You may not have noticed it, but at this very moment humanity is going a little… well, extinct, really. For the first time in history, our species is in decay. A handful of centuries more, and it could all be over.
This time, the doom saying doesn’t come from some wacko prophet. No, it’s high-ranking UN-officials and respected economists that ring the alarm bell. The extinction we’re dealing with is locked away in alarming government reports and ill-omened scientific statistics. Far too few people read them.
Here are the figures. By the year 2100, 83 percent of all Spaniards will be gone. There will be 86 percent less Italians, while in Germany, only 17 percent of the population will be left. And how about this one: three generations from now, there will only be half as many people than today.
The doing of some kind of virus or climate mishap? Far from it. This time, the extinction goes all by itself. `Demographic meltdown’, is what they call it. Or `birth collapse’. Or `baby bust’.
It goes like this. On average, a couple should have at least two children to ensure the continuation of the species – or more precise: 2,1, to compensate for children that die early. But all over the world, couples decide to have fewer children. From 2050 on, this will cause the world’s population to shrink. And shrink, until there may be no one left.
So why on earth would humanity want to do that? The reasons are manifold. And in fact, quite understandable. In the old days, you needed children to work on your farm, and to look after you when you grew old. You needed lots of them, because many children died young.
But with better health care and with social security, that’s all changed. You don't really need children anymore. What's more, when you live in a city, children cost you time and money. Besides, more and more women work. They’ll have children at a later age and bear fewer children – if they decide to have any children at all, that is. Anti-conception has nothing to do with it. A religious lifestyle doesn't stop the trend either. It’s just the course of history that’s doing us in.
Not impressed yet? Please let us throw some more figures at you. At this very moment moment, the populations of over sixty countries are falling. Fifty years ago, women throughout the world on average had five children. Today, the average has diminished to 2,7 kids. And all the experts agree on one thing: that’s just the beginning.
Obviously, this will change the world we live in completely. Expect a world where everybody’s ageing and youngsters and children are becoming rare. Expect empty streets, and empty stores. Expect the world economy to come to a grinding halt, as there are less and less people around to buy stuff. Expect governments urging their people to have children, for heaven’s sake, please do! Expect a world where every country is begging third world immigrants and refugees to come over.
But then again, no immigrant would come. The statistics show that the baby bust also strikes in the poorer half of the globe. In Asia and China, birth rates are falling alarmingly fast. In the Southern Americas – the same story. Africa is the only continent where the birth numbers are still high. But then again, the AIDS epidemic causes people to die at an early age – and this actually is slowing down population growth tremendously.
That’s neat, you say. So we’re about to join the Woolly Mammoth. Exactly the sort of thing you wanted to hear when you thought to relax a bit while surfing the web, right?
Well, here’s something to cheer you up a little. In fact, it’s very hard to say if the baby bust that’s hitting us today will actually bring about the end of the species. With six billion people around today, we don’t exactly have to wet our pants yet. And then there’s this: 70,000 years ago, when humanity was still wearing bear skins and saying ‘oomph, oomph’, humankind also survived near-extinction. Back then, a supervolcano erupted and cut humanity down to a slim total of 10,000. But we survived all of that.
On the other hand, there’s absolutely no indication the trend will change. With fewer and fewer people around, women will be under even greater pressure to find a job – and have even less children. We can be sure about one thing: women will never ever again voluntarily have themselves locked away in their role as child-attendee and kitchen maid.
And then there is this other nagging problem. As explained elsewhere on this blog, there is a possibility men are becoming less fertile. Just picture it: a world where women don’t want to have children, and men just can’t. Now wouldn't that be a pity?