By Gwynne Dyer

I was one of five children – not seen as a particularly big family in Newfoundland at the time – and there was one year when we allegedly beat Guatemala to have the highest birth rate in the world. Then we joined Canada, and got access to what Newfoundlanders called the ‘Baby Bonus’.

The ‘family allowance’, as Canadians called it, was a serious amount of untaxed cash on the table for a great many families, for Newfoundland was then probably the poorest place north of Mexico. In fact, many believe the Baby Bonus was the main reason Newfoundland voted to join Canada.

You would have expected the birth rate to go even higher after that, because children meant cash. But instead the birth rate started to fall, slowly at first, and then faster.

Girls got better educations, women had more choices, and people moved to the bigger towns and the one large city. By now the average woman in Newfoundland has only 1.36 children in a lifetime, and the population is falling steadily.

So I wouldn’t hold out much hope for China, Japan and most European countries to stop the steep fall in their populations with cash bribes either. It doesn’t work that way.

Leading the way are South Korea, Japan, Spain and Italy, all of which will see their populations fall by more than half in this century. China is just getting started, with a fall of almost one million in its population announced in January, but it will also end up dropping by half by the end of the
century: from 1.41 billion now to only 732 million in 2100.

In February Japan declared it will double the country’s child-rearing subsidies to 4% of GDP –$150 billion a year – but even that’s unlikely to get the birth rate up. The only way to keep the population stable or even growing in a developed country is mass immigration – which means you have to be attractive to potential immigrants.

The English-speaking countries do that best. Canada, with 40 million people, is the world leader in proportional terms, bringing in another half-million a year. Australia is doing almost as well, and the United Kingdom, New Zealand, and the United States are all managing around half that rate.

The great benefit they get from doing this is that they keep the ratio of younger people in the work force to dependent older people high enough to afford a state that takes care of all its people. So why don’t all the other industrialised countries, including China, Korea and Japan, do the same?

They will probably have to, in the end, although they have no long experience of multi-ethnic cultures and they’re anxious about losing their ‘identity’. Where will the mass immigration come from? Mostly from Africa, the one continent whose population will go on growing rapidly until
the 2060s.

That high population growth rate will keep many Africans poor, but they will be in high demand elsewhere as potential immigrants. Even the East Asian countries will have to swallow their racism and open their doors, or their economies will wither for lack of people to fill the jobs and
care for the elderly.

There’s no harm in having a smaller population, but getting there can entail several generations of economic hardship.

The only way to soften the transition is mass immigration, so that will happen even in the unlikeliest places. The day will come when black Chinese are no longer a rarity.