Despite fretting, plenty of babies are being born

A lot in the news these days about birthin’ babies. Or the lack thereof.

In May, Russian President Vladimir Putin encouraged Parliament to provide financial incentives to couples to have more children, to reverse the country’s population decline.

In June, it was reported that Japan’s birth rate dripped to a record low of 1.25 babies per woman in 2005. For the first time on record, deaths in Japan exceeded births by 21,408.

And in the 25-nation European Union, the Associated Press reports, the average birth rate is around 1.5, dropping to less than 1.3 in some countries, including Greece, Spain, Italy and new EU member nations in Eastern Europe, where fertility rates fell after communism did.

Fretting has followed. It’s understandable that individual countries might worry about their futures. What is not understandable is a general fear that these numbers mean something bad.

Washington Post columnist Robert J. Samuelson writes, “There’s no more population ‘explosion.’ In wealthier countries, motherhood is going out of style and plunging birthrates portend population loss. This is a hugely significant development … the side effects will be massive for economics, politics and people’s well-being.”

Samuelson says women must have two children for a society to replace itself and quotes Ben Wattenberg’s book “Fewer,” which outlines future trouble in Europe and Japan, such as tax and labor shortages.

Dire predictions indeed. The fact is, however, the world is experiencing a population explosion, and an unprecedented one at that.

On Feb. 25, the Earth’s population hit 6.5 billion people. By some estimates, there are now 1 billion (that a thousand-million) people in the world between the ages of 15 and 24.

One has to revert to racism or classism to argue that we are in danger of having too few people on this planet.

Reasons exist for the reported population declines and it’s not because motherhood is going out of style. Young Russian couples told reporters and pollsters they will have more babies when the economy improves. Right now, 15 percent of the population lives below the poverty line and a onetime payment of $9,300 plus a monthly stipend of $110 isn’t enough to convince them to breed a brood. It makes sense to keep families small.

In Japan, perhaps the lack of space is more worrisome than a smaller tax base.

If a country really found itself in need of labor, all it has to do is put out the immigrant welcome mat. There are ways to grow that don’t involve fertility rates or payments to parents.

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