, as I said, the political left has often shared these nationalistic and strategic concerns.

In the 1930s, Hitler’s Germany adopted very aggressive pronatalist policies to raise fertility in Germany but so did Stalin’s USSR, same time, same place or different places same time, same policies in many ways. Then there were the socialist states, I mentioned Ceausescu, had a very strong pronatalist policy, but in the meantime the People’s Republic of China went from pronatalism to strongly antinatalist, probably the most energetic fertility reduction policy in world history, same country, same party in control – taking population very significantly.

Now, in the West, the democratic left has concentrated generally on the threat posed by low fertility to their desires to expand and strengthen the welfare state, and in fact, if you look at in 1930s you’ll see a fascinating debate led by the Myrdal’s (prominent economists, Nobel laureates later of the left in Sweden) who promoted what came to be called the welfare state to the conservative parties in Sweden on the grounds that they needed to do something to raise fertility and that was the way to do it. If they didn’t raise fertility, there would be no Swedes left in 50 years or so, and they actually co-opted the right successfully into supporting the welfare state that they promoted.

Chapter 3. Demographers and Low Fertility [00:14:43]

What about demographers? Have they been involved in this stuff? Yes, they have including some very prominent ones. One reason for this was the discovery, the development in the 1930s by demographers of some very powerful concepts and techniques. I don’t know if you’ve actually studied yet the intrinsic rate of increase, net reproduction rate, total fertility rate, and demographic projection models. All of these being developed–technologies developed in the 1930s and these led to predictions from demographers that the population of the United Kingdom, for example from the 1930s to the 1960s, would decline very sharply and there were some very pathetic novels and academic books written with titles like Twilight of Parenthood, Race Suicide, and other such tomes. That forecast, using demographic projection models, that there would be too few whatever’s, of the relevant group.

Now in some respects these were flawed predictions, obviously. It didn’t happen, and they arose from misunderstanding because these were new technologies that had only recently been understood and developed and there was a typical excess of enthusiasm, academic enthusiasm, they really thought they had developed a window into the distant future. They could project the population using intrinsic rates of increase and projection models and they could see 50 years into the future. They thought. They were wrong. All of those projections proved to be empirically wrong.

We know better now because we’ve seen they were wrong. It helps to actually see things go so badly wrong, but these same errors of believing demographic projections to be forecasts of future populations are being made right now as we speak, mostly by non-demographers. Demographers have all learned they can’t believe projections as predictions. Non-demographers haven’t learned that lesson or don’t want to learn that lesson, and they use these projections to forecast decline of the West, and decline of the Soviet Union, decline of Russia, decline of Italy, whatever category they want to talk about.

What about–I said there were a few very distinguished demographers who also did this? Yes, the most prominent was the great French demographer Alfred Sauvy, a very distinguished man indeed, probably the dean of French demographers. He did this kind of relationship of low fertility equals decline for most of his professional career, for 40 years basically.

Let me just list for you some of the events in history that he attributed to fertility rates being too low. He said the decadence of ancient Athens and then of Rome, item one. The failure of France to industrialize, the decline of the French Navy in the nineteenth century, the collapse of the French army before the Germans in 1940. He used very evocative language. He said, for example, “The terrible failure of 1940, more moral than material, must be linked in part to this dangerous sclerosis resulting from low birthrates. We saw all too often during the occupation,” German occupation, “old men leaning wearily towards the servile solution. At the time that the young,” that’s the resistance, “were taking part in the national impulse towards independence and liberty. This crucial effect of our senility, is it not a grave warning? Depopulation for France carries with it, fatally, a general legacy of decadence.” You see how powerful the rhetoric can be in this area.

I do not want you to get the impression that demographers shared these lifelong concern about fertility being too low, to the contrary, they were not widely shared among demographers after all the gloomy forecasts of the 1930s proved to be wrong. The past is one of confusion and anxiety. What about the future? I’d say it’s likely to be a future of great unpredictability. The truth is that currently we are in a period of low fertility rates that are without precedent in their lowness, if you will, their smallness and without precedent in how widespread they have become around the world.

Having no precedent we actually lack any way of knowing if they will continue at these very low levels, if they’ll rise somewhat, perhaps even above the magic 2.11 replacement level, or could they decline further to levels such as the league table [of country rankings] leaders with low fertility which would be surprisingly enough Italy, Spain, Hong Kong. We don’t know. Anybody who tells you they know, you should not believe, they have no way of knowing.

We do know that the very low fertility of 1930s was short lived but then was followed by a substantial baby boom in some countries that had low fertility in the 1930s and not in others. All I can say to you is why don’t you all come back for your fiftieth reunion at Yale in 50 years and we’ll have a talk about whether fertility rates stayed very low, went lower, or rose in these countries that were very low. That’s the only way we’re ever going to know. This graph will surely be wrong as a prediction, I will predict that.

There’s an irony here, we have moved from a society in which 90% of women have no effective control over their fertility to a society in which 90% of women do have effective control of their fertility, rational control of their fertility. The result is that analysts, demographers and you, are less able to rationally anticipate what they will collectively do now that they individually, rationally have control over their fertility. A very wide range of population projections is plausible, that’s just a narrow range compared to some you could do if you wanted to make–these are quite conservative assumptions on the high side and the low side.

Under these kinds of conditions of really profound uncertainty, can we offer any cautious interpretations of historical experience that might provide us with some kind of insight into the future? Well I’ll offer a few and you can shoot me down if you would like to do so. First, I think it’s nearly inevitable that we’ll see populations with much older age structures, much older age compositions then those of the past. That’s the consequence of low fertility. Of course if there’s a nuclear catastrophe or some other catastrophe all bets are off. None of these projections or future looks can assume catastrophe.

The only way to return to the youthful age structures of the past would be to have very substantial fertility increases to those of the past and to sustain those very high fertility rates. This in turn would apply–would imply rapid population, increase ad infinitum. I think most of you know that that’s not likely to happen. Now my other point here is that societies that have very low fertility rates, like 1.1 child per woman on average that you might find in Italy or Japan, Japan’s a little higher but 1.3 in Japan.

I think it would be desirable–this is a value judgment on my part, it would be desirable for fertility rates to rise somewhat to more moderate levels but I don’t think they will ever rise in those countries to the levels pre-transition. The challenge is going to be find creative mechanisms to smooth the transition from younger to older demographic age structures and to put in place adaptive mechanisms that will allow such societies to prosper over the longer term under these new conditions.

Chapter 4. Errors in Demographic Interpretation [00:24:05]

The second point I’d like to make is that we are in danger collectively of making two errors of demographic interpretation and these are both significant errors. First, we are in danger of putting undue emphasis upon what are called period rates. Have you discussed period rates?

Professor Robert Wyman: There’s a reading from the last lecture.

Dr. Michael Teitelbaum: Okay. We are in danger of focusing on period rates. I’ve just done it myself; 1.1 child per woman for Italy, even though we know they are distorted rates. They’re well below the underlying rates of how many children the average woman will have when she finishes her childbearing, that’s a cohort rate. Second danger is–and we’re doing it every day, mis-specifying the category aged and thereby misconstruing what demographic aging means. Let me say a few words about both of those.

In Italy, Spain, Greece, Portugal, Ireland, countries like that in Europe, there have been significant increases in the mean age of marriage and hence the mean age of first birth typically. These are large increases by demographic standards and they are large enough to cause distortions in the period rates over the time period during which the mean age of childbearing is rising. This is a well known phenomenon to demographers; it’s not well understood among political leaderships.

When I was working on The Hill running a congressional committee, I learned not to use the term ‘cohort,’ because as soon as I said cohort the Congressman would say, ‘you mean your friends, your cohort?’ I said ‘no, no it’s a generation concept.’ ‘Oh I don’t get it, don’t bother me with the facts.’ But even the term is misunderstood. Given that it’s really too easy to distort, for that kind of audience if you want to make the case that we’re all going to hell in a hand basket to distort these period rates and say this is what’s going to continue indefinitely into the future.

Professor Robert Wyman: Can you just say–repeat what period it is.

Dr. Michael Teitelbaum: Period rate–

Professor Robert Wyman: Not all of them have read about it.

Dr. Michael Teitelbaum: Okay, a period rate is–it is expressed–let’s say–let’s take the total fertility rate which is a period rate, it is synthetic in the sense that it is an attempt to summarize the fertility behavior let’s say in 2009 of women, demographers care only about women by the way, of women of all ages. It’s the fertility rates of women 15 to 19, 20 to 24; these are different cohorts as you can see in 2009. They’re born in different years; they each have a characteristic fertility rate by age. If you sum up the rates of all of those age groups in a given year you will get a period rate, which is an attempt to summarize the overall fertility behavior of the entire population of all ages. Then we express it, probably confusingly, in terms such as 1.1 child per woman, or 2.1 children per woman. It’s not actually any real woman, it’s a synthetic woman.

Professor Robert Wyman: The best kind.

Dr. Michael Teitelbaum: The best kind of women yeah. If you–another way to imagine this–imagine you had 1,000 female demographers. That’s a frightening prospect when you think about it, and they formed a pact, they were all age 15, so they’re 15-year-old demographers and they form a pact that they will bear children collectively at the rate of each age group in that year that they make the pact right through their reproductive lifespan. At the end of their reproductive lifespan, 40 say or 45, they collectively would have an average children ever born equal to the total fertility rate for that year, but of course that would never happen. I mean I’m just trying to give you an–ask you to imagine what the rates mean.

The problem with the rates–well let me say what’s good about the period rates. They give you a summary of what’s going on in a year or in a five year period, that’s why it’s called a period rate. It’s a current kind of summary rate. The cohort rates don’t do that, they tell you how many children women age 45 today had through their entire lifespan. The problem with the period rates is that they can be distorted if women delay or accelerate their childbearing. Each year if there’s a delay they may end up with the same number of children when they finish their childbearing, but they stretch it out over more years, so the annual rates, the period rates are depressed therefore.

We know that’s happening in southern Europe, we know it’s not happening in central Europe, so low rates in central Europe are not distorted in this way, the low rates in southern Europe are distorted in this way. That’s probably enough about period rates.

Now I’ve said the second possible error is the mis-specification by demographers and others of the boundaries of the age dependency category. Convention, when do you get to be aged dependent? The answer 65. Where did that number come from? Arbitrary. Who came up with it? The people who designed the Social Security Act of 1935 who had to decide at what age did a person qualify for a Social Security pension. Why did they say 65? Well actually initially they were going to say 70 because they were copying Bismarck’s social insurance scheme from the nineteenth century, and the Bismarck system you got your state pension at age 70.

It was a time of mass unemployment and so there was a desire to encourage older workers to leave the work force to make room for unemployed younger workers, so they moved it down by five years, 65. It’s been that way in the statistics, in the data, ever since. Demographers have not adjusted to the reality that the meaning of 65 in 1935 was very different from the meaning of 65 in 2005 or 2009. That’s a problem because we will spend a lot of time calculating to the third decimal place the aged dependency ratio and yet we know that the meaning of the boundary between working age and aged dependency is increasingly out of touch with reality.

The same is true, by the way, of the young dependency ratio, youthful dependency ratio, which is usually set at age 15 or 19 on grounds that after that people become productive labor force people like you. That’s all changed too but we still stick to these boundaries and we’re misleading ourselves and everyone else I’m afraid by doing that. There are a lot of alternatives to this. I won’t go into them but one obvious possibility would be to shift the age boundaries upward for both the youthful and the older boundaries, say to 20 years and 70 years, rather than 15 and 65 that would make sense.

You’d want to keep the old series as well because you would want to have some comparability over time, but to have an alternative ratio would be useful. Another possibility would be to fix the number of years of remaining life expectancy rather than the age, the absolute age as the boundary between aged dependency and working age.

Chapter 5. Policy Responses to Low Fertility [00:32:56]

Now let me talk a bit about policy responses to very low fertility. There are basically two basic types of policy responses that have been strongly urged. First measures to increase fertility, that’s a pretty obvious and direct one, and second measures to adapt to low fertility over the longer term. I am not embracing any of these recommendations but I do want to give you the analytic possibilities that might–that have been put forward.

First, and this will offend most of you, it has been urged and implemented in some countries to limit access to fertility control. If you banned contraception, abortion, etc., sterilization, fertility rates would go up. That’s basically what Ceausescu in Romania did in 1966. This would be probably unworkable in a liberal democracy. Romania was not a liberal democracy to say the least, and it would be unacceptable in many other ways. It would probably result in a revolution in the United States, but that’s analytically a possibility.

Second, economic incentives to encourage higher fertility and these have come in many forms in the past. How about cash bonuses for bearing a child? Or allowances, annual payments per child you have in the family, from the government, or tax preferences to people with children, those are part of U.S. tax law, of course. These can be flat, meaning each child is treated the same in terms of the amount of bonus or tax incentive, or they can be “progressive”–I guess you put that in quotes–with increasing amounts per–for later births. You might give no incentive for the first birth but a big incentive for the third birth, for example.

You could give ‘in-kind’ benefits. For example, in much of Eastern Europe, families with more than two children had access to larger and preferential flats, preferred flats, government flats. They got preference in that way or subsidized housing, or you could give early retirement bonuses to people. You could say, well a woman who has three or more children can retire at age 55 instead of 65, that would be an incentive. In both the Soviet Union in the 1930s and in Nazi Germany in the 1930s, women got prizes, gold medals, mother heroine awards, gold medals for eight or more children, for example, in the Soviet Union.

You could counterweight existing dis-incentives to large families for example, by facilitating female labor force participation for women who have children in various ways; the French Crèche System which is a government financed early childhood, before the schools start, system of childcare is an example of doing that. The Swedish government has lots of policies of this kind. Those are benign examples but there are some harsh examples. You could take measures to deter female labor force participation on grounds that you think it conflicts with maternal behavior.

Now among Western countries, there have really been only a few that have adopted explicitly pronatalist policies of these kinds. France, Luxemburg, Greece, Quebec come to mind, although other countries have policies they do not describe as pronatalist policies, they say they’re social policies, but they have the implicit effect of being pronatalist and they don’t acknowledge that typically. In France there have been proposals never adopted for an official maternal wage, and it’s called that, in which mothers who stay at home with young children would get monthly payments from the government, they get paid to be mothers that would be calculated in those proposals at about 25% of the prevailing wage for employed women.

In the socialist countries, former socialist countries of eastern Europe, there were lots of these policies. They’ve all disappeared or almost all have disappeared since the fall of the communist system, but those countries had child allowances, birth bonuses, maternity leave at full pay for five months, paid leave until the child is three years of age, and substantial subsidies and grants in kind. The only non-Western low fertility country that’s pursued this kind of policy, that I’m familiar with it so far at least, but there will be others almost surely, is Singapore.

Singapore has embraced strong pronatalist policies and there have been some modest ones in Korea, Thailand, and Malaysia. In Singapore too they have policies about encouraging highly educated young men and women to meet each other, they have dating services, they want them to meet each other and marry and have children, which always causes amusement outside of Singapore. They don’t think it’s funny; they think it’s perfectly sensible.

It’s fair to say that the impacts of these policies on fertility are probably there, but they’re small impacts. In some countries they were very expensive policies as well, but they didn’t have much impact. If you tried to do the kinds of things that eastern European socialist countries did in the 1980s proportionately in Western countries the costs would be enormous, 1/3 to 1/2 of average wages for a family with two or three children for example; the cost would be very large.

Now what about measures to adapt to low fertility over the long term? Well, first it’s easier to adapt if the shifts are gradual, so very low fertility countries having dramatic shifts in the age structure, it makes it much harder for them. Then I’ve already mentioned the question of the boundaries between dependency and so on, I won’t repeat that, but it’s fair to say that the elderly dependent population, however defined, is going to cost more than the youthful dependent population, mainly because of healthcare.

Education is the main public investment in youthful dependent population, the rest of the costs of those children are borne by families. When it comes to the aged dependent population the families are no longer paying the costs, and the healthcare costs are very high and rising. Here I would have to say that, of the industrialized countries of the West, the U.S. has the largest problem in this regard. Not because it has the oldest age structure or the most rapidly growing elderly population, but because it is politically incapable of controlling it’s expenditure on healthcare and that’s a generic problem in the society, but it has special import for the elderly age structure.

What could governments do? Well they could modify the terms of the social pension provisions, they could shift the effective age of retirement, they could privatize part of the pension system, they could subject pension benefits of well off retirees to substantial income taxation. But, in fact, the politics of pension policy in most of these countries have operated in the other direction, in the opposite direction. Most countries, if anything, have taken measures to lower the pension age until recently when they’ve started gradually now to reverse the lowering of pension ages that they engaged in, in the 1960s and 1970s.

As far as the youthful population is concerned, it’s going to be smaller with these low fertility populations. Well, one could certainly convert age related facilities, such as schools, for other purposes, and going forward, it would make a lot of sense to design new schools in a flexible way so they’re easier to convert for other purposes, which leads me finally to immigration.

Chapter 6. Immigration and Demography [00:41:40]

Immigration is often put forward as a way to deal with an aging population. The truth is that the potential pool of immigrants to low fertility countries, the potential pool, is very large and it could easily be tapped. In fact, many of these countries are having problems restraining the flow which is exceeding what they would like it to be. It would be quite simple for a low fertility country, any one of the ones I’ve mentioned, to simply augment their populations by allowing additional immigration. That sounds a lot easier than changing the pension system and then all the other systems.

Now let me take you back to my point about concerns about low fertility not being about the number of warm bodies, but about the numbers defined as part of the nation or other ethnic or cultural group, so that’s the paradox. Under conditions of very low fertility, substantial immigration would produce very rapid transformation of the composition of a population socioculturally defined, and historically such rapid changes have led to passionate public opposition.

The irony here is that, while you might think, as an analyst, sitting here in lecture room at Yale that why not just have more warm bodies immigrate and that’ll take care of the issue. It’s exactly in a low fertility setting that the public opposition is strongest to increased or substantial immigration. There are some examples in which immigration can be of–by people who are defined as part of, or similar to, the indigenous population, and in those cases, there’s less–typically less opposition and I can give you a few examples.

Like the post war migration of East Germans to West Germany, for example. Or the Germans, so called Germans – the Volga Germans–from Russia to Germany which turned out to be quite controversial, but they were defined as Germans returning home even though they’re ancestors had left 300 years earlier. The Pied Noir’s to France after the collapse of the French Empire, in Africa mostly; the “return”–think about that, the “return” of Jews from North Africa to the new state of Israel; of Italians or Italian Argentineans rather, to Italy; of Japanese origin people, the Nisei from Brazil and Peru to Japan; of Angolan colonial settlers to Portugal, so there are examples of this kind of migration being less controversial.

I think one should also say that moderate levels of immigration do not appear to be all that controversial. This is not a question of people being passionately against immigration, but it’s a question of quantity. This will lead me, if I can get this to move forward–here’s a Jacques Chirac quote which I meant to show you, I’ll let you read it. You see Chirac was saying that in 2004,–we already know what the population was in 2004–but that Europe would be empty in 2004. He said that in 1984 and one thing the demographers have learned is never make a prediction over a time span in which you might still be alive because you will probably always be wrong; Chirac was clearly wrong.

What I want to talk about is a study, and this will be my last section here, a study of the question of substituting immigration for missed fertility in low fertility societies. There was a study done by the United Nations Population Division in 2000. It asked the question, how many immigrants would be needed to compensate for low fertility in Europe? The answer was: A lot. This was no surprise to the UN Population Division or to demographers, but it was a surprise to The New York Times, which in 2001 ran this story–or 2000 I guess it is, back in January 2000 ran this story picked up by The Herald Tribune in Paris and so on, about this study.

I know a little bit about the history of why it was published on the 2nd of January 2000, which I can tell you because it’s a story about how the press works. The study had been filed months before by the journalist Barbara Croset, and was literally filed in a file cabinet, had not been published, and then on the second of January, day after New Year’s, slow news day, nothing was happening, the editor on duty said, ‘oh we have that story from six months ago let’s just throw that in the paper.’ They put it in the paper, it had already been written and edited, and notice the headline here, the subhead, ‘It’s The American Way,’ you can imagine how this appealed to the nationalists in various European countries. Europe stares at a future built by immigrants, it’s the American way.

The reaction was described to me by the head of the UN population division in one word. He said it was “mayhem.” They started to get calls almost immediately from almost every newspaper in Europe. The Secretary General of the United Nations got calls from most European countries, from the governments, and not surprisingly the Secretary General’s office called over to the Population Division and said, ‘could you please send us the study.’

The truth is, there was no study. They had done some back of the envelope calculations and had done a one page talking point thing for a General Assembly meeting that they thought it might come up at. What they did was a press release that was I think two pages, summarizing the back of the envelope calculations, and within a few days Le Monde story here, here’s the press release. Here’s Le Monde, I think, and Le Monde actually dropped the question mark at the end of the title of the press release. You see there, the press release says, “Replacement Migration, Is It A Solution To Declining And Aging Populations?” and Le Monde translated it as ‘a solution to declining, etc., populations.’

There was suddenly a big story in Europe, here we have Le Figaro, the report that alarmed Europe, it was translated–I think there’s an Economist article here. Here’s a cartoon from Figaro saying, what’s the distance from Europe to the United Nations, etc., a man and a woman talking over the–about that. Here’s The Economist, fewer and wrinklier Europeans–all the major German newspapers had articles, Belgium, Spanish, Italian, the French TV main channel sent crews to the UN to interview the authors of the study.

There was still no study. All there was was that press release that you saw before. Well for some reason the Secretary General took the view that they should now do the study and they did the study, and unfortunately what happened was that the press in Europe interpreted the UN study or the press release as the UN recommendation to European countries to admit more immigrants. “The United Nations is preparing a new report which will argue that Europe may need to accept many more migrants over the next 50 years to maintain population levels and the size of its workforce.” It’s not–they did do the study, very quickly. It’s not what the study did. This is an inventory of all the articles that were published after the press release.

What did they actually find? Well what they did were hypothetical scenarios to 2050 and they asked the following questions among others, how many immigrants would key countries need to prevent decline in the total population, assuming that their projections on fertility were accurate, to hold constant the population 15 to 65, there we are again with those 15 and 65 age boundaries, and to hold constant what they call the potential support ratio which they defined as the ratio of people of working age, meaning 15 to 64 to those who are aged dependent, meaning 65 and over.

For the last, which was in a way the most important one, here were the numbers they came up with: that Germany would need 188 million immigrants by 2050, at which point 80% of the population within the boundaries of Germany would be represented by those immigrants and their offspring. Italy would need 120 million, and you see the percentages here, always 4/5ths of the population would be accounted for by immigrants and their offspring. The U.S., even the U.S. which would need 593 million immigrants would be at 73% even with its higher fertility rates.

The paradox here is that if you combine low fertility with high immigration, from an economic view or let’s say our Yale undergraduate perspective, immigrants or substitutes are complements, they’re workers, they have skills, they bring skills, they pay taxes, they subsidize retirement for older residents. But the public view is that immigrants are human beings, that they have cultures, religions, politics, languages, so if fertility is low, immigration is less acceptable to public’s than if fertility is high or higher. Meanwhile, elites like us, take that more economic perspective. I think probably if we did a survey of this group we would be more positive about increasing immigration then would the public at large.

The outcomes of this are really unknowable. There’s been a lot of heat, there hasn’t been a lot of light about international migration. The data are weak, fertility data are much better, mortality data are the best demographic data, fertility data are the second best, migration data are by far the worst. They are very weak, but we think there are about 200 million international migrants around now and that it’s gone up about 2/3rds in 15 years, increasing at about 2.3 million per year. If you put them all together where do they fit? 200 million would be the fifth largest population in the world, so it’s a non-trivial number, but it’s a very small fraction of the world’s population, like 3% or less. We have tens of millions of people migrating, but overwhelmingly, the majority of people do not migrate, so just keep all of those paradoxes in your head about international migration.

In absolute terms, the U.S. has the largest number of foreign-born people at 35 million in 2000, and The Russian Federation is next. Here, if you can read that, I guess you can, you see the U.S. at the top there, The Russian Federation and then the other countries are a lot smaller in terms of foreign-born residents. If you look though at the percent of the population you get a different list then the one I just showed you of the different league table [of country rankings].

The Persian Gulf states have the highest percentage of the populations who are immigrants or international migrants. Largely because they have substantial numbers, small compared to the U.S., but substantial numbers of international migrants of the base of a very small indigenous population. Most of their migrants are temporary workers; they are not immigrants in the sense that they’re allowed to stay permanently. You have 3/4ths of the populations of the United Arab Emirates and the Qatar who are foreign born and more than half in Kuwait. I say here that Israel and Jordan are about 40%, it depends on how you define the Palestinians in Jordan, but if you call them international migrants then it’s 40% or so in Jordan.

Then you can find a few European countries but they’re tiny, like Liechtenstein, that have high percentages of foreign born people, but generally speaking, the highest percentages are in small countries and here’s the league table [of country rankings] there. I don’t know if you can read it, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Jordan, Israel, Singapore, Oman, Estonia, Saudi Arabia, Latvia, Switzerland, Australia, New Zealand, Gabon, and Canada. You see the big countries don’t by and large appear in that league table [of country rankings].

If you look at countries that have 50 million or more, so we’re starting about–we’re starting to talk about significant population of countries, the percent of foreign born exceeds 10% in only three such countries, in the Ukraine, in the U.S., and in France. The Russian Federation and Germany are getting–are pretty close so we should include them probably, but there aren’t many others that are above 5%.

I’ve already said that low fertility might imply increasing immigration and there are plausible arguments about–in favor of that to meet the labor force needs that employers say they have, as there’s more economic integration, more international migration is inevitable, and immigrants can arguably finance unsustainable pension systems, pay as you earn pension systems. There are equally plausible counterarguments, and you’re just going to have to decide for yourself. I don’t think anyone can convince you one way or another of what’s right here, or what’s the proper mindset.

One argument here would be that low fertility rates are likely going to be temporary, that public opposition will prevent an increase of international migration to very high levels and that these pay as you earn pension systems are going to be restructured, and I am firmly on the fence on this. I will sit uncomfortably on the fence as long as I can stand it. It’s painful to sit on the fence, but in this case I don’t think there’s a clear correct position on these things.

Chapter 7. Summary and Conclusions [00:59:10]

Here are summary and conclusions: very low fertility now is widespread and it’s continuing to spread. I think–the last I looked and don’t quote me on this, but last I looked if you don’t include China because China tilts everything, it’s 20% of the world’s population, so let’s be conservative and not include China, which does have below replacement in fertility. Without China, 40% of the world’s population now lives in countries with below replacement fertility and rising. With China, 60% of the world’s population live in such countries.

In the past we know that these low fertility rates, in fact, not as low as some of the rates we see today, have led to exaggerated alarm and to nationalist responses. Fertility rates could rise in the future, there’s nothing to stop them. Most sociologists, anthropologists, and demographers don’t think they will, but they have no way of knowing. I don’t think they will, but I could easily be wrong.

It’s hard to increase fertility rates via policy in liberal democracies. Increased immigration is often invoked as a solution to the problems resulting from very low fertility but it’s not very effective, and it’s likely to stimulate its own passionate opposition. My bottom line is, and I’ll stop with this, that adaptive societies, societies that are capable, flexible enough to adapt to changing age structures, up and down and sideways, are likely to fare the best in the future. Thank you.

Chapter 8. Questions [01:01:06]

Professor Robert Wyman: I think we have time to take questions–anybody has one?

Dr. Michael Tietelbaum: There have got to be some questions because I didn’t explain some things that I just asserted.

Professor Robert Wyman: Let me just start off–and this is a biggee.

Dr. Michael Teitelbaum: Okay.

Professor Robert Wyman: I know there are whole lectures on this. There’s bunches of theories, I was going to make the question more elaborate but let’s make it simple. What do you think is causing this very low fertility in Japan and Singapore?

Dr. Michael Teitelbaum: How long do we have? There are a whole range of theories about this. There’s a whole theoretical structure called the second demographic transition theory which explains low fertility on grounds of secularization of societies, the collapse of religious social control over behavior which relates heavily to marriage and childbearing, of the rising labor force participation of women, and women’s labor force participation being in conflict with fertility and childbearing and child rearing, and a whole range of other things that you might just characterize as modernization.

From this point of view theoretically, low fertility is permanent and inevitable in advanced societies. That no society of that kind is going to ever again approach–well they would–I don’t know if they would say this, but they might, would not ever exceed replacement level and you’ll have high percentages of women who will be childless throughout their lives, low marriage rates, why should anybody bother getting married when there’s no problem in cohabiting without being married socially, culturally, and legally if all the benefits of marriage can be accrued without needing to get married, why bother.

You actually see that, especially in the Nordic countries, where very high percentages of the population, again of women, we can look at men too but women are the important fertility carriers if you will. Very high percentages of women age 30 are never married and don’t look like they ever will get married, very high rates of cohabitation, and in the case of Sweden fertility has been rising from low levels under those circumstances, which is posing some theoretical problems for the proponents of the second demographic transition.

We can’t explain things like this. Life is too complicated, and collective fertility behavior is too complicated to explain things like this. If you look at Japan, for example, in Japan you have very low rates of marriage among women in their 20s. It looks like Sweden in terms of marriage behavior, but there’s a huge difference in the percentage of births in Japan versus Sweden that are outside of marriage. If I remember correctly, it’s like 2% of births in Japan are outside of marriage and in Sweden it’s almost 50% of births are outside marriage, so you have the same marriage behavior roughly, but higher fertility collectively in Sweden then you do in Japan. Italy, European country, looks more like Japan in this respect then it looks like Sweden or Germany.

Student: In the media, this isn’t as much of the crisis that you talk about it being, or at least in America you hear more about terrorism or the war, health. Within the government how much of a big issue is this and at what time in history is it prioritized?

Dr. Michael Teitelbaum: Well the U.S. has high fertility by the standards of its peer countries. It’s very close to replacement level to–last time I looked it was 2.0 versus 2.1. It was one 1.1 or so in Italy, 1.3 in Japan, so there’s less concern here than there is in–among political elites in other countries. What the U.S. does have that most of them don’t have, however, is a very large baby boom generation. The U.S. had a big baby boom, you’ve probably discussed this in previous lectures, or you will. The U.S., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand really were the four baby boom countries post World War II. In the case of the U.S., fertility went from below replacement level to 3.7, doubled essentially.

It peaked in 1957 and started declining sharply in 1965 but there was a period–the so called baby boom generation, if you will, 1947 birth to 1965, who are now reaching the statutory retirement age and that bulge is going to rapidly increase the proportion of the population in that post 65 age group for about 20 years because it’s just aging its way through the age structure. Given that the U.S. government has proven itself incapable of getting control over health care expenditures that will be a major crisis for the Medicare system. I can predict that without any doubt whatever. I don’t know what’s going to happen, how it will be handled; I just know it’s going to be a major crisis. Yes, ma’am?

Student: Could you speak briefly to–could you provide a response to theorists who would argue that widespread moderate decline–or moderate to severe decline in populations is actually, isn’t addressing social and environmental concerns and that kind of thing?

Dr. Michael Teitelbaum: Yes. I have a firmly on the fence moderate position on these things. I think both rapid population growth and rapid population decline are problematic for societies. There are too many things tied to age in these societies like public provision of schools versus healthcare and other things that rapid shifts will cause problems. I think I alluded to this; it’s easier for societies to adjust to change if it’s slower in general.

Whether it would be desirable as some environmentalist’s think for the population of the world to decline sharply from where it is, six point some billion to whatever they think the carrying capacity of the earth is, and that’s a highly speculative calculation of course is another matter and I don’t think anybody can really resolve those debates. People feel very strongly in both directions about those sorts of arguments.

I would say myself that the optimal trajectory would be fertility rates, plus or minus 10%, 15% of replacement level, not 50% above, not 50% below, not fluctuating a lot because if they fluctuate a lot it causes all kinds of oscillations in the age structure over 75 or 100 years, and those are problematic for societies but moderation in all things is probably a good a maxim for these kinds of long lived, slow changing but powerful.

They’re–demography is like–I think of demography as being like the tectonic plates of the earth, it’s moving very slowly by the standards of elections or economic collapses, or economic booms, very slowly but huge force behind it and huge momentum behind it too, so you don’t want to get in the way of tectonic plates if you can avoid it. I saw another hand, yes sir?

Student: From a policy perspective, I guess specifically for the U.S., are all warm American bodies equal or do you take into consideration economic circumstances or anything else?

Dr. Michael Teitelbaum: From whose perspective?

Student: The government’s or whoever’s working on this currently.

Dr. Michael Teitelbaum: Well the government doesn’t have a brain. I mean the government–

Student: In your perspective, are all warm bodies equal or–

Dr. Michael Teitelbaum: I would say it depends on the economy. If you had to choose, this is a personal interpretation, it’s not a fact, if you had to choose let’s say between a group of very highly skilled immigrants or a group of very low skilled, let’s say illiterate immigrants, and they were moving into society where the–most of the population was illiterate then it wouldn’t–the illiterate immigrant population would not be a serious issue really, but if they’re moving into a society in which you have to be literate in order to have any chance of economic sustainability and advancement, it would not be a good idea to import large numbers of people who are not going to make it in that society.

It’s a question of both the nature and characteristics of the immigrants and the nature and characteristics of the economy and society into which they’re moving. Governments–if you ask me what is the position of the U.S. or British government on this, they don’t really have one. It’s just the pushing and shoving of different interest groups and wherever the vectors of pushing and shoving end up is what the government policy is, but it’s not necessarily thought through in a kind of logical way.

I think I saw one other hand. We’re running out of time.

Professor Robert Wyman: Time’s up.

Dr. Michael Teitelbaum: Okay, good.


[end of transcript]

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