Sunday, January 15, 2006

High-density smart growth = population implosion?

I recently came across this USA Today op-ed arguing for a link between Europe's secularism and its population collapse. I have an alternate hypothesis, but here's the excerpt first:
'Demographic suicide'

Among the consequences of Europe's abandonment of its religious roots and the moral code that derives therefrom is a plunge in its birth rates to below the replacement level. Abortion, birth control, acceptance of gay marriage and casual sex are driving the trend. Europe is "committing demographic suicide, systematically depopulating itself," according to Weigel.

United Nations population statistics back him up.

Not a single Western European country has a fertility rate sufficient to replace the current population, which demographers say requires 2.1 children per family. Germany, Russia, Spain, Poland and Italy all have rates of about 1.3 children, according to the U.N. The Czech Republic's is less than 1.2, and even Roman Catholic Ireland is at 1.9 children. (The U.S. rate, which has remained stable, is slightly more than 2 children per woman.)

Fifteen countries, "mostly located in Southern and Eastern Europe, have reached levels of fertility unprecedented in human history," according to the U.N.'s World Population Prospects 2004 revision.

As children grow scarce and longevity increases in Europe, the continent is becoming one vast Leisure World. By 2050, the U.N. projects, more than 40% of the people in Italy will be 60 or older. By mid-century, populations in 25 European nations will be lower than they are now; Russia will lose 31 million people, Italy 7.2 million, Poland 6.6 million and Germany 3.9 million. So Europe is abandoning religion, growing older, shrinking and slowly killing itself. These are signs of a society in eclipse — the Roman Empire writ large. Is this any model for America?

While there might be some elements of truth in this theory, the drivers he lists - abortion, birth control, acceptance of gay marriage and casual sex - are pretty common in America too, yet we have enough children to at least maintain our population. Why?

My alternate hypothesis is based on a maxim I stated twice before in this blog: rising affluence seeks more private space. It's held true through all of human history: the wealthy always sought the largest estates in the country or apartments in the city. The vast majority of Europe's cities were developed well before the car, so there was little or no room for parking or freeways when it came along - their cities stayed relatively compact, dense and focused on public transit. With the supply of private space restricted, European households did what they had to do to get more private space per person as they grew wealthier: they had smaller families. If you can't grow the house, then shrink the household.

Everybody knows the story in America, of course: we built the freeways and the suburbs, increasing private space along with our wealth and making larger families more comfortable. In cities with space limitations similar to Europe like San Francisco, New York, and Portland, there have been stories of shrinking households and fewer children. Same story in Japan - so the correlation seems to hold across cultures and continents. I would imagine we'll see the same impact on Asia over the next few decades as they urbanize and increase GDP/capita.

Forecast for Houston? Steady population growth as far as the eye can see. Affluence seeks space, and we are, after all, "Space City, USA."

Addendum/clarification: This is not an argument against density as an option in the core for those who want it (aka New Urbanism), but an argument against forced density for all.

Update 10/06: A quote from the Economist magazine:
America's wide open spaces also make child-rearing more attractive. Bringing up a large family in a tiny Japanese apartment is a struggle, even if you can fold away your bed during the day. The world's lowest fertility rates are in super-crowded Hong Kong (0.95), Macau (1.02) and Singapore (1.06). In America the average family-home has doubled in size in the past half-century, from 1,000 square feet (93 square metres) in 1950 to 2,100 square feet in 2001.


At 12:59 AM, January 16, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There are several problems with the original op-ed as well as the analysis related to it:

1. It has become expensive to raise kids in the US and worldwide. College is extremely expensive. Healthcare is extremely expensive. Everything about having a kid is expensive. The most affluent families in the US will generally have 1-2 kids. If you look at subsistence farming nations, they have the highest fertility rates by far (Ethiopia= 5.33, Bangladesh= 3.31, etc). So having a ton of kids does not mean your country is well off, in fact it correlates better with your country being poor.

2. Immigration has maintained and allowed for growth of the US population. We have much more lax immigration laws than Europe. For that reason we have more immigrants. Unfortunately I cannot find the statistic, but from personal experience and general consensus as far as I can tell, the families with many children are often immigrant or illegal immigrant families. Europe has much more regulation regarding immigration, but if the EU felt threatened in the immediate future, they could easily open up their immigration floodgates to Eastern Europe, Russia, and the Middle East-- where many people would love to move to Europe.

3. The most successful nation-states are those that are the least religious-- ie the country is not run by the church. Look no further than the EU or even US for most of its history. Being secular means that you do what is best for the people, not what fits your ideology. It also means you are more inclusive, and that means a larger market

4. Houston is about to become majority hispanic. Only about half of hispanic females will graduate high school here. California and Florida and NY will graduate about 85-90% of their hispanics (who are almost the major minorities there) Population growth is nice, but if you dont want to become a 3rd world economy, you need to start figuring out ways to help the average Houstonian achieve. We have not done that.

At 7:39 AM, January 16, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"...if the EU felt threatened in the immediate future, they could easily open up their immigration floodgates to Eastern Europe, Russia, and the Middle East-- where many people would love to move to Europe."

And that is supposed to help?

At 8:30 AM, January 16, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your alternate hypothesis bears no resemblance to reality. If rising affluence boosted fertility rates, white US birth rates would be roughly double the 1970s, given home sizes. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the lowest fertility rates in the US belong to whites, at 1.8 births. Hispanics have the highest, at 2.9.

Rising affluence DEPRESSES birth rates, not the other way around. Your hypothesis, like the USA Today Op-Ed writer, sounds more like pushing an agenda than reasoned insight.

At 8:46 AM, January 16, 2006, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Redscare: I am not arguing that rising affluence boosts fertility rates. Far, far from it. Family sizes do tend to shrink with wealth, but they shrink *less* if affordable, abundant private space is available.

To anon's earlier points:

1. Fair points. Not arguing for large families, but at least break-even. The difference between 1 and 2 kids on average is massive: the latter almost breaks even while the former cuts each generation size in half (run that math for a few generations).

2. Immigration is a separate issue.

3. Not in any way arguing for a religious state, but I do think it's important a culture feel a sense of aspiration and purpose rather than nihilism and hedonism, and the spirtuality of almost all religions does that.

4. If the graduation rate differences are truly that stark, that is a serious cause for concern and investigation. I'd love a pointer to the stats. Absolutely no disagreement here on the importance of education. See point #2 from my previous post.

At 9:48 AM, January 16, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tory, not to pick on you, but I see nothing to support your hypothesis. In the 1800s and early 1900s, before the auto enabled sprawl, fertility rates were much higher. In the 1970s, when sprawl took off, fertility rates plummeted. The slightly rebounding rates of the early 21st century and completely attributed to high immigration rates. It seems that more space is coupled to rising affluence. Fertility rates do not correspond.

Can you show any research that supports this contradiction?

At 10:35 AM, January 16, 2006, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

It seems pretty straightforward to me:

1) Affluence = lower fertility

2) Affluence without the desired additional private space = lowest fertility

Affordable and abundant private space seems to somewhat mitigate the fertility drops. Ignoring comparisons across wealth and countries, look simply at the US: cities with expensive and tight space tend to have lower fertility than cities with inexpensive and abundant space.

As I said, it's a personal hypothesis based on my observations. I know of no academic studies or stats.

At 11:14 AM, January 16, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

OK, I see where you are coming from, though I disagree with where you are going. Your assumption is that once people achieve space, the kids start coming. Your belief is based on the fewer children in more expensive, denser areas.

However, you ignore two big issues. One, wealthier and single individuals tend to migrate to the excitement of the denser cities. Parents tend to migrate to the security of the suburbs. The decision to have children is not usually made because one moved to more space. One moves to more space because one had or decided to have children. Big difference.

The other big issue is the fact that the more educated women are, the fewer children they have. Southern, less dense cities and states have higher percentages of uneducated women. They also have higher fertility rates.

At 11:49 AM, January 16, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Redscare brings up a good point about women's rights and fertility rates as well. Many religions only afford women the privilege of being a birthing vessel and caretaker with no hope of an independent career. Thus, these groups are obviously going to have higher fertility rates, because half the population's sole purpose is to keep on bearing children.

The leaders of these groups love this-- they get more future adherents and they get to maintain their leadership positions. At least in the US, one could make the argument that great wealth is in fact generated by women for the family, but in doing so, they are forced to spend their time working instead of having children.

But fundamentalist religion is not the only means by which you can increase birthweight (though whether you want to make all of America look like Southern Baptist hickland is another question). The poorer you are the more children you have-- which is why asecular China has laws that only "support" one child from each family.

Recently, the differential fertility rates has come into the news more and more though, as caucasians in states like TX, CA, FL, NY are about to be overtaken as the majority population by hispanics, who have a much higher fertility rate than caucasians.

But what that doesnt solve is the problem that the people procreating the most have the least to offer their children as they grow up-- and I dont have a solution to this problem at all. But I can tell you it has little to do with high or low density smart growth.

At 1:29 PM, January 16, 2006, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

There are a lot of issues getting mixed together here: immigration, density, religion, culture, education, and wealth. Fertility rates are clearly a complex interdependent system. All I'm saying is that density is *one* of the variables, and when it is forced, fertility tends to drop, all other factors being equal .

To redscare's middle point about choice: I totally agree, which is why I added the addendum/clarification to the original post. The problem arises when there is little realistic choice, as is often the case in Europe and Japan.

At 10:43 PM, January 16, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

-- "All I'm saying is that density is *one* of the variables, and when it is forced, fertility tends to drop" --

The experience of high-density US locations like public housing likely refutes this.

Interestingly, the fertility rate in high density New York City was 66.9 per 1,000 in the late 90's, exceeding the nationwide fertility rate of 65.0 per 1,000.

Fertility rate amongst Latinas is the only race in the US above replacement level. Black fertility is right at replacement level, while white and asian fertility is below.

Unless you can find a reputable source that places personal space as a correlating factor of fertility rate along with affluence, race, women's rights, etc., you're really going out on a limb to make that claim... and the tie to smart growth is way way out on that limb.

At 8:10 AM, January 17, 2006, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Public housing is a fine example of "all things *not* being equal", because it is filled will people that are the polar opposite of affluent, and therefore tend to have higher fertility.

The same can be said for broader New York City, where the Bronx, Queens, and Brooklyn are packed with lower income immigrants of higher fertility. Check Manhattan alone - esp. without Harlem - and I think you will see very different stats.

High-density slums, ghettos, and lower-income housing packed with large families are easy to point to around the world. But can you point to a high-density set of neighborhoods with middle-class or above affluence (by Western standards) that also has high fertility?

At 10:27 AM, January 17, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

-- Public housing is a fine example of "all things *not* being equal", because it is filled will people that are the polar opposite of affluent, and therefore tend to have higher fertility. --

But they were placed into a high density space, and the births continued at rapid rates.

-- The same can be said for broader New York City, where the Bronx, Queens, and Brooklyn are packed with lower income immigrants of higher fertility. Check Manhattan alone - esp. without Harlem - and I think you will see very different stats.--

The fertility rate for affluent mid-to-high density Staten Island was 60.0, which was above the rate of 59.0 for the rest of the state in 1998.

I'm no expert on fertility rates, but I say that until you can start pointing to some actual research to support your point, then I'm not going to buy it. I've not heard demographers point to amounts of personal space as part of the equation, just things like race, affluence, etc.

At 9:40 AM, August 14, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It seems like too many people are making excuses or trying to find loopholes in the argument about demographics. I realize that many people...and most politicians...don't care to deal with the reality of the demographics...but the reality is there nonetheless. Demographics may not be destiny, but they are damn close to it. There is not a single seventeen year old alive anywhere who was not a sixteen year old a year ago.

'Progressives' like to tout Darwininism ....mainly as a vehicle for insulting the beliefs others hold sacred, but the reality of Darwinism applies to cultures as well as to species.

The 'progressive' countries such as the social democracies of Europe who have eschewed children for affluence have consigned themselves to the dustbin of history, as their population of fertile age females has declined to a fourth of what it was pre-WWII and the fertility rate of those females to a third of that. The cultures of these countries are going away...and will soon be replaced by Islam.

That's the reality. Anyone who believes otherwise is engaged in fiction.

At 11:26 AM, January 18, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tory, whoever said you've moved from reasoned insight to pushing an agenda was on the mark. Fertility rates are much more complicated than how big houses are, and density doesn't really correlate with personal living space in Houston anyway. If you want to campaign against density and public transit, fine, but just come out and state your biases.

At 3:18 PM, January 18, 2008, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

I do not believe it is the only factor, but it is certainly a notable one - and a clear one that helps explain the difference between America and Europe or Japan. Note the Economist quote for even more backing. I'm not arguing against dense development for those who want it - just against forcing that lifestyle on people who would prefer a nice large house in the suburbs.


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