Issues & Insights
Newborn babies, once common, are increasingly rare as fertility rates fall. Photo: Image by James Timothy Peters from Pixabay, under Pixabay license (

The Population Dud: Paul Ehrlich, Call Your Office

There’s an old saying among economists, demographers, actuaries and sociologists: “Demographics is destiny.” If that’s true, and it certainly appears to be, America could be in very big trouble.

Back in 1970, leftist Stanford biologist Paul Ehrlich warned in his sensationalist book, “The Population Bomb,” that overpopulation would lead to mass starvation and the depletion of our natural resources. As we all know, it didn’t happen.

Indeed, natural resources have never been more abundant, based on prices we pay, as the late economist Julian Simon predicted in making a very public1980 wager with Ehrlich about the future. Virtually every measurable form of pollution has fallen sharply in the intervening years. And billions of people were pulled out of poverty, all during a time of strong population growth.

In short, Ehrlich and his legions of doomsday followers couldn’t have been more wrong.

In fact, the real problem we face today is exactly the opposite: People in the U.S. are no longer having enough babies. That fertility decline shows in a dramatic slowdown in population growth. And no, don’t blame COVID-19 for that.

The Centers for Disease Control just this month reported that U.S. birth rates fell in 2020 for the sixth straight year, dropping below the population replacement rate of 2.1 children per woman to just 1.64 children per woman. American women had just 3.6 million babies last year, the fewest since 1979, when we had 110 million fewer people.

Over the last decade, the U.S. population grew just 7.4%, the smallest gain since the Great Depression. If current declining fertility trends stay in place, that small gain will soon turn into an actual population loss.

Of course, many Americans on the left, in particular global warming extremists and green activists, welcome a shrinking population. They see humanity as a plague, not a gift or a blessing.

Typical of this line of thinking is this recent headline from, of all places, Vogue magazine: “Is Having A Baby In 2021 Pure Environmental Vandalism?”

But fewer people will also mean less farming and pricier food, a smaller number of factories, a decline of small businesses, and a reduction in homes. In short, a smaller economy, barring some sort of productivity miracle. There will be less money to go around for everyone. It also means a decline in innovation and creativity by entrepreneurs. We’ll have shortages of goods and services, fewer new medical advances, diminished scientific discovery.

The socialist types that now run the Democratic Party seem to think that fewer people will mean less inequality and greater wealth to spread around. But real wealth is created by entrepreneurs and businesses competing in free, open markets. Not by government.

With anti-family propaganda now a common feature on the left, it’s no wonder that young women put off having children. They’ve been shamed into believing its economically selfish, literal “environmental vandalism” to have a child.

The news of our declining birth rate comes at a very bad time in our nation’s fiscal history. Joe Biden’s new Democratic administration has embarked on the most foolish expansion of government spending and power in our history. It’s already spent trillions, and plan to spend trillions more.

That’s where the birth dearth will really be felt. Who’ll foot the bill for Biden’s added $6 trillion and counting in debt?

And with the Baby Boom now becoming the Social Security and Medicare Boom, who will pay for the current generation of retirees?

In 1950, there were 17 workers for each retiree; today, there are 2.7 workers for each, and by 2029 or 2030 it’ll be down to just 2. Think they’ll happily pay the huge increases in Social Security taxes required to keep the system solvent?

Before you answer, “don’t worry, the rich will pay,” just think of this: The top 1% already pay more in taxes than the bottom 90%. Thinking you can squeeze the top earners further is a socialist delusion.

We’ve truly painted ourselves into a demographic and fiscal corner. The national debt is nearly $30 trillion. But the IOUs that will hit us from coming Medicare and Social Security shortfalls are truly mind-boggling: more than $100 trillion, according to economist Brian Riedl’s testimony to Congress last year.

The Social Security Trustees say that by 2034 they will be able to pay only 76% of what’s owed to retirees. Guess who will be taxed to fill the shortfall?

Young Americans in early adulthood may not have the opportunities past generations did to work, save and retire comfortably after raising a family. After all, government will be taking ever-larger amounts out of their paychecks.

Not having babies now may seem like freedom to Millennials, Gen Z and later generations, but it will be anything but that. With all the taxes they’ll have to pay, who will care for them in their old age?

— Written by the I&I Editorial Board

We Could Use Your Help

Issues & Insights was founded by seasoned journalists of the IBD Editorials page. Our mission is to provide timely, fact-based reporting and deeply informed analysis on the news of the day -- without fear or favor.

We’re doing this on a voluntary basis because we believe in a free press, and because we aren't afraid to tell the truth, even if it means being targeted by the left. Revenue from ads on the site help, but your support will truly make a difference in keeping our mission going. If you like what you see, feel free to visit our Donations Page by clicking here. And be sure to tell your friends!

You can also subscribe to I&I: It's free!

Just enter your email address below to get started.


I & I Editorial Board

The Issues and Insights Editorial Board has decades of experience in journalism, commentary and public policy.


  • Who needs born-in-the-USA babies, when Biden can play Pied Piper and lure replacement children in across open borders for permanent welfare state residency? And at the same time achieve the ruling party’s aesthetic genetic wet dream of a population possessing darker skin pigments (as if that will somehow make the world a better place). Population replacement in action, part of the ruling party’s grand plan for an ethnic makeover and racial redo of the USA. A bit cruder than the Chinese communist resettlement of Tibet; but a tad better than Jeffrey Epstein. Sad, the population groups that invented air travel, automobiles, radio, television, movies, baseball, basketball, the electric guitar played by Jimi Hendrix, the saxophone, the Internet, the computer revolution, modern manufacturing, cell phones, etc, for the whole world to enjoy and prosper now being misogynistically targeted as vermin by those with warped agendas and grand delusions of permanent everlasting political power. Let’s just hope that population reduction does not further degenerate into genocide under escalating “woke” propaganda projects being pushed by the media and politicians. Like in Cambodia and Rwanda, these things can spiral out of control. Even advance cultures like Germany have not been immune.

  • World demographics are frightening. The developed West has decided to reduce its population by failing to reproduce while the under- and undeveloped parts of the world are producing offspring at a rate that boggles the mind. Since that part of the world is incapable of supporting its population it relies on the West for basic sustenance and in return, does its utmost to send its surplus population to the developed nations. This is a sure-fire formula for global civilizational collapse, at which point we all see the return of the Gods of the Copybook Headings, when fire and famine return.

  • I am not sure demographic decline ushers in periods of reduced creativity or economic decline. After all the Black Death that carried off a third of Europe’s population or more preceded the Renaissance. It could be the accumulated wealth gets spread around fewer people making them more secure not less, at least for a generation or two. On the other hand in medieval times government’s reach rarely went much further than the castle wall except for periodic raids to collect taxes. Today governments are huge and nobody alive has ever seen one shrink. A shrinking total economy could continue to support a small medieval government but how will it work when the economy shrinks today?

    The answer to that last question I think is pretty obvious. Government will consume a larger share of a shrinking pie and become ever more oppressive in its exactions. That will spark civil unrest, think Robin Hood or William Tell or any of a host of other real or mythological heroes from the time period. The main product of shrinking population will be increasingly totalitarian governments.

    • “Today governments are huge and nobody alive has ever seen one shrink.”

      Really? I have seen three governments shrink 100% in the last 30 years — the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia. The first two vanished peacefully, the third violently. The USA will soon join them on history’s dustbin; whether the breakup is peaceful or violent remains to be seen. IMHO it will be relatively peaceful in the conservative regions and a bloodbath in the Marxist regions. The latter would be a very welcome population reduction.

      “The main product of shrinking population will be increasingly totalitarian governments.”

      That certainly hasn’t happened in Japan, where the population has been shrinking for some time. To handle the shortage of labor, the country has embraced robotics big-time — far better than importing 3rd World flotsam. At any rate, a totalitarian regime would find it very difficult to find enforcers in a declining population. I submit that lower population must inevitably result in smaller government, as there will be fewer politicians & bureaucrats and less for the few still remaining to plunder.

  • The lowering birth rate is because of lower fertility in males and females. Pollution around us lowering fertility. One of the major sources is radiation from reactors and weapons. Google Dr Ernest Sternglass.

  • As a six continent world bicycle traveler in the past 45 years, I’ve seen overpopulation up close and ugly. Today, the USA is the third most populated country in the world at 330 million. It’s the third fastest growing population on the globe. Additionally, it has the second highest consumption rate of resources in the world. It features gridlocked traffic in every major city. Its carbon footprint is second largest in the world. America faces water shortages in seven states from Florida to California. West of the Rocky Mountains, all states suffer their 5th year in an “exceptional drought.” Ehrlich may have been off on his timing, but it’s a fact that 4.0 million children starve to death annually and 8.0 million adults die from starvation around the planet each year. The toxic air over LA, Denver, Chicago and other big cities causes horrific lung diseases. The writers of this commentary lack any understanding that we live on a finite planet with finite resources. Julius Simon lacked any understanding of limited non-renewable resources. Exponential growth cannot be sustained…and, it always leads to collapse of any civilization. We’re the cause of species extinctions in the rainforests, polluted oceans, plastic oceans and 84,000 poisons that are injected into the air, water and land 24/7. We don’t need any more additional population. We need to decline our population and move toward a population that is sustainable with our carrying capacity in perpetuity. Frosty Wooldridge, 6 continent world bicycle traveler, author of: America’s Overpopulation Predicament: Blindsiding Future Generations

About Issues & Insights

Issues & Insights is run by the seasoned journalists behind the legendary IBD Editorials page. Our goal is to bring our decades of combined journalism experience to help readers understand the top issues of the day. We’re doing this on a voluntary basis, because we believe the nation needs the kind of cogent, rational, data-driven, fact-based commentary that we can provide. 

We Could Use Your Help

Help us fight for honesty in journalism and against the tyranny of the left. Issues & Insights is published by the editors of what once was Investor's Business Daily's award-winning opinion pages. If you like what you see, leave a donation by clicking on donate button above. You can also set up regular donations if you like. Ad revenue helps, but your support will truly make a difference. (Please note that we are not set up as a charitable organization, so donations aren't tax deductible.) Thank you!
%d bloggers like this: