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The Upside of Population Decline

A pervasive conventional bias assumes that population decline must be a bad thing. But in a world where technology enables us to automate ever more jobs, the far bigger problem is too many potential workers, not too few.

LONDON – China’s recently published census, showing that its population has almost stopped growing, brought warnings of severe problems for the country. “Such numbers make grim reading for the party,” reported The Economist. This “could have a disastrous impact on the country,” wrote Huang Wenzheng, a fellow at the Center for China and Globalization in Beijing, in the Financial Times.

But a comment posted on China’s Weibo was more insightful. “The declining fertility rate actually reflects the progress in the thinking of Chinese people – women are no longer a fertility tool.”

China’s fertility rate of 1.3 children per woman in 2020 is well below replacement level, but so, too, are fertility rates in every rich country. Australia’s rate is 1.66, the US rate is 1.64, and in Canada it is 1.47. In all developed economies, fertility rates fell below replacement in the 1970s or 1980s and have stayed there ever since.

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