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Population Decline | Munk Debates

SEASON TWO - EPISODE #56

Population Decline

Be it resolved, don't fear declining birth rates.

Guests
Sarah Harper
Lyman Stone

About this episode

Gone are the days of the post-war baby boom and nation-wide one-child policies. Fertility rates around the world – from the US to China to South Korea to Japan – are on the decline, and 23 nations are expected to see their populations halve by 2100. Some demographers are sounding the alarm. They argue that low birth rates combined with an aging population will lead to wage inflation, soaring healthcare costs for the elderly and shrinking workforces to pay for public services and already massive government debts. In sum, the shrinking populations of advanced economies will lead to widespread social and economic decline.

Other demographers aren’t so concerned. They point out that a declining population will put less pressure on our resources and slow the effects of climate change. It will also ease the burden on women and lead to less unemployment as the demand for workers increases and wages improve. And finally, it will force governments to improve existing childcare, health care, and education policies to encourage families to have more kids. Lower birth rates are an opportunity to re-examine our existing social and economic structures and make changes that will benefit everyone in society.

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Guests

Sarah Harper

“Falling birth rates are good. They're good for our planet, they're good for our societies, and they are good for women who can now choose how many children, if any, they wish to bear.”

Sarah Harper

“Falling birth rates are good. They're good for our planet, they're good for our societies, and they are good for women who can now choose how many children, if any, they wish to bear.”

Sarah Harper is Clore Professor of Gerontology at the University of Oxford and the Director of the Oxford Institute of Population Ageing. She has a background in Anthropology and Population Studies holding a MA from Cambridge University and a DPhil from the University of Oxford. Her research focuses on societal change arising from population ageing, with a specific interest in healthy life expectancy, the family and intergenerational relationships. Sarah was appointed a CBE for services to Demography in 2018. Sarah served on the UK Prime Minister’s Council for Science and Technology, which advises the Prime Minister on the scientific evidence for strategic policies, and chaired the Government Review into the Future of the UK's Ageing Population. She is Editor of the Journal of Population Ageing, Springer Nature.

Lyman Stone

“Low birth rates alter inequality, they alter economic growth, they alter intergenerational transfers, and they alter basic judgements about fairness in society.”

Lyman Stone

“Low birth rates alter inequality, they alter economic growth, they alter intergenerational transfers, and they alter basic judgements about fairness in society.”

Lyman Stone is the Director of Research for the population consulting firm Demographic Intelligence, a Research Fellow at the Institute for Family Studies and an Adjunct Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. He has been published in the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, South China Morning Post, and elsewhere. After two years in Hong Kong, Lyman, his wife Ruth, and their daughter Suzannah live in Montreal, Quebec, where Lyman is a McCall MacBain PhD fellow at McGill University. 

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