Falling Births? US Needs to Actually be Livable

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 6/27/2021 05:07:00 PM

Ever consider that the US birthrate is dropping precipitously since it's a rather s--tty place to live?

Like most developed countries, the United States is experiencing cratering birth rates. If the replacement rate is 2.1 birth per woman, its current reported rate of 1.6 is well below that. In other words, depopulation will set in for America just as it has for the likes of Japan and others if births continue to crater and anti-immigrant sentiment scares off would-be migrants. Fewer birth and nobody being welcomed inevitably spells depopulation.

Although the United States likes to portray itself in all sorts of self-aggrandizing ways--the promised land, shining city upon a hill, and all that jazz--the truth is that its livability is rather worse than any number of other places.A Bloomberg interview with demographer Lyman Stone has some interesting things to say on the matter. First, flexible work may not be the solution:

I think policymakers still have this delusion that the path to high fertility is everybody having an awesome job with great benefits allowing them to be “flexible” for their family, but this just isn't reality. As jobs, even “family-friendly” jobs, turn into careers, and careers turn into essentially religious or spiritual vocations, family is deprioritized and birth rates decline. In empirical studies of surveys across nearly 100 countries, a co-author and I found that this effect was actually as strong for men as for women, so this isn't just about breadwinners. The boss in the movie “Elf” is the bad guy because as far as a child is concerned, a parent's work is always the biggest competition for that parent's mental and emotional energy.

Another observation is that Trumpian racists tend to gain favor as birth rates fall, which obviously has ominous portents:

But as birthrates fall, far-right anti-immigration parties tend to do better, not worse. So if a traditional value of being welcoming to immigrants is something important to Americans, again, low fertility is a problem, because it threatens the viability of political coalitions that support an attitude of welcome and hospitality. And of course, in a more literal sense, the absorptive capacity of a society with regard to immigrants is related to population size: 1 million immigrants has a very different social significance to a society with 100,000 births than a society with 1 million or 10 million. 

Completing this downward spiral of falling birth rates mobilizing far-right ultra-racist groups is that low birth rates tends to quash innovation, too: 

Another thing we appear to value is something like, “Having a dynamic economy with lots of innovation and entrepreneurship, without inherited wealth that dominates the economic landscape.” But I've shown in extensive work that low birth rates directly predict less innovation, lower entrepreneurship and a higher salience for inherited wealth.

America with all its problems has too far to go in fixing its broken society. It won't become much more livable anytime soon, so expect its birth rates to continue stagnating. 

Happiest Country, Finland, Has Few Migrants

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 6/22/2021 01:27:00 PM

The Finnish far-right scares away many migrants... but how welcoming are ordinary Finns?

There's this interesting conundrum in international migration of countries that, on paper at least, should be among the world's most attractive destinations having problems finding migrant workers. The rationale for this migration are well-known: Developed (and mostly Western) nations with high standards of living are aging, and generous state-provided benefits cannot continue when those being supported (retirees) are promised far greater resources than those being put into the system by current employees. The logical solution in theory is to attract migrant workers to fill this gap, but reality intrudes. 

Take the case of Finland. While it is near the top or tops global league tables for standards of living, paths for migrant workers remain treacherous. Let's begin with its dire population projections that necessitate more migrant workers coming in:

While many Western countries are battling weak population growth, few are feeling the effects as sharply as Finland. With 39.2 over-65s per 100 working-age people, it is second only to Japan in the extent of its ageing population, according to the United Nations, which forecasts that by 2030 the "old-age dependency ratio" will rise to 47.5.

The government has warned that the nation of 5.5 million needs to practically double immigration levels to 20,000 to 30,000 a year to maintain public services and plug a looming pensions deficit.

Despite its dire demographic situation, however, the country has done little to make itself more attractive and hospitable to migrant workers. While there is outright xenophobia in the form of far-right politics, what may be more concerning is that regular Finns do not really make much in the way of concessions to newcomers. As a result, those with high levels of "human capital" are no more likely to stay given the less-than-welcome reception they have received in Finland:

But anti-immigrant sentiment and a reluctance to employ outsiders are also widespread in Western Europe's most homogenous society, and the opposition far-right Finns Party regularly draws substantial support during elections...

But previous such efforts have petered out. In 2013, five of the eight Spanish nurses recruited to the western town of Vaasa left after a few months, citing Finland's exorbitant prices, cold weather and notoriously complex language. Finland has nonetheless seen net immigration for much of the last decade, with around 15,000 more people arriving than leaving in 2019. But many of those quitting the country are higher-educated people, official statistics show.

Horror stories are rife of even talented folks experiencing outright hostility:

Start-ups "have told me that they can get anyone in the world to come and work for them in Helsinki, as long as he or she is single", the capital's mayor, Mr Jan Vapaavuori, said to AFP. But "their spouses still have huge problems getting a decent job". 

Many foreigners complain of a widespread reluctance to recognise overseas experience or qualifications, as well as prejudice against non-Finnish applicants. Mr Ahmed (who requested his name be changed for professional reasons) is a 42-year-old Brit with many years' experience in building digital products for multinational, household-name companies. Yet, six months of networking and applying for jobs in Helsinki, where he was trying to move for family reasons, proved fruitless. "One recruiter even refused to shake my hand. That was a standout moment," he told AFP.

As with Japan, the same question holds: For how long can they hold on to such parochial attitudes in the face of such unfavorable demographic headwinds?