The American Academy of Fertility Care Professionals had their annual conference here in Greenville this week and I was asked to be keynote speaker and deliver another presentation on the Demographic Winter. I hesitated because all of this is not really my area of expertise, but my arm was twisted and the first address was on Christ and Culture and the relationship between Church and State. Today’s was on the coming Demographic Winter.

John Allen’s book The Future Church has an excellent chapter on the projected drop in human population for the rest of this century. Strange how thirty years ago the big panic was overpopulation and now the big panic is underpopulation. Some might think that underpopulation is okay and even necessary to conserve the worlds’ resources etc. Not really. Underpopulation brings economic recession because a growing population means a growing economy. Along with a declining birth rate goes an increasing number of elderly. By 2040 the developed countries won’t have enough young people working to support their elderly. Long term health care costs for the elderly will skyrocket. Immigration provides part of the solution, but the birth rates in Mexico and Latin America are dropping too.

Inevitably there will be a whole range of societal shifts that need to take place. Forget about the concept of ‘retirement’–especially retirement at 65. We won’t be able to support such a thing. It will be more like retirement at 75 if you’re lucky. Get ready for euthanasia. They will argue that we simply can’t support so many elderly people who are contributing nothing and who’s quality of life is negligible. Here comes Nurse Ratched to put you to sleep. Get ready for the closure of schools and colleges and the opening of rest homes. There’s a good business opportunity. Buy up little colleges and turn them into retirement communities. There won’t be the market for colleges then.

What might turn it around? In some countries it can’t be turned around. The replacement birth rate for the population has already been too low for too long, and it cannot now recover. One thing which might turn it around is for people to start regarding children as an asset again. See, at when a society is agrarian a child is an asset. Many hours of labor are required to feed everyone so every child helps keep the farm going. When people move to the city and work in factories and offices a child become an expensive liability, not an asset.

However, if elderly health care is unavailable, pension funds dry up, social security goes bust, the Medicare pot is empty and insurers refuse to pay for long term elderly health care, having more kids might just be your chance for survival.

Think about it. Who is going to get the sleepy pills first? It will be the old people with no family, no one to visit, no one to object, who’s money has run out. That’s assuming that there are care facilities that have room for the old codger in the first place. Who’s going to pay and look after all these folks who have no one?

On the other hand, if you’ve got lots of kids invest in a different kind of insurance plan: send one off to college to specialize in geriatric medicine, another to be a geriatric nurse just in case. Once kids start being seen as retirement insurance people might start breeding again. It’s terrible to recommend such a course simply out of self interest, but hey, if Nurse Ratched is coming for you with the sleepy pills, wouldn’t you rather have your kids in charge?