November 21, 2003
In both hemispheres, in nations rich and poor, in Christian, Taoist, Confucian, Hindu and especially Islamic countries, one broad social trend holds constant at the beginning of the 21st century: women are having fewer children. Global fertility rates are half what they were in 1972. Lower rates of population growth bring many benefits. But the global fall in birth rates also entails rapid population aging, even in places such as Mexico and the Middle East. Mexico is aging at five times the rate of the U.S., a trend that could cause a deep drop in emigration to the U.S. Libya, Syria, Tunisia, and Algeria, meanwhile, are among the most rapidly aging populations on earth. It took fifty years for the United States to go from a median age of 30 to today's 35. By contrast, during the first fifty years of the 21st century, Algeria will increase its median age from 21.7 to 40. The implications of these trends will be explored.
Mr. Phillip Longman is a senior fellow at the New America Foundation and is the author of numerous articles and books on demographics and public policy. He has a B.A. with high honors in philosophy from Oberlin College and has been a Knight-Baghot Fellow at Columbia University. Formerly a senior writer and deputy assistant managing editor at US News & World Report, he has won numerous awards for his business and financial writing, including UCLA's Gerald Loeb Award, and the top prize for investigative journalism from Investigative Reporters and Editors. His most recent book, entitled, The Empty Cradle: Freedom and Fertility in an Aging World, will be published by Perseus in March 2004. The book examines how the rapid, yet uneven fall in birth rates around the globe will affect the balance of power between nations and influence the global economy. Mr. Longman is also the author of Born to Pay: The New Politics of Aging in America (1987) and The Return of Thrift, How the Collapse of the Middle Class Welfare State will Reawaken Values in America (1997). His work has appeared in such publications as The Atlantic Monthly, The New York Times Magazine, The New Republic, and The Wall Street Journal.