A complete reversal

Not too long ago we were worried about overpopulation, not so much in our vast country, but generally throughout the globe. An organization was formed called Zero Population Growth. Even the magazine Playboy indicated an urgent need to support the ZPG campaign against overpopulation. Now, the opposite situation is developing and articles are appearing describing what The Economist called, “the incredible shrinking population.” What has led to this change?
Back in 1798, Thomas Malthus predicted that food would grow at an arithmetic rate, but population would expand at a geometric rate. He figured that population would grow as long as there is food and as long as income is rising, basing this on his perceptions of past history. He could not have been more in error.
Nowadays, at least in most parts of the world, population growth has slowed so that total numbers are declining. This shift in the size of families is not altogether attributable to the decline in religion or even to the greater reliance on contraception, although, of course, the latter has been an influence.
This reversal in population expansion has much to do with industrial work and urban living; consequently large families were becoming burdensome. Social mobility entailed rising expectations from education. The custom or sacrifices in order to ensure children’s education led directly to limitations of family size, more than counterbalancing the elongation of life expectancy.
It is noteworthy that in Canada in the last 20 years our birth rate has fallen dramatically, from the 1987 level of 13.9 per thousand to the current 10.6. Apparently, the dogmas of economic determinism do not seem to be working. Our economy has been booming, erasing the definite relationship between economic conditions and the foundation of families. Furthermore, it has become obvious that birth rates are not really influenced by govern­mental exhortation, notably in Quebec where significant incentives are offered for larger families, all to no avail.
Certainly women working outside of their homes at paid employment contributed to the decline in the birth rate. In Canada more of the overall population is working irrationally long hours, another obstacle to a higher birth rate.
It is reasonable, nevertheless, to detect the importance of some things that are more profound than material conditions. Selfish individualism and the break-up of more marriages are key elements. Clearly, the birth rate is determined by such factors as people’s viewpoint as to what is important, social control, links between human beliefs, the physical environment, and public opinion. All this should lead to new ways of understanding old facts.

Bruce Whitestone