By Susan Yoshihara, Ph.D.
  NEW YORK, NY, June 26, 2008 ( – A recent study by a prestigious national security think tank warns that “rapid and extreme” demographic change due to falling birth rates in the industrialized world may increase security risks in the coming decades.

The study also warns that such demographic changes could undermine the “ability of the U.S. and its allies to maintain global and national security.” The report says the world is irreversibly headed for “demographic transformation of historic and unprecedented dimensions” that will not be corrected “in our lifetime.”
  Meant by its authors as a “wake up call”, “The Graying of the Great Powers: Demography and Geopolitics in the 21st Century” was published by the Washington DC-based Center for Strategic & International Studies. The report argues that the influence of the developed world as a whole will contract as its workforces and economies shrink. Among developed states, however, the influence of the United States will increase because of relatively robust fertility. At the same time, the role of “global governance” through the United Nations and other international institutions may decline as the crisis promotes the role of the sovereign state in addressing the consequences of demographic collapse. 

Two miscalculations by demographers are uncovered in the report: that mortality and aging would plateau, and that fertility rates would stabilize at replacement level of 2.1 children per woman. Neither happened, and the result is what the authors call a “low fertility trap.”

According to the report, no country that sinks to a 1.5 fertility rate for more than a few years has ever recovered. Pro-natal policies such as child care and baby bonuses adopted by some European countries are likely too little and too late. While immigration may help mitigate the drop in working-age population, fertility decline also tends to cause public opposition to it. Furthermore, a “culture of low fertility” has taken hold in Europe that will make a return to larger families unlikely. 
  The authors also believe that alternate waves of small and large-sized generations, called “echo booms,” will create shocks to social systems and stall economic development. And while demographers have credited fertility decline for East Asia’s economic “miracle,” the report finds that this “demographic dividend” was the exception to the rule. Forced demographic transitions can even squander the dividend and cause destabilization, it says.

Among its recommendations, the report called for raising fertility by increasing prenatal benefits, improving the economic prospects of young families, and helping women balance jobs and children. It also offers diplomatic and military steps the United States can take to prepare for its inevitable leadership role as Europe’s indigenous population wanes in the tumultuous decades ahead.