A local politician passing by the open door of my political science class at Yukon College a couple of nights ago stuck his head in. A light banter erupted, which ended with his provocative proclamation to the gathered students, most of whom are female, that “the problem with society today is that women have abandoned their traditional roles.” He fled as a wave of umbrage and laughter swept towards him.
His sweeping declaration inadvertently touched, though, on a number of dramatic changes that have occurred over the last couple of generations. A human rights revolution has swept our planet. Education and economic independence levels for women have increased particularly in the wealthier Global North along with it. Women’s empowerment logically grew also. This allowed the female half of humanity to begin to turn society away from worn patriarchal notions of the way things should be.
Loosening stifling cultural and religious strictures, as well, concretely has meant rapid declines in female fertility rates. The United Nations Population Division back in 2004 elaborated on the a mix of factors causing the drop off in fertility rates in countries like Canada: “Increased infant and child survival, greater access to education and health services, especially for women, expanded access and use of effective contraception methods combined with changes in individual and parental aspirations, increased women empowerment and participation in the market economy” have pushed the fertility curve downward.
The numbers crunching United Nations Population Division reported that in the period from 1950-55 the global fertility rate averaged 5.02 births per woman. By 2008 this figure had dropped to 2.65 worldwide. Remember that for a country to maintain a stable population a birth rate of 2.1 children per woman is necessary. In countries like Italy for example the birth rate is currently around 1.28 far below the number needed just to maintain their current population. Demographers predict that by mid-century Italy will have lost a fifth of its population rivaling the impact of the Black Plague in the 14th century.
What will Canada look like two or three generations down the road? The 2011 total fertility rate estimate for our country according to the CIA World Factbook is 1.58. Immigration is absolutely essential to maintaining our economy and support an aging population.
Our government must seek immigrants of all skill levels not just those needed to fill empty entry level service sector jobs. This immigration will most likely principally be drawn from the Global South where 95 per cent of the world’s population increase will occur as the global population inexorably marches towards 8 billion in 2025, 9 billion in 2050 and 10 billion in 2083 if UN projections hold true.
A Los Angeles Times blog site earlier this week ran a head line that read “Global population could reach 7 billion by Oct. 31.” The article on the UN prediction that followed noted that “Plan International, an international child advocacy agency, is planning to seize the limelight on Oct. 31, according to Live Science. It will present a 7-billionth-person birth certificate to a baby girl in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, in a bid to draw attention to the problem of sex-selective abortions in that country.”
The ‘rights revolution’ across our planet still has a long way to go. The faster it spreads globally the more rapidly birthrates will surely slow. Some of the advocates of “The New Demography” propose that the global fertility rates will stabilize at 1.85 late this century and stay there. This would mean that by 2300 according to one estimate, the world’s population could decline to 2.3 billion or the Earth’s population when I was born in 1948.
We can hope that the vision that Jose Vasconcelos, a Mexican writer and philosopher, had when he wrote his seminal La raza cosmica, or in English “the cosmic race” in 1925 holds true. Vasconcelos believed that traditional, exclusive ideas of race and nationality could be transcended in the pursuit of humanity’s common destiny. Hopefully, this will be the face of our future.
Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.