Some call it the “birth dearth.” Others refer to it as the “empty cradle” or the coming “demographic winter.”
Yet, no matter what people call it, they’re talking about the same thing: the dramatic drop in the birth rate over the last fifty years.1 In the words of U.S. author Ben Wattenberg, “never have birth and fertility rates fallen so far, so fast, so low, for so long, and in so many places, so surprisingly.”2
From the prestigious pages of Foreign Affairs, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and Germany’s Der Spiegel, to a rash of new books, experts predict this “birth dearth” in many countries could cripple future generations. As the baby boomers approach retirement age and the pool of young workers shrinks, anxious governments wonder if costly social programs such as medicare and social security will survive in the coming years. That includes the Peoples’ Republic of China, where roughly one out of every five of the world’s people reside.3
Currently gripping the attention of presidents, prime ministers and popes, the birth dearth touches virtually every facet of human life. Its magnitude and seriousness transcend partisan politics, for example uniting the conservative Wattenberg and Philip Longman, senior research fellow at the liberal New America Foundation in Washington, d.c., and author of The Empty Cradle. Unless present-day trends are reversed soon, it is likely to be the most pressing policy issue facing politicians, social scientists, opinion-makers, and ordinary citizens from all parts of the political spectrum as the twenty-first century unfolds.
Yet, while the rest of the world is waking up to the long-term implications of depopulation, Ottawa and the provinces (other than Quebec) have hardly stirred. Official Canadian inaction stands in stark contrast to what the National Post recently called the “dwindling size of Canadian families.”4 Canada’s rate of 1.5 births per woman is one of the lowest among industrialized nations, well below replacement level (2.1), and only sustained by large-scale immigration.
Nevertheless, polls say that Canadians believe families should be bigger. Thus, Canada’s elected officials and policy-makers should first acknowledge that the nation’s current fertility rate jeopardizes the country’s future, and then devise creative and just ways of boosting it in the coming years.
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