The Spectator

Who’s afraid of population growth?

In ten years’ time, there’s a good chance that the main concern in the western world will be the threat of population collapse. Fertility rates are falling everywhere and no government has found a way of reversing the trend. Plenty have tried. South Korea has so far spent $200 billion on tax breaks and lowering childcare costs and has succeeded only in beating its own record for the world’s lowest birth rate, year after year. In Italy, the situation is close to a crisis, and in France it’s not much better.

If this continues, the welfare state model, which depends on a decent worker-to–pensioner ratio, will collapse. There will not be enough tax revenue to finance pensions. A recent study in Italy showed that for every pensioner there are three people of working age, but by 2050 the ratio is projected to be closer to 1:1. The promise of a decent state pension would have to be withdrawn.

Japan’s Prime Minister refers to his country’s falling birth rate as an existential threat

Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida refers to his country’s falling birth rate as an existential threat. Giorgia Meloni says the same in Italy. For Marine Le Pen, a plan to increase the birth rate is part of her economic policy. The ‘increase in childless families’ is lamented by the AfD in Germany. This is likely to be a theme in the European parliament this year because in almost every country in Europe the working–age population has already started to decrease. This decline is expected only to accelerate.

This is not the case, however, in Britain. We learned this week that our working-age population is projected to keep rising. The figures were greeted with dismay, viewed as a result of out-of-control immigration. But which is the worse problem to have – too many people or too few? As South Korea has found out, no amount of panicked policy initiatives have succeeded in encouraging couples to have more children.

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