There is one thing, though, I think we need to remember, which is that there’s a tendency to focus on the falling fertility rates and the lowering of projections of world population as being the good news and the important news for the future. I would like to remind everybody there are parts of the world where the old fashioned population explosion that we all read about and heard so much about around the time of 1970, around the time of the first Earth Day, when Paul Ehrlich’s book The Population Bomb really called this to everyone’s attention.
For the first half of the 1990s, my family and I lived in
The densities there are unimaginable for Americans. I used to explain this to neighbors and to students by asking them to think—just a thought experiment— think of everyone in the world— the Pope, Deng Xiao-ping, everyone in the world—moving to the
The population is still growing. They have far more people entering the labor force each year than can be found jobs in the modern sector. They’ve had great success with exporting clothing and textiles, but they really need a new industry like that practically every two years in order to keep up with population growth.
So we have to hold two ideas in our heads at the same time. There are the old fashioned population bomb ideas that are relevant for many parts of the world, important parts of the world, and there are the more recent concerns about population aging and declining fertility relevant for still other parts of the world.
There’s one other thing I’d like to do, which is to personalize this a little bit. I think in the
We’ve talked mostly about fertility rates. I’d like to talk about mortality rates.
This graph shows death rates by age for males. I apologize for making it males. Males for demographers are the weaker sex, but there’s a reason and I’ll tell you in a moment.
The top line shows death rates by age for males in the
Now, I chose these dates because I think about these numbers in relation to my family. My father was born in 1917 in
The infant mortality rate was around 125 per 1,000 babies, and life expectancy at birth for men was about 53 years. That’s less than the life expectancy now for men in
My father, like most members of his cohort, lived right through the Depression and World War II, well past what we would have calculated as their life expectancy in 1917, because mortality rates were falling at every age during most of his lifetime. By the time I was born in 1953, infant mortality in the
In 1980, when my oldest son was born, infant mortality was down to 14 per 1,000 and life expectancy for males was 70 years, which is the equivalent of
So my father was
Comparable changes have been even quicker for the people in
The youngest people in the sample were telling me about a time that was very much different. In fact, mortality rates in
So it’s been a remarkable experience, this demographic transition. We’ve lived through it in our country, and it’s much more recent than people think. It’s part of all of our family history.
These child deaths are nearly all preventable now throughout the world. We have very good and very cheap technology for saving children.
Again personalizing: In my father’s family, Germans in
Death was a common experience. I think everyone here, in all of our families, there would be something similar if we went back into nineteenth century history or even the early twentieth century. Maybe they’re not all named Otto, but there would be a story about devastating child deaths. Even though it was so common, it was still a human tragedy for the families involved. So when we look at these declining mortality rates, it’s interesting for us statisticians, but it’s an amazing change in the possibilities of life for the families that are part of the populations that we’re studying.