Jan 27, 2022
The recent comment by Pope Francis that people who have pets instead of children are, sometimes at least, manifesting selfishness brought predictable howls from pet lovers and those who felt he was treading on their sacred right to do whatever they please. But along with unintentionally giving media the sort of juicy flap over trivia that they relish, the Pope was identifying a grave and growing problem for nations around the globe.
The problem isn’t pets. It’s declining population in places where births have fallen below the replacement rate – 2.1 children per woman – required to hold population at a steady level.
On a list of 200 countries, 104 are at or above the replacement rate and the rest below. Here are a few of the places that are in trouble, together with their fertility rates: France – 1.870, China – 1.696, United Kingdom – 1.650, Germany – 1.540, Russia – 1.504, Japan – 1.360, Italy – 1.270. And for the United States, the figure was a dismal 1.705, placing it 144th on the list, right after the Czech Republic (1.710) and just before Ireland (1.700).
These numbers are World Bank figures for 2019, but indications are that the declines are continuing. Last year, for instance, the U.S. birthrate fell for the sixth year in a row, while in mid-January China said births there had dropped an eye-popping 1.4 million in 2021, to 10.6 million from 12 million the year before.