Aging Populations and Replacement Birthrate

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 28th, 2014

Economics 101

(Originally published July 8th, 2013)

Trying to follow a Baby Boom with a Baby Bust creates Problems in Advanced Economies with Large Welfare States

In the late 1960s began a movement for zero population growth.  It called for women to have only enough babies to replace the current population.  Not to have too many babies that would increase the population.  Nor have too few babies that the population declines.  Something that women could easily do because of birth control.  And, later, abortion.  The drive behind this was to save the planet.  By keeping large populations becoming like a plague of locusts that devour the earth’s resources and food until the planet can no longer sustain life.

China did these zero population growth people better.  By promoting a negative population growth rate.  Limiting parents to one child.  They did this because during the days of Mao’s China the country set some world records for famine.  Their communist state simply couldn’t provide for her people.  So to help their communist system avoid future famines they tried to limit the number of mouths they had to feed.  Of course, trying to follow a baby boom with a baby bust creates other problems.  Especially in advanced economies with large welfare states.

China’s one-child policy and the preference for boys have led to a shortage of women to marry.  Some Chinese men are even looking at ‘mail-order’ brides from surrounding countries.  But China is going to have an even greater problem caring for her elderly.  Just like Japan.  Japanese couples are having less than 1.5 babies per couple.  Meaning that each successive generation will be smaller than the preceding generation.  As couples aren’t even having enough children to replace themselves when they die.  Leaving the eldest generation the largest percentage of the overall population.  Being paid and cared for by the smallest percentage of the overall population.  The younger generation.

States with Aging Populations are Suffering Debt Crises because they Spend More than their Tax Revenue can Cover

As nations develop advanced economies people develop careers.  Moving from one well-paid job to another.  As they advance in their career.  Creating a lot of income to tax.  Allowing a large welfare state.  Which is similar to a Ponzi scheme.  Or pyramid scheme.  As long as more people are entering the workforce than leaving it their income taxes can pay for the small group at the top of the pyramid that leaves the workforce and begins consuming pension and health care benefits in their retirement.  And there is but one requirement of a successful pyramid scheme.  The base of the pyramid must expand greater than the tip of the pyramid.  The wider the base is relative to the top the more successive the pyramid scheme.  As we can see here.

Babies per Generation - Constant Replacement Birthrate

Generation 1 is at the top of the pyramid.  It is the oldest generation.  Which we approximate as a period of 20 years.  In our example Generation 1 are people aged 78-98.  They’re retired and collecting pension, health care and other benefits.  Some combination of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, heating assistance, etc.  All paid for by Generation 2 (58-78), Generation 3 (38-58) and Generation 4 (18-38).  Each generation is assumed to bring 6 children into the world.  So these couples are not only replacing themselves but adding an additional 4 children to further increase the size of the population.  Which really makes running a pyramid scheme easy.  For if we assume each member in Generation 1 on average consumes $35,000 annually in benefits that Generations 2 through 4 pay for that comes to $555.56 per person annually.  Or $46.30 per person monthly.  Or $10.68 per person weekly.  Or $1.53 per person daily.  Amounts so small that Generations 2 through 4 can easily pay for Generation 1′s retirement.  Now let’s look at the impact of a declining birthrate with each successive generation.

Babies per Generation - Declining Replacement Birthrate

When all couples in each generation were having on average 6 children this added 1.9 billion new taxpayers.  Which greatly reduced each taxpayer’s share of Generation 1′s retirement costs.  But thanks to birth control, abortion and the growing cost of living each successive generation has fewer babies.  Generation 2 only has 3 children.  Enough to replace themselves.  And add one new taxpayer.  Generation 3 has only 2 children.  Only enough to replace the parents.  Providing that zero population growth that was all the rage during the late 1960s and the 1970s.  While Generation 4 only has 1 child.  Not even enough to replace the parents when they die.  Causing a negative population growth rate.  Which is a big problem in an advanced economy with a large welfare state.  For instead of adding 1.9 billion new taxpayers they only add 217.5 million new taxpayers.  Greatly increasing each taxpayer’s share of Generation 1′s retirement costs.  Instead of paying $555.56 per taxpayer they each have to pay $5,384.62 annually.  Or $448.72 per taxpayer monthly.  Or $103.55 per taxpayer weekly.  Or $14.79 per taxpayer daily.  Numbers that prove to be unsustainable.  The state simply cannot tax people this much for Generation 1′s retirement.  For if they did this and added it to the rest of government’s spending they’re taxing us to fund it would take away all of our income.  This is why advanced economies with aging populations are suffering debt crises.  Because their spending has grown so far beyond their ability to pay for it with tax revenue that they borrow massive amounts of money to finance it.

If you want a Generous Welfare State you need Parents to have More Children

If you carry this out two more generations so every generation only has one child the per taxpayer amount tops out at $14,736.84 annually.  Or $1,228.07 per taxpayer monthly.  Or $283.40 per taxpayer weekly.  Or $40.49 per taxpayer daily.  Amounts far too great for most taxpayers to pay.  This is what an aging population does in a country with a large welfare state.  It makes the population top-heavy in elderly people who no longer work (i.e., pay taxes) but consume the lion’s share of state benefits.  When couples were having 6 children each across the generations there was a ratio of 84 taxpayers per retiree.  When there was a declining replacement birthrate that ratio fell to 15 taxpayers per retiree.  If we look at this graphically we can see the pyramid shape of this generational population.

Generational Population - Constant Replacement Birthrate

With 84 taxpayers per retiree we can see a nice and wide base to the pyramid.  While the tip of the pyramid is only a small sliver of the base (Generation 4).  Making for a successful Ponzi scheme.  Far more people pay into the scheme.  While only a tiny few take money out of the scheme.  This is why Social Security and Medicare didn’t have any solvency problems until after birth control and abortion.  For these gave us a declining replacement birthrate over time.  Greatly shrinking the base of the pyramid.  Which made the tip no longer a small sliver of the base.  But much closer in size to the base.  That if it was an actual pyramid sitting on the ground it wouldn’t take much to push it over.  Unlike the above pyramid.  That we could never push over.  Which is why the above Ponzi scheme would probably never fail.  While the one below will definitely fail.

Generational Population - Declining Replacement Birthrate

If you want a generous welfare state where the state provides pensions, health care, housing and food allowances, etc., you need parents to have more children.  For the more children they have the more future taxpayers there will be.  Or you at least need a constant replacement birthrate.  But if that rate is below the rate of a prior baby boom the welfare state will be unsustainable UNLESS they slash spending.  The United States has a replacement birthrate below the rate of a prior baby boom.  While the Obama administration has exploded the size of welfare state.  Especially with the addition of Obamacare.  Making our Ponzi scheme more like the second chart.  As we currently have approximately 1.75 taxpayers supporting each social security recipient.  Meaning that it won’t take much pushing to topple our pyramid. We’re at the point where a slight breeze may do the trick.  For it will topple.  It’s just a matter of time.

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