America’s Population Bust–Wait, What?

Can it really be true that the total fertility rate (TFR in the trade) of the United States has fallen below France?  France!?!  It appears that one major effect of the Great Recession from 2008 through now is that Americans are having fewer babies, as reported in The Economist and displayed in the chart below.  As The Economist notes:

CONSERVATIVE Americans like to contrast the vigour and virility of their own country with the decadence and decline of Europe. Demography is exhibit A in their argument. Mitt Romney, for example, talked about Europe’s “demographic disaster” as he ended his presidential bid in 2008, calling it “the inevitable product of weakened faith in the creator, failed families, disrespect for the sanctity of human life and eroded morality”.

Well, now that’s us.  With an average pre-recession TFR of 2.1 (which is replacement level) growth in overall U.S. population was coming almost entirely from immigration—legal and illegal.  If immigration slows down, as much evidence suggests it has, and TFR continues at a France-like level, then we face the prospect of a shrinking U.S. population in the near future.  And if you think our social insurance programs (Social Security, Medicare, etc) are in bad shape now, just wait.  A shrinking population might be even worse for the economy than a second term of Barack Obama, as Philip Auerswald argues in his splendid article “The Population Boon” in the May/June issue of The American Interest.

Since most of the article is behind a subscription paywall, here’s the best bits:

Population really starts to take off, though, after World War II. In the second half of the 20th century, global population more than doubles, from roughly 2.5 billion in 1950 to almost 6 billion in 2000. And the data show that, in material terms at least, individual well-being (as measured by global per capita income) takes off at exactly the same time as population.1

This doesn’t necessarily mean that the observed increase in population directly caused the observed increase in per capita income; nor does it mean the reverse, for that matter. It just means that the two processes—increasing population and increasing wealth on a global scale—have been strongly correlated over the past two millennia.

And especially this conclusion:

Predictions of demographic disaster, consistently pushed back for the two centuries since Malthus, are finally reaching their expiry date.

So get busy, Americans.