400 Million People Can't Be Wrong

Article excerpt

Byline: Joel Kotkin

Why America's new baby boom bodes well for our future.

As the nonstop TV commercials have made clear, the U.S. Census Bureau really hopes you've sent back your questionnaire by now. But in reality, we don't have to wait for the census results to get a basic picture of America's demographic future. The operative word is "more": by 2050, about 100 million more people will inhabit this vast country, bringing the total U.S. population to more than 400 million.

With a fertility rate 50 percent higher than Russia, Germany, or Japan, and well above that of China, Italy, Singapore, South Korea, and virtually all of Eastern Europe, the United States has become an outlier among its traditional competitors, all of whose populations are stagnant and seem destined to eventually decline. Thirty years ago, Russia constituted the core of a vast Soviet empire that was considerably more populous than the United States. Today, Russia's low birthrate and high mortality rate suggest that its population will drop by 30 percent by 2050, to less than one third that of the United States. Even Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has spoken of "the serious threat of turning into a decaying nation."

Perhaps an even more important demographic gap is emerging between the United States and East Asia. Over the past few decades a rapid expansion of their workforce fueled the rise of the East Asian tigers, the great economic success story of our epoch. Yet within the next four decades, a third or more of their populations will be older than 65, compared with only a fifth in America. By 2050, according to the United Nations, roughly 30 percent of China's population will be more than 60 years old. Lacking a developed social-security system, China's rapid aging will start cutting deep into the country's savings and per capita income rates. A slowdown of population growth in poor countries can offer a short-term economic and environmental benefit. But in advanced countries, a rapidly aging or decreasing population does not bode well for societal or economic health.

Between 2000 and 2050 the U. …