Generation Alpha (or Gen Alpha for short) is the demographic cohort succeeding Generation Z. Researchers and popular media use the early 2010s as the starting birth years. Named after the first letter in the Greek alphabet, Generation Alpha is the first to be born entirely in the 21st century. Most members of Generation Alpha are the children of Millennials.
The name Generation Alpha originated from a 2008 survey conducted by the Australian consulting agency McCrindle Research, according to founder Mark McCrindle who is generally credited with the term. McCrindle describes how his team arrived at the name in a 2015 interview:
McCrindle Research also took inspiration from the naming of hurricanes, specifically the 2005 Atlantic hurricane season in which the names beginning with the letters of the Roman alphabet were exhausted, and the last six storms were named with the Greek letters alpha through zeta.
As of 2015, there were some two and a half million people born every week around the globe; Generation Alpha is expected to reach two billion by 2025. For comparison, the United Nations estimated that the human population was about 7.8 billion in 2020, up from 2.5 billion in 1950. Roughly three-quarters of all people reside in Africa and Asia in 2020. In fact, most human population growth comes from these two continents, as nations in Europe and the Americas tend to have too few children to replace themselves.
2018 was the first time when the number of people above 65 years of age (705 million) exceeded those between the ages of zero and four (680 million). In other words, this was the first year in which there were more grandparents than grandchildren. If current trends continues, the ratio between these two age groups will top two by 2050. Fertility rates have been falling around the world thanks to rising standards of living, greater access to contraceptives, and improved educational and economic opportunities. In fact, about half of all countries had sub-replacement fertility in the mid-2010s. The global average fertility rate in 1950 was 4.7 but dropped to 2.4 in 2017. However, this average masks the huge variation between countries. Niger has the world's highest fertility rate at 7.1 while Cyprus has one of the lowest at 1.0. In general, the more developed of countries, including much of Europe, the United States, South Korea, and Australia, tend to have lower fertility rates. People in such places tend to have children later and fewer of them. However, surveys conducted in developed economies suggest that women's desired family sizes tend to be higher than their completed fertility. Stagnant wages and eroding welfare programs are the contributing factors. While some countries, such as Sweden and Singapore, have tried various incentives to raise their fertility rates, such policies have not been particularly successful. Moreover, birth rates following the COVID-19 global pandemic might drop significantly due to economic recession.
Education is in fact one of the most important determinants of fertility. The more educated a woman is, the later she tends to have children, and fewer of them. At the same time, the global average life expectancy has gone from 52 in 1960 to 72 in 2017. Higher interest in education brings about an environment in which mortality rates fall, which in turns, increases population density. All these factors reduce fertility, as does cultural transmission. Increasing immigration is problematic while policies that encourage people to have more children rarely succeed. Moreover, immigration is not an option at the global level.
Half of the human population lived in urban areas in 2007, and this figure became 55% in 2019. If the current trend continues, it will reach two thirds by the middle of the century. A direct consequence of urbanization is falling fertility. In rural areas, children can be considered an asset, that is, additional labor. But in the cities, children are a burden. Moreover, urban women demand greater autonomy and exercise more control over their fertility. The United Nations estimated in mid-2019 that the human population will reach about 9.7 billion by 2050, a downward revision from an older projection to account for the fact that fertility has been falling faster than previously thought in the developing world. The global annual rate of growth has been declining steadily since the late twentieth century, dropping to about one percent in 2019. In fact, by the late 2010s, 83 of the world's countries had sub-replacement fertility.
During the early to mid-2010s, more babies were born to Christian mothers than to those of any other religion in the world, reflecting the fact that Christianity remained the most popular religion in existence. However, it was the Muslims who had a faster rate of growth. About 33% of the world's babies were born to Christians who made up 31% of the global population between 2010 and 2015, compared to 31% to Muslims, whose share of the human population was 24%. During the same period, the religiously unaffiliated (including atheists and agnostics) made up 16% of the population but gave birth to only 10% of the world's children.
Egypt's population reached the 100-million milestone in February 2020. According to government figures, during the 1990s and 2000s, Egypt's fertility rate fell from 5.2 down to 3.0, but then rose up to 3.5 in 2018, according to the United Nations. If the current rate of growth continues, Egypt will be home to more than 128 million people by 2030. Such rapid population growth is a cause for concern in a country marked by poverty, unemployment, shortages of clean water, lack of affordable housing, and traffic congestion. Harsh geography exacerbates the problem: 95% of the population lives on just 4% of the land, a region in the neighborhood of the Nile River roughly half the size of Ireland. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi claimed that overpopulation posed as much a threat to national security as terrorism. He launched a campaign called “Two Is Enough” in order to curb the problem, but to no avail. Egypt's fertility rate surged at around the Arab Spring, likely as a result of political chaos, economic uncertainty, and funds for birth control from Western governments drying up. Fertility rates remained the highest in rural areas, where children are considered a blessing, but the impact is most visible in Greater Cairo, a megalopolis home to over 20 million people. In general, Egypt's densely populated cities and towns have one million additional residents each year between 2008 and 2018.
Nigeria was experiencing a population boom in the 2010s and is on track to become the world's third most populous nation by century's end, according to United Nations figures. However, this demographic trend comes with its own risks, namely environmental, health, and food security problems. Moreover, the nation is already battling deadly infectious diseases, which spread more easily with higher population densities, such as HIV/AIDS, malaria, and Lassa fever.
Statistical projections from the United Nations in 2019 suggest that, by 2020, the people of Niger would have a median age of 15.2, Mali 16.3, Chad 16.6, Somalia, Uganda, and Angola all 16.7, the Democratic Republic of the Congo 17.0, Burundi 17.3, Mozambique and Zambia both 17.6. (This means that more than half of their populations were born in the first two decades of the twenty-first century.) Benin, Burundi, Ethiopia, Madagascar, Malawi, Nigeria, Tanzania, Zambia, Yemen, and Timor-Leste had a median age of 17 in 2017, according to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluations, University of Washington. These are the world's youngest countries by median age. While a booming population can induce substantial economic growth, if healthcare, education, and economic needs were not met, there would be chronic youth unemployment, low productivity, and social unrest. Investing in human capital is crucial. Curbing population growth could help Africa take advantage of the demographic dividend that enabled the Asian Tigers to develop so rapidly during the late twentieth century. Africa's population boom could have a significant international impact, as many of its natives seek to migrate to other countries both within and without Africa seeking a better life.
While Africa is the world's most fertile region, it also has the world's highest child mortality rates. Nevertheless, Africa is largely responsible for human population growth in the twenty-first century, overtaking Asia. Moreover, sub-Saharan Africa is the only major region that is an exception to the general trend of falling family size seen around the world.
In 2016, the Chinese Communist Party replaced one-child policy with the two-child policy; the nation's birth rate briefly surged before continuing on a downward path. In 2019, 14.65 million babies were born in China, the lowest since 1961. Although demographers and economists have urged the Chinese Central Government to eliminate all birth restrictions, they have been reluctant to do so. Economist Ren Zeping of Evergrande calculated that between 2013 and 2028, the number of Chinese women between the ages of 20 and 35 would drop by 30%. Official data is often unreliable and even self-contradictory. "China's birth numbers are very sloppy and highly influenced by politics," demographer Yi Fuxian of the University of Wisconsin – Madison told the South China Morning Post. Overall, China's population grew to 1.4 billion in 2019 from 1.39 billion the year before. In a 2019 paper, Yi Fuxian estimated that China's average annual fertility rate was 1.18 between 2010 and 2018. Less than 6% of China's population was under five years old in 2018, compared to 3.85% in Japan. A Chinese person born in the late 2010s has a life expectancy of 76 years, up from 44 in 1960. According to a projection by the United Nations, China's median age would reach that of the United States in 2020 and would subsequently converge with Europe's but would remain below that of Japan. If the current trend continues, by 2050, the median age of China will be 50, compared to 42 for the United States and 38 for India.
Such a trend has fueled predictions of dreadful socio-economic problems. A study by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) published in January 2020 predicts that China's population would peak in 2029 at 1.44 billion, after which decline would be "unstoppable." CASS calculated that China's population will fall to 1.36 billion by mid-century, losing almost 200 million workers. CASS recommended that the government implement policies that would address the problems of a shrinking labor force and an increasing elderly population, which means a growing dependency rate. A large and young labor force and domestic consumption have driven China's rapid economic growth. Yet due a shrinking pool of young people, China has suffered from labor shortages and reduced growth in the 2010s. Young Chinese women living in the twenty-first century tend to be reluctant to have children for a number of reasons. In large cities, such as Shanghai, people typically spend at least a third of their income on raising a child. Chinese women have become a lot more career-oriented. On top of that, Chinese work places generally do not offer accommodations for women with young children, who often face demotion or even unemployment after returning from maternity leave. Not only do shortages of young workers have implications for China's economic prospects, they also pose a serious burden on young people being born today. They will have to take care of four grandparents and two parents on their own, as their siblings will not have been born.
As a result of cultural ideals, government policy, and modern medicine, there has been severe gender imbalances in China and India. According to the United Nations, in 2018, China and India had a combined 50 million of excess males under the age of 20. Such a discrepancy fuels loneliness epidemics, human trafficking (from elsewhere in Asia, such as Cambodia and Vietnam), and prostitution, among other societal problems.
Singapore's total fertility rate continues to decline in the 2010s, as more and more young people are choosing to delay or eschew marriage and parenthood. It reached 1.14 in 2018, making it the lowest since 2010 and one of the lowest in the world. Reasons for this include long work hours, digital disruption, uncertainties surrounding global trade, climate change, high cost of living, and long wait times for public housing. The median age for first-time mothers rose from 29.7 in 2009 to 30.6 in 2018, which poses a problem because fertility declines with age. Meanwhile, the death rate has been increasing since 1998; Singapore now faces an aging population. In fact, Singapore's birth rate has been below the replacement level of 2.1 since the 1980s, and appears to be stabilizing by during the first two decades of the twenty-first century. Government incentives such as the baby bonus have proven insufficient to raise the birth rate. The number of women in their prime childbearing years (25–29) who remained single increased from 60.9% in 2007 to 68.1% in 2017. For men, the corresponding numbers were 77.5% and 80.7%, respectively. In Singapore, the singleness rate is a major determinant of fertility because only 10% of married couples have no children at all. While it is not unusual for men to marry late because they are expected to have established themselves before getting married and to be the primary breadwinner, one major reason why women are marrying later is because higher education eliminates the need to get married for economic survival.
At the 2019 Forbes Global CEO Conference, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that one of the top issues facing his country is finding the right demographic balance. "To secure our future, we must make our own babies, enough of them. Because if all of the next generation are not our own, then where do they come from and what is the point of this?" he said. Lee added that the long-term goal of his government is to maintain a workforce that is two-thirds Singaporean, with the rest being brought in from overseas. He argued that such a ratio is manageable while relaxing immigration restriction would be "unwise" because "there is no shortage of people who want to come."
Singapore's experience mirrors those of Japan and South Korea. Japan at present has one of the oldest population in the world and persistently sub-replacement fertility, currently 1.4 per woman. Japan's population peaked in 2017. A baby boom occurred in the aftermath of the Korean War, and the government subsequently encouraged people to have no more than two children per couple. As a result, South Korea's fertility has been falling ever since. South Korea's fertility rate dropped below 1.0 in 2018 for the first time since that country began keeping statistics in 1970. The figure for 2017 was also a record low, at 1.05. Since 2005, the government has spent a fortune on child subsidies and campaigns promoting reproduction but without much success. Possible reasons for Korea's low fertility rate include the high cost of raising a child, high youth unemployment, the burden of childcare on career-minded women, a stressful education system, and high levels of competition in Korean society. In South Korea, because marriage is usually associated with child-rearing, it is extremely rare for children to be born out of wedlock. That figure stood at 1.9% as of 2017. By contrast, in some other developed countries, such as France and Norway, it is not uncommon for children to be born to unmarried couples, at 55% or higher. Government figures show that the average age at first marriage for women climbed from 24.8 in 1990 to 30.2 in 2018 while the age of first birth was 31.6. According to Statistics Korea, women to give birth to their first child in their early 30s are unlikely to have more than one. In Korea's traditionalist society, new mothers face discrimination in the work force, and as such delaying childbirth becomes commonplace. Such a low fertility rate endangers the nation's welfare programs (including healthcare and pensions), and causes more and more schools to close. It also has implications for national security, as the South Korean military relies on conscription to confront the North Korean threat.
According to the National Development Council of Taiwan (NDC), the nation's population could start shrinking by 2022 and the number of people of working age could fall 10% by 2027. About half of Taiwanese would be aged 50 or over by 2034. According to the NDC, Taiwan reached the stage of being an aging society – one in which the number of people aged 65 and up is about 7% – in 1993. Like South Korea, Taiwan has since moved from being an aging society to an aged one, where the number of elderly people exceeds 14%. It therefore takes the country just 25 years, compared to 17 for South Korea. During the 2010s, Taiwan's fertility rate hovered just above 1.0, making it one of the lowest in the world. In fact, data from the Ministry of the Interior shows it has consistently been below 1.5 since 2001. (In 2010, Taiwan's fertility rate actually fell below 1.0 because it was thought to be a bad year to have children because he previous year was considered inauspicious for marriage.) Many couples still live with their parents, and the older generation expects women to stay at home, take care of children, and do house chores. Stipends and subsidies from the government have been unsuccessful in encouraging more people to reproduce, but the government has added more money for childcare, education, and birth subsidies. The government is also considering immigration policies that attract highly skilled workers from other countries, and to make English an official language.
At the current rate, Taiwan is set to transition from an aged to super-aged society, where 21% of the population is over 65 years of age, in eight years, compared to seven years for Singapore, eight years for South Korea, 11 years for Japan, 14 for the United States, 29 for France, and 51 for the United Kingdom. As of 2018, Japan was already a super-aged society, with 27% of its people being older than 65 years. According to government data, Japan's total fertility rate was 1.43 in 2017. According to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, University of Washington, Japan has one of the oldest populations in the world, with a median age of 47 years in 2017.
Vietnam's population grew from 60 million in 1986 to 97 million in 2018, with the rate of growth falling to about one percent in the late 2010s. Like Bangladesh and unlike Egypt, Vietnam is a developing country that has successfully curbed its population growth. Vietnam's median age in 2018 was 26 and rising. Between the 1970s and the late 2010s, life expectancy climbed from 60 to 76. It is now the second-highest in Southeast Asia. Vietnam's fertility rate dropped from 5 in 1980 to 3.55 in 1990 and then to 1.95 in 2017. In that same year, 23% of the Vietnamese population was 15 years of age or younger, down from almost 40% in 1989. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Vietnam's population is one of the fastest aging in the world. WHO projected that the proportion of people above the age of 65 would rise from 4% in 2017 to almost 7% by 2030. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), "Vietnam is at risk of growing old before it grows rich." The share of working-age Vietnamese peaked in 2011, when the country's annual GDP per capita at purchasing power parity was $5,024, compared to $32,585 for South Korea, $31,718 for Japan, and $9,526 for China.
In April 2020, Prime Minister of Vietnam Nguyễn Xuân Phúc issued a decision on attaining a demographic balance by raising the fertility rate of localities that are below 2.2, what his government considers the replacement rate, and reducing the number of births in places that are above that mark. To this end, local governments are to invest in family-friendly services such as babysitting and family medicine. A 2016 report from the Ministry of Labor, Invalids, and Social Affairs stated that Vietnam became one of the fasting aging societies on Earth in 2015. Government data showed that in 2019, Vietnam's population was 96.2 million people, the third-largest in Southeast Asia, and the fifteenth in the world. Yet many localities had fertility rate well below replacement level, such as Dong Thap (1.34), Ba Ria-Vung Tau (1.37), Ho Chi Minh City (1.36), and Hau Giang (1.57). Phúc's decision discourages women from having children after the age of 35 and instead urges people to marry before the age of 30 and have children early. But some newspaper readers pointed out that such a policy ignores cultural, economic, and social realities. Reasons for Vietnam's falling fertility rate include high standards of child rearing, youth unemployment leading many to continue to live with their parents till the age of 30, career aspirations, high cost of living in the cities, concerns over national problems (such as child abuse, school violence, food safety, pollution, traffic congestion, and overcrowded hospitals), and international issues (namely overpopulation and climate change). Other rapidly growing Southeast Asian economies, such as the Philippines, saw similar demographic trends.
In India, the fertility rate has fallen from 5.91 in 1960 to 2.24 in 2020. In addition, the number of women who would like to have more than one child has declined significantly. The National Family Health Survey of 2018 found that only 24% of Indian women were interested in having a second child, down from 68% a decade prior. Nine states – Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Maharashtra, West Bengal, Punjab and Himachal Pradesh – found their fertility rate to be below the replacement level in 2018. In general, India's falling fertility is correlated with increasing women's literacy rates and level of education, rising economic prosperity, improved mobility, and later marriage. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been urging couples to have fewer children to make sure they are better taken care of.
Afghanistan's median age in 2017 was 16 years, making it the only country outside of Africa with a median age below 17.
A 2019 study by the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies showed that Israel's fertility rate was 3.1 per woman, well above all other members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). For comparison, Mexico was in second place at 2.2. Israel therefore had nothing short of a baby boom, comparable to what the United States experienced after World War II. Although ultra-Orthodox women in Israel had a phenomenal birth rate of about seven, Israel's comparatively high rate is not due to highly religious women alone but rather the national culture and attitude towards having a family. Secular Israeli women had a fertility rate of about 2.2, also high by the standards of the OECD. However, among Arabs living in Israel, family size has declined significantly since the 1960s to a level less than that of their Jewish counterparts and comparable with the developed world, where women have become more active in the work place. Among Israeli women in general, women's participation in the labor force has increased, as is the case with other developed countries, yet their fertility has not declined, unlike said countries.
In 2018, 19.70% of the population the European Union as a whole was at least 65 years old. The median age of all 28 members of the bloc, including the United Kingdom which recently left, was 43 years in 2019. It was about 29 in the 1950s, when there were just six members: Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands. Like all other inhabited continents, Europe saw significant population growth in the late twentieth century. However, Europe's growth is projected to halt by the early 2020s due to falling fertility rates and an aging population. In 2015, a woman living in the European Union had on average 1.5 children, down from 2.6 in 1960. Although the E.U. continues to experience a net influx of immigrants, this is not enough to balance out the low fertility rates. In 2017, the median age was 53.1 years in Monaco, 45 in Germany and Italy, 43 in Greece, Bulgaria, and Portugal, making them some of the oldest countries in the world besides Japan and Bermuda. They are followed by Austria, Croatia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovenia, and Spain, whose median age was 43.
Italy's fertility rate dropped from about four in the 1960s down to 1.2 in the 2010s. This is not because young Italians do not want to procreate. Quite the contrary, having a lot of children is an Italian ideal. But its economy has been floundering since the Great Recession of 2007–8, with the youth unemployment rate at a staggering 35% in 2019. Many Italians have moved abroad – 150,000 did in 2018 – and many are young people pursuing educational and economic opportunities. With the plunge in the number of births each year, the Italian population is expected to decline in the next five years. The Italian National Institute of Statistics (ISTAT) reported that the number of babies born in 2018 in Italy was the lowest since the unification of Italy in 1861. Moreover, the Baby Boomers are retiring in large numbers, and their numbers eclipse those of the young people taking care of them. Only Japan has an age structure more tilted towards the elderly. In 2018, 23% of the Italian population was above the age of 65, compared to 27% for Japan. One possible solution to this problem is incentivizing reproduction, as France has done, by investing in longer parental leaves, daycare, and tax exemptions for parents. As of 2019, France has approximately the same population as Italy but 65% more births. In 2015, Italy introduced a cash handout of €800 per couple per child. This does not seem to have had an impact in the long run. People may choose to have a child earlier, but ultimately, this does not increase the nation's fertility rate. This pattern has also been observed in other countries, family study expert Anne Gauthier of the University of Groningen told the BBC. In Italy's case, the subsidy does not address economic concerns or social attitudes. Another solution is immigration, which has been alleviating the decline, but it does not come without political backlash.
Greece's serious demographic problem comes as a result of economic hardship which has prompted many young people are leaving the country in search of better opportunities elsewhere. Between 2009 and 2018, about half a million people left the country, many of them of child-bearing age. In 2010, 115,000 children were born; that number dropped to 92,000 in 2015, and then to below 89,000 in 2017, the lowest on record. In 2019, the fertility rate fell to just 1.3 per woman, well below the replacement level and one of the lowest in Europe. Some of the more remote regions of Greece suffer from shortages of obstetricians and gynecologists, many of whom have gone abroad, which deters would-be parents. And there are primary school students who are the only child of their village and whose parents are in their 40s. In general, the Greeks are having children later and having fewer children in the 2010s compared to the 1980s. This brain drain and a rapidly aging population could spell disaster for the country.
The Spanish National Institute of Statistics reported that the number of babies born in Spain in 2018 was the lowest since 1998 and a 40.7% drop compared to 2008. This is due to the fact that there were fewer women of childbearing age in Spain than in the past, and that modern Spaniards are having fewer children. In Portugal, the fertility rate dropped to 1.3 in the late 2010s. Across Southern Europe, about 20% of women born in the 1970s are childless, a number not seen since the First World War. More and more schools have been forced to close and many towns are becoming empty. Southern Europe could become countries of old people by the late 2030s (when people born in the early 2010s and mid-2020s come of age) if the current trend continues.
Hungary's birth rate was about 1.48 in 2018. For the government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban, which favors "procreation over immigration," raising the national fertility rate is a matter of "strategic importance." In December 2018, the Hungarian government nationalized six fertility clinics and said it would offer free in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatment starting February 2020, though the details of who would be eligible for this program remain unclear. Like other Eastern European countries, Hungary faces a declining population not just due to its low birth rate, now half of what it was in 1950, but also to emigration to Western Europe. About one in every seven Hungarian children was born outside Hungary in the 2010s.
The United Nations Population Division projected that Russia, which had a birth rate of 1.75 in 2018, would find its population drop from 143 million down to 132 million by 2050. Russia's population has been on the decline since the 1990s, following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Another reason for Russia's demographic decline is the nation's low life expectancy for men, at only 64 years in 2015, or 15 years less than that in Italy, Germany, or Sweden. This is due to a combination of unusually high rates of alcoholism, smoking, untreated cancer, tuberculosis, suicides, violence, and HIV/AIDS. Although previous attempts to raise the birth rate have failed, in 2018, President Vladimir Putin proposed giving money to low-income families, first-time mothers, families with many children, and the creation of more nurseries. This is part of a massive spending package aimed at revitalizing the struggling Russian economy.
Throughout the 2000s, France maintained a fertility rate of about 2.0, but from the early 2010s onward, the country has seen its fertility rate falling gradually. Despite recent declines, France retains one of the highest birth rates in Europe at 1.92 in 2017, according to the World Bank. While many countries have introduced policies intended to incentivize people to have more children, these might be counter-balanced by other policies, such as taxes. In France, the Ministry of Families is solely responsible for family and child benefits packages, which are more generous for larger families.
Germany's fertility rate rose from 1.33 in 2006 to 1.57 in 2017, moving the country away from Spain and Italy and closer to the E.U. average. This is due to a few reasons. Older women were having children, which caused the rate to increase slightly. New immigrants, who arrived in Germany in great numbers in that decade, tend to have more children than natives, though their children will likely assimilate into German society and will have smaller families of their own than their parents and grandparents. In West Germany, working mothers were once stigmatized, but this is no longer the case in unified Germany. In the late 2000s and early 2010s, the German federal government introduced more generous parental leave, encouraged fathers to take (more) time off, and increased the number of nurseries, to which the government declared children over one year old were entitled to. Although the supply of nurseries remained insufficient, the number of children enrolled in them rose from 286,000 in 2006 to 762,000 in 2017.
In Sweden, generous pro-natalist policies contribute to the nation having a birth rate of 1.9 in 2017, which was high compared to the rest of Europe. Swedish parents are entitled to 480 days of parental leave to share between both parents, with fathers claiming on average 30% of the amount. According to the European Commission, Sweden has one of the lowest child poverty rates in the E.U. Nevertheless, Sweden's birth rate has begun to fall in the late 2010s. One of the reasons why Sweden has maintained a relatively high birth rate is because the country has for decades been accepting immigrants, who tend to have more children than the average Swede. But immigration has proven to be a contentious issue. While some see it as a lifeline, others view it as a threat.
Other Nordic countries face the same situation. Denmark, Norway, Finland, and Iceland all saw their fertility rates decline in the late 2010s to between 1.49 and 1.71 from previously near replacement level, although their economies had already recovered from the Great Recession by that time. "The number of childless individuals is growing rapidly, and the number of women having three or more children is going down. This kind of fall is unheard of in modern times in Finland," family sociologist Anna Rotkirch told AFP. According to Statistics Finland, the total fertility rate of that country in 2019 was 1.35, the lowest on record. Causes for this decline include financial uncertainty, urbanization, rising unemployment, declining median income, and high cost of living. Falling fertility rates jeopardize the much prized Nordic welfare systems. Generous parental benefits, including subsidized childcare, have proven ineffective in halting the demographic decline. According to a 2020 report from Nordic Council of Ministers, the Finns were aging at a faster rate than any of their counterparts in the Nordic region. Statistics Finland predicted in 2019 that given current trends in fertility and migration, Finland's population would begin to decline by 2031.
According to the World Bank, the Faroe Islands had a birth rate of about 2.5 in 2018, one of the highest in Europe, a position they have maintained for decades. Like the rest of the Nordic region, the territory has implemented a variety of family-friendly policies, such as 46 weeks of parental leave, numerous and cheap kindergartens, and tax cuts, including one for seven-seat vehicles. But unlike the rest of the Nordic region, traditional family values and family ties remain strong. Sociologist Hans Pauli Strøm of Statistics Faroe Islands told the AFP, "In our culture, we perceive a person more as a member of a family than as an independent individual. This close and intimate contact between generations makes it easier to have children." In addition, women's workforce participation is comparatively high, at 82%, compared to an average of 59% for the European Union, of which the Islands are not a member. More than half of Faroese women work part-time as a matter of personal choice rather than labor-market conditions. The autonomous Danish territory in the North Atlantic, in fact, had a prosperous economy, as of the 2010s.
In 2018–19, the Republic of Ireland had the highest birth rate and the lowest death rate in the European Union, according to Eurostat. Although Ireland had a thriving economy in the mid- to late-2010s, only 61,016 babies were born here in 2018 down from 75,554 in 2009. Ireland's birth rate fell from 16.8 in 2008 to 12.6 in 2018, a drop of about a quarter. The average age of first-time mothers in Ireland was 32.9 in 2018, up by over two years compared to the mid-2000s. Between 2006 and 2016, the number of babies born to women in their 40s doubled while that to teenagers fell by 52.8%. Economist Edgar Morgenroth of Dublin City University told the Irish Times that one of the reasons behind Ireland's falling fertility rate was the fact that Ireland had a baby burst in the 1980s after a baby boom in the 1970s, and the people born in the 1980s were starting families in the 2010s. He further explained that high housing and childcare costs could be behind Irish couples' reluctance. The marriage rate was 4.3 per 1,000 in 2018, the lowest since 1997 even though same-sex marriages were included. In addition, people were getting married later. In 2018, the average age at first marriage for a man was 36.4, up from 33.6 in 2008; for a women, those figures were 34.4 and 31.7, respectively. Usually, rising birth and marriage rates correspond to a healthy economy, but the present statistics seem to have buckled that trend. As of 2016, Ireland was, demographically, a young country by European standards. However, the country is aging quite quickly. According to the Central Statistics Office, although Ireland had more people below the age of 14 than above the age of 65 in 2016, the situation could flip by 2031 in all projected scenarios, which will pose a problem for public policy. For instance, Ireland's healthcare system, already operating on a tight budget, will be under even more pressure.
According to the United Kingdom Office for National Statistics, the fertility rates of England and Wales fell to a record low in 2018. Moreover, they fell for women of all age groups except those in their 40s. A grand total of 657,076 children were born in England and Wales in 2018, down 10% from 2012. There were 11.1 births per thousand people in 2018, compared to a peak of 20.5 in 1947, and the total fertility rate was 1.70, down from 1.76 in 2017. In fact, their fertility rates have been consistently below replacement since the late 1970s. At the same time, the number of stillbirths – when a baby is born after at least 24 weeks of pregnancy but with no signs of life – plummeted to a record low for the second consecutive year, standing at 4.1 per a thousand births in 2018. England said it was committed to pushing that number down to 2.6 by 2025. Falling fertility rates in England and Wales have been part of a continuing trend since the late twentieth century, with 1977 and 1992-2002 the only years where these jurisdictions had lower fertility rates on record. As has been the case since the start of the new millennium, the birth rate of women below the age of 20 continues to fall, down to 11.9 in 2018. Before 2004, women in their mid- to late-20s had the highest fertility rate, but between the mid-2000s and the late-2010s, those in their early- to mid-30s held that position. Social statistician and demographer Ann Berrington of the University of Southampton told The Guardian that access to education, "changing aspirations" in life, the availability of emergency and long-acting contraception, and the lack of affordable housing were among the reasons behind the decline in fertility among people in their 20s and 30s. If women were merely delaying childbirth, the fertility of women in their 20s would decline while that of women in their 30s would rise. But this was not the case in the late 2010s. Women in their 40s saw a slight increase, but they accounted for only 5% of all births in the same period. Immigrants have contributed to this decline. Whereas previously they tended to have more children on average than native Britons and were indeed above replacement level, their fertility rate in England and Wales dropped from 2.46 in 2004 to 1.97 in 2020. In other words, the proportions of births to immigrant women have fallen and are now below replacement. The fertility gap is closing.
Meanwhile, in Scotland, the fertility rate continues its downward trend since 2008. Figures from the National Records of Scotland (NRS) reveal that 12,580 births were registered in the final quarter of 2018. Except for 2002, this is the lowest since record-keeping began in 1855. NRS explained that economic insecurity and the postponement of motherhood, which often means having fewer children, are among the reasons why. In the late 2010s, 46% of U.K. couples had only one child.
In Canada, about one in five Millennials were delaying having children because of financial worries. Canada's average non-mortgage debt was CAN$20,000 in 2018. One in three Millennials felt "overwhelmed" by their liabilities, compared to 26% of Generation X and 13% of Baby Boomers, according to consultant firm BDO Canada. More than one in three Canadians with children felt stressed out by debt, compared with one-fifth of those without children. Many Canadian couples in their 20s and 30s are also struggling with their student loan debts. Research by the Royal Bank of Canada suggests that Canadian Millennials have been flocking to the large cities in spite of their expensive costs of living between the mid- and late 2010s in search of economic opportunities and cultural amenities. Data from Statistics Canada reveals that between 2000 and 2017, the birth rate among women under 30 years old fell in all provinces and territories except New Brunswick women between the ages of 25 and 29 whereas that of women of age 30 and over rose everywhere except in Nunavut among women aged 35 to 39. Meanwhile, the adolescent fertility rate (15 to 19) halved in most of Canada, a result likely due to improved sex education. The comparatively low birth rate of women in their 20s living in British Columbia and Ontario was correlated with the high housing costs in these provinces. On the other hand, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut had relatively high fertility rates because they have large Indigenous populations, and Indigenous women tend to have more children. (Data for Yukon was not available.)
Statistics Canada reported in 2015 that for the first time in Canadian history, there were more people aged 65 and over than people below the age of 15. One in six Canadians were above the age of 65 in July 2015. If this trend continues, there would be three seniors for every two children below the age of 15 in 20 years.
During the early 2010s, among the various religious groups in Canada, Muslims had the highest fertility rate of all. At 2.4 per woman, they outpaced Hindus (2.0) Sikhs (1.9), Jews (1.8), Christians (1.6), and secular people (1.4). Nationwide, 38.6% of Canadian couples had only one child during the late 2010s.
As their economic prospects improve, most American Millennials say they desire marriage, children, and home ownership. While Millennials were initially responsible for the so-called "back-to-the-city" trend, by the late 2010s, Millennial homeowners were more likely to be in the suburbs than the cities. Besides the cost of living, including housing costs, people are leaving the big cities in search of warmer climates, lower taxes, better economic opportunities, and better school districts for their children. Exurbs have become quite popular among Millennials as well. The return of suburbanization in the United States is due to not just Millennials reaching a stage in their lives where they start to have children but also to the new economics of space made possible by fast telecommunications technology and e-commerce, effectively cutting perceived distances. According to the Pew Research Center, by 2016, the cumulative number of American women of the millennial generation who had given birth at least once reached 17.3 million. About 1.2 million Millennial women had their first child that year. By the mid-2010s, Millennials, who made up 29% of the adult population and 35% of the workforce of the U.S., were responsible for a majority of births in the nation. In 2016, 48% of Millennial women were mothers, compared to 57% of Generation-X women in 2000 when they were the same age. The increasing age of women when they become mothers for the first time is a trend that can be traced back to the 1970s, if not earlier. Factors behind this trend include a declining interest in marriage, the growth in educational attainment, and the rise of women's participation in the workforce. Single-child families were the fastest-growing type of family units in the U.S. during the late 2010s.
A report from the Brookings Institution stated that in the United States, the Millennials are a bridge between the largely Caucasian pre-Millennials (Generation X and their predecessors) and the more diverse post-Millennials (Generation Z and their successors). Overall, the number of births to Caucasian women in the United States dropped 7% between 2000 and 2018. Among foreign-born Caucasian women, however, the number of births increased by 1% in the same period. Although the number of births to foreign-born Hispanic women fell from 58% in 2000 to 50% in 2018, the share of births due to U.S.-born Hispanic women increased from 20% in 2000 to 24% in 2018. The number of births to foreign-born Asian women rose from 19% in 2000 to 24% in 2018 while that due to U.S.-born Asian women went from 1% in 2000 to 2% in 2018. In all, between 2000 and 2017, more births were to foreign-born than U.S.-born women.
By analyzing data from the Census Bureau, the Pew Research Center discovered that in 2017, at least 20% of kindergartners in public schools were Hispanics in a grand total of 18 U.S. states plus the District of Columbia, compared to only eight states in 2000 and 17 in 2010. Between 2010 and 2017, Massachusetts and Nebraska joined the list while Idaho left. This reflects the falling pace of population growth of Hispanics in the United States, due to declining fertility and immigration rates. Hispanics, who comprised 18% of the U.S. population (or about 60 million people) have been spreading across the United States since the 1980s and are now the largest minority ethnic group in the nation. They also made up 28% of the students in K-12 public schools in 2019, up from 14% in 1995. For comparison, the number of Asian public-school students increased slightly, from 4% to 6% during the same period. Blacks fell slightly from 17% to 15%, and whites dropped from 65% to 47%. Overall, the number of children born to ethnic minorities has exceeded 50% of the total since 2015.
Provisional data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reveal that U.S. fertility rates have fallen below the replacement level of 2.1 since 1971. In 2017, it dropped to 1.765, the lowest in three decades. 15.4% of the U.S. population was over 65 years of age in 2018. After the Second World War, the U.S. fertility rate peaked in 1958 at 3.77 births per woman, fell to 1.84 in 1980, and climbed to 2.08 in 1990 before declining again in 2007. However, there is great variation in terms of geography, age groups, and ethnicity. South Dakota had the highest birth rate at 2,228 per a thousand women and the District of Columbia the lowest at 1,421. Besides South Dakota, only Utah (2,121) had a birth rate above replacement level. From 2006 to 2016, women whose ages range from the mid-20s to the mid-30s maintained the highest birth rates of all while those in their late 30s and early 40s saw significant increases in birth rates. American women are having children later in life, with the average age at first birth rising to 26.4 in the late 2010s, up from 23 in the mid-1990s. Falling teenage birth rates play a role in this development. In fact, the number of births given by teenagers, which reached ominous levels in the 1990s, have plummeted by about 60% between 2006 and 2016. This is thanks in no small part to the collapse of birth rates among black and Hispanic teens, down 50% from 2006. Overall, births fell for Asians, blacks, Hispanics, and whites but remained stable for native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders. While Hispanic American women still maintained the highest fertility rate of any racial or ethnic groups in the United States, their birth rate dropped 31% between 2007 and 2017. Like their American peers and unlike their immigrant parents and grandparents, young Hispanic American women in the 2010s were more focused on their education and careers and less interested in having children.
That U.S. fertility rates continue to drop is anomalous to demographers because fertility rates typically track the nation's economic health. It was no surprise that U.S. fertility rates dropped during the Great Recession of 2007–8. But the U.S. economy has shown strong signs of recovery for some time, and birthrates continue to fall. In general, however, American women still tend to have children earlier than their counterparts from other developed countries and the U.S. total fertility rate remains comparatively high for a rich country. In fact, compared with their counterparts from other countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), first-time American mothers were among the youngest on average, on par with Latvian women (26.5 years) during the 2010s. At the other extreme end were women from Italy (30.8), and South Korea (31.4). During the same period, American women ended their childbearing years with more children on average (2.2) than most other developed countries, with the notable exception of Icelandic women (2.3). At the other end were women from Germany, Italy, Spain, and Japan (all 1.5).
Below-replacement-level fertility rates could lead to labor shortages in the future. Speaking to the Associated Press, family specialist Karen Benjamin Guzzo from Bowling Green State University in Ohio recommended childcare subsidies, preschool expansion, (paid) parental leave, housing assistance, and student debt reduction or forgiveness. In any case, while the United States is indeed an aging society, its demographic decline is not as serious as that faced by many other major economies. The number of Americans of working age is predicted to increase by 10% between 2019 and 2040.
In 2019, the fertility rate of Mexico was about 2.2, higher than that of any other member of the OECD except Israel at 3.1.
Australia's total fertility rate has fallen from above three in the post-war era, to about replacement level (2.1) in the 1970s to below that in the late 2010s. It stood at 1.74 in 2017. However, immigration has been offsetting the effects of a declining birthrate. In the 2010s, among the residents of Australia, 5% were born in the United Kingdom, 2.5% from China, 2.2% from India, and 1.1% from the Philippines. 84% of new arrivals in the fiscal year of 2016 were below 40 years of age, compared to 54% of those already in the country. Like other immigrant-friendly countries, such as Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States, Australia's working-age population is expected to grow till about 2025. However, the ratio of people of working age to dependents and retirees (the dependency ratio) has gone from eight in the 1970s to about four in the 2010s. It could drop to two by the 2060s, depending in immigration levels. "The older the population is, the more people are on welfare benefits, we need more health care, and there's a smaller base to pay the taxes," Ian Harper of the Melbourne Business School told ABC News (Australia). While the government has scaled back plans to increase the retirement age, to cut pensions, and to raise taxes due to public opposition, demographic pressures continue to mount as the buffering effects of immigration are fading away. Australians coming of age in the early twenty-first century are more reluctant to have children compared to their predecessors due to economic reasons: higher student debt, expensive housing, and negative income growth.
Statistics New Zealand reported that the nation's fertility rate in 2017 was 1.81, the lowest on record. Although the total number of births went up, the birth rate went down because of country's larger population thanks to high levels of immigration. New Zealand's fertility rate remained more or less stable between the late 1970s and the late 2010s. Younger women were driving the birth rate down, with those between the ages of 15 and 29 having the lowest birth rates on record. In 2017, New Zealand teenagers had one half the number of babies of 2008, and under a quarter of 1972. Meanwhile, women above the age of 30 were having more children. Between the late 2000s and late 2010s, an average of 60,308 babies were born in New Zealand.
Brazil's fertility rate has fallen from 6.3 in 1960 to 1.7 in 2020. For this reason, the nation's population is projected to decline by the end of the twenty-first century. According to a 2012 study, soap operas featuring small families have contributed to the growing acceptance of having just a few children in a predominantly Catholic country. However, Brazil continues to have relatively high rates of adolescent pregnancies, and the government is working to address this problem.
Effects of intensifying assortative mating—the tendency to seek out mates with similar characteristics to one's own, such as income level and educational attainment—in the early twenty-first century will likely be seen in the next generation, as parental income and educational level are positively correlated with children's success. In the United States, children from families in the highest income quintile are the most likely to live with married parents (94% in 2018), followed by children of the middle class (74%) and the bottom quintile (35%).
In order to boost the nation's birthrate, in 2019, the government of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe introduced a number of education reforms. Starting in October 2019, preschool education will be free for all children between the ages of three and five. Childcare will be free for children under the age of two from low-income households. These programs will be funded by a consumption tax hike, from eight to ten percent. Starting April 2020, entrance and tuition fees for public as well as private universities will be waived or reduced. Students from low-income and tax-exempt families will be eligible for financial assistance to help them cover textbook, transportation, and living expenses. The whole program is projected to cost ¥776 billion (US$7.1 billion) per annum.
In 2020, the government of Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyễn Xuân Phúc recommended a series of education reforms in order to raise the fertility rates of localities that found themselves below the replacement level. In particular, the construction of daycare facilities and kindergartens in urban and industrial zones, housing subsidies for couples with two children in sub-replacement areas, and priority admission for children of said couples in public schools.
In France, while year-long mandatory military service for men was abolished in 1996 by President Jacques Chirac, who wanted to build a professional all-volunteer military, all citizens between 17 and 25 years of age must still participate in the Defense and Citizenship Day, when they are introduced to the French Armed Forces, and take language tests. In 2019, President Emmanuel Macron introduced something similar to mandatory military service, but for teenagers, as promised during his presidential campaign. Known as the Service National Universel or SNU, it is a compulsory civic service. While students will not have to shave their heads or handle military equipment, they will have to sleep in tents, get up early (at 6:30 am), participate in various physical activities, raise the tricolor, and sing the national anthem. They will have to wear a uniform, though it is more akin to the outfit of security guards rather than military personnel. This program takes a total of four weeks. In the first two, youths learn how to provide first aid, how to navigate with a map, how to recognize fake news, emergency responses for various scenarios, and self-defense. In addition, they get health checks and get tested on their mastery of the French language, and they participate in debates on a variety of social issues, including environmentalism, state secularism, and gender equality. In the second fortnight, they volunteer with a charity for local government. The aim of this program is to promote national cohesion and patriotism, at a time of deep division on religious and political grounds, to get people out of their neighborhoods and regions, and mix people of different socioeconomic classes, something mandatory military service used to do. Supporters thought that teenagers rarely raise the national flag, spend too much time on their phones, and felt nostalgic for the era of compulsory military service, considered a rite of passage for young men and a tool of character-building. Critics argued that this program is inadequate, and would cost too much. The SNU is projected to affect some 800,000 French citizens each year when it becomes mandatory for all aged 16 to 21 by 2026, at a cost of some €1.6 billion. Another major concern is that it will overburden the French military, already stretched thin by counter-terrorism campaigns at home and abroad. A 2015 IFOP poll revealed that 80% of the French people supported some kind of mandatory service, military, or civilian. At the same time, returning to conscription was also popular; supporters included 90% of the UMP party, 89% of the National Front (now the National Rally), 71% of the Socialist Party, and 67% of people aged 18 to 24. This poll was conducted after the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attacks.
In 2018, the American Academy of Pediatrics released a policy statement summarizing progress on developmental and neurological research on unstructured time spent by children, colloquially 'play', and noting the importance of playtime for social, cognitive, and language skills development. This is because to many educators and parents, play has come to be seen as outdated and irrelevant. In fact, between 1981 and 1997, time spent by children on unstructured activities dropped by 25% due to increased amounts of time spent on structured activities. Unstructured time tended to be spent on screens at the expense of active play. The statement encourages parents and children to spend more time on "playful learning," which reinforces the intrinsic motivation to learn and discover and strengthens the bond between children and their parents and other caregivers. It also helps children handle stress and prevents "toxic stress," something that hampers development. Dr. Michael Yogman, the lead author of the statement, noted that play does not necessarily have to involve fancy toys; common household items would do as well. Moreover, parents reading to children also counts as play, because it encourages children to use their imaginations.
In 2019, psychiatrists from Quebec launched a campaign urging for the creation of courses on mental health for primary schoolchildren in order to teach them how to handle a personal or social crisis, and to deal with the psychological impact of the digital world. According to the Association des médecins psychiatres du Québec (AMPQ), this campaign focuses on children born after 2010, that is, Generation Alpha. In addition to the AMPQ, this movement is backed by the Fédération des médecins spécialistes du Québec (FMSQ), the Quebec Pediatric Association (APQ), the Association des spécialistes en médecine préventive du Québec (ASMPQ) and the Fondation Jeunes en Tête.
Although the Common Core standards, an education initiative in the United States, eliminated the requirement that public elementary schools teach cursive writing in 2010, lawmakers from many states, including Illinois, Ohio, and Texas, have introduced legislation to teach it in theirs in 2019. Some studies point to the benefits of handwriting – print or cursive – for the development of cognitive and motor skills as well as memory and comprehension. For example, one 2012 neuroscience study suggests that handwriting "may facilitate reading acquisition in young children." Cursive writing has been used to help students with learning disabilities, such as dyslexia, a disorder that makes it difficult to interpret words, letters, and other symbols. Unfortunately, lawmakers often cite them out of context, conflating handwriting in general with cursive handwriting. In any case, some 80% of historical records and documents of the United States, such as the correspondence of Abraham Lincoln, was written by hand in cursive, and students today tend to be unable to read them. Historically, cursive writing was regarded as a mandatory, almost military, exercise. But today, it is thought of as an art form by those who pursue it, both adults and children.
In 2013, less than a third of American public schools had access to broadband Internet service, according to the non-profit EducationSuperHighway. By 2019, however, that number reached 99%. This has increased the frequency of digital learning.
Since the early 2010s, a number of U.S. states have taken steps to strengthen teacher education. Ohio, Tennessee, and Texas had the top programs in 2014. Meanwhile, Rhode Island, which previously had the nation's lowest bar on who can train to become a school teacher, has been admitting education students with higher and higher average SAT, ACT, and GRE scores. The state aims to accept only those with standardized test scores in the top third of the national distribution by 2020, which would put it in the ranks of education superpowers such as Finland and Singapore. In Finland, studying to become a teacher is as tough and prestigious as studying to become a medical doctor or a lawyer.
Health and welfare
While food allergies have been observed by doctors since ancient times and virtually all foods can be allergens, research by the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota found they are becoming increasingly common since the early 2000s. By the late 2010s, one in twelve American children has a food allergy, with peanut allergy being the most prevalent type. Reasons for this remain poorly understood. Nut allergies in general have quadrupled and shellfish allergies have increased 40% between 2004 and 2019. In all, about 36% of American children have some kind of allergy. By comparison, this number among the Amish in Indiana is 7%. Allergies have also risen ominously in other Western countries. In the United Kingdom, for example, the number of children hospitalized for allergic reactions increased by a factor of five between 1990 and the late 2010s, as did the number of British children allergic to peanuts. In general, the better developed the country, the higher the rates of allergies. Reasons for this also remain poorly understood. One possible explanation, supported by the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, is that parents keep their children "too clean for their own good." They recommend exposing newborn babies to a variety of potentially allergenic foods, such as peanut butter, before they reach the age of six months. According to this "hygiene hypothesis," such exposures give the infant's immune system some exercise, making it less likely to overreact. Evidence for this includes the fact that children living on a farm are consistently less likely to be allergic than their counterparts who are raised in the city, and that children born in a developed country to parents who immigrated from developing nations are more likely to be allergic than their parents are.
Communicable diseases and vaccinations
In the United States, public health officials were raising the alarm in the 2010s when vaccination rates dropped. Many parents thought, mistakenly, that they did not need to vaccinate their children against diseases such as polio and measles because they had become either extremely rare or eradicated. Infectious diseases could return if not enough people got inoculated.
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended that mass vaccination campaigns be suspended in order to ensure social distancing. Dozens of countries followed this advice. But some public health experts warned that the suspension of these programs can come with serious consequences, especially in poor countries with weak healthcare systems. For children from these places, such campaigns are the only way for them to get vaccinated against various communicable diseases such as polio, measles, cholera, human papillomavirus, and meningitis. Case numbers could surge afterwards. Moreover, because of the lockdown measures, namely, the restriction of international travels and transport, some countries might find themselves running short on not just medical equipment but also vaccines. SARS-CoV-2 can inflict more damage than the people it infects and kills.
Africa was declared free of wild poliovirus in August 2020. At present, the virus is only detected in Pakistan and Afghanistan thanks to superstitions, misinformation, conspiracy theories, and direct action by the Taliban to prevent children from being vaccinated. Disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic allowed cases to surge in these two countries.
Much of Generation Alpha is living through the global COVID-19 pandemic as young children. Although they are at far less risk of becoming seriously ill with the disease than their elders this cohort is dramatically affected by the crisis in other ways. Many are faced with extended periods out of school or daycare and much more time at home, which raised concerns about potential harm to the development of small children and the academic attainment of those at school age while putting some, especially the particularly vulnerable, at greater risk of abuse. The crises also led to increased child malnourishment and increased mortality, especially in poorer countries.
Obesity and malnutrition
A report by the United Nations Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF) released October 2019 stated that some 700 million children under the age of five worldwide are either obese or undernourished. Although there was a 40% drop in malnourishment in developing countries between 1990 and 2015, some 149 million toddlers are too short for their age, which hampers body and brain development. UNICEF's nutrition program chief Victor Aguayo said, "A mother who is overweight or obese can have children who are stunted or wasted." About one in two youngsters suffer from deficiencies of vitamins and minerals. Only two-fifths of infants are exclusively breastfed, as recommended by pediatricians and nutritionists, while the sale of formula milk jumped 40% globally. In middle-income countries such as Brazil, China, and Turkey, that number is 75%. Even though obesity was virtually non-existent in poor countries three decades ago, today, at least ten percent of children in them suffer from this condition. The report recommends taxes on sugary drinks and beverages and enhanced regulatory oversight of breast milk substitutes and fast foods.
Problems arising from screen time
A 2015 study found that the frequency of nearsightedness has doubled in the United Kingdom within the last 50 years. Ophthalmologist Steve Schallhorn, chairman of the Optical Express International Medical Advisory Board, noted that researchers have pointed to a link between the regular use of handheld electronic devices and eyestrain. The American Optometric Association sounded the alarm on a similar vein. According to a spokeswoman, digital eyestrain, or computer vision syndrome, is "rampant, especially as we move toward smaller devices and the prominence of devices increase in our everyday lives." Symptoms include dry and irritated eyes, fatigue, eye strain, blurry vision, difficulty focusing, headaches. However, the syndrome does not cause vision loss or any other permanent damage. In order to alleviate or prevent eyestrain, the Vision Council recommends that people limit screen time, take frequent breaks, adjust the screen brightness, change the background from bright colors to gray, increase text sizes, and blinking more often. The Council advises parents to limit their children's screen time as well as lead by example by reducing their own screen time in front of children.
In 2019, the WHO issued recommendations on the amount young children should spend in front of a screen every day. WHO said toddlers under the age of five should spend no more than an hour watching a screen and infants under the age of one should not be watching at all. Its guidelines are similar to those introduced by the American Academy of Pediatrics, which recommended that children under 19 months old should not spend time watching anything other than video chats. Moreover, it said children under two years old should only watch "high-quality programming" under parental supervision. However, Andrew Przybylski, who directs research at the Oxford Internet Institute at the University of Oxford, told the Associated Press that "Not all screen time is created equal" and that screen time advice needs to take into account "the content and context of use." In addition, the United Kingdom's Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health said its available data was not strong enough to indicate the necessity of screen time limits. WHO said its recommendations were intended to address the problem of sedentary behavior leading to health issues such as obesity.
A 2019 study published in the JAMA Pediatrics investigated how screen time affected the brain structure of children aged three to five (preschoolers) using MRI scans. The test subjects—27 girls and 20 boys—took cognitive tests before their brain scans while their parents answered a questionnaire on screen time developed by the American Academy of Pediatrics. The researchers found that the toddlers who spent more than an hour per day in front of a screen without parental involvement showed less development in the brain's white matter, the region responsible for cognitive and linguistic skills. Lead author Dr. John Hutton, a pediatrician and clinical researcher at Cincinnati Children's Hospital, told CNN that this finding was significant because the brain develops most rapidly during the first five years of a person's life. Previous studies revealed that excessive screen time is linked to sleep deprivation, impaired language development, behavioral problems, difficulty paying attention and thinking clearly, poor eating habits, and damaged executive functions.
Use of electronic communications technology
Many members of Generation Alpha have grown up using smartphones and tablets as part of their childhood entertainment. Screen time among infants, toddlers, and preschoolers exploded during the 2010s. Some 90% of young children used a handheld electronic device by the age of one; in some cases, children started using them when they were only a few months old. Some of their parents used electronic gadgets and pacifiers simultaneously. Others even use portable digital devices as pacifiers. In addition, electronic devices are also used as educational aids. As a matter of fact, their parents, the Millennials, are heavy social media users. A 2014 report from cybersecurity firm AVG stated that 6% of parents created a social media account and 8% an email account for their baby or toddler. According to BabyCenter, an online company specializing in pregnancy, childbirth, and child-rearing, 79% of Millennial mothers used social media on a daily basis and 63% used their smartphones more frequently since becoming pregnant or giving birth. More specifically, 24% logged on to Facebook more frequently and 33% did the same to Instagram after becoming a mother. Non-profit advocacy group Common Sense Media warned that parents should take better care of their online privacy, lest their and their children's personal information and photographs fall into the wrong hands. This warning was issued after a Utah mother reportedly found a photograph of her children on a social media post with pornographic hashtags in May 2015. Being born into an environment where the use of electronic devices is ubiquitous comes with its own challenges: cyber-bullying, screen addiction, and inappropriate contents. Nevertheless, because the Millennials are themselves no stranger to this environment, they can use their personal experience to help their children navigate it.
The first wave of Generation Alpha will reach adulthood by the 2030s. By that time, the human population is expected to be just under nine billion, and the world will have the highest ever proportion of people aged over 60, meaning this demographic cohort will bear the burden of an aging population. According to Mark McCrindle, a social researcher from Australia, Generation Alpha will most likely delay standard life markers such as marriage, childbirth, and retirements, as did the few previous generations. McCrindle estimated that Generation Alpha will make up 11% of the global workforce by 2030. He also predicted that they will live longer and have smaller families, and will be "the most formally educated generation ever, the most technology-supplied generation ever, and globally the wealthiest generation ever."
The United Nations forecasted that while the global average life expectancy would rise from 70 in 2015 to 83 in 2100, the ratio of people of working age to senior citizens would shrink due to falling fertility rates worldwide. By 2050, many nations in Asia, Europe, and Latin America would have fewer than two workers per retiree. U.N. figures show that, leaving out migration, all of Europe, Japan, and the United States were shrinking in the 2010s, but by 2050, 48 countries and territories would experience a population decline.
As of 2020, the latest demographic projections from the United Nations predict that there would be 8.5 billion people by 2030, 9.7 billion by 2050, and 10.9 billion by 2100. U.N. calculations assume countries with especially low fertility rates will see them rise to an average of 1.8 per woman. However, a 2020 study by researchers from Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), University of Washington, published in the Lancet projected there would only be about 8.8 billion people by 2100, two billion fewer than what the U.N. predicted. This was because their analysis suggested that as educational opportunities and family planning services become more and more accessible for women, they would choose to have no more than 1.5 children on average. A majority of the world's countries would continue to see their fertility rates decline, the researchers claimed. In particular, over 20 countries—including China, Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Spain, Italy, Portugal, and Poland—would find their populations reduced by around half or more. Meanwhile, sub-Saharan Africa would continue to experience a population boom, with Nigeria reaching 800 million people by century's end. Lower-than-expected human population growth means less stress on the environment and on food supplies, but it also points to a bleak economic picture for the greying countries. For the sub-Saharan African countries, though, there would be considerable opportunity for growth. The researchers predicted that as the century unfolds, major but aging economies such as Brazil, Russia, Italy, and Spain would shrink while Japan, Germany, France, and the United Kingdom would remain within the top ten. India would eventually claim the third spot. China would displace the United States as the largest economy in the world by mid-century, but would return to second place later on.
Writing in 2009, demographer Phillip Longman predicted that falling fertility rates around the world, among developed and even some developing countries, and the resultant demographic changes will play a role in the ongoing cultural evolution. Governments have not and will not be able to dramatically increase fertility rates; they succeed only in helping people have children earlier. In many current countries, various cultural and economic realities discourage procreation. Longman observed that in the past there have been cases of jurisdictions finding their fertility rates to be too low, yet humanity has obviously not gone extinct. The kingdoms and empires of old and the people who forged them are no more, but those places remain populated—just with different people. When certain groups of people have no children or too few, they will gradually be replaced by those who have more children. People who live in fast-moving and cosmopolitan societies typically find their connections to their ancestors fade and are thus less likely to have children whereas those who will eventually outnumber them tend to be religious, to hold traditional views, and to identify strongly with their own people and country. Longman contended that already by the early 2000s it had become apparent that the mainstream culture of the United States was gradually shifting away from secular individualism and towards religious fundamentalism while Europeans were slowly distancing themselves from the European Union and being "world citizens."
Longman asserted that another consequence of low fertility is the increasing difficulty of financing welfare programs, such as pension schemes and elderly care, ordinary family functions that had been appropriated by the state. This is because while life expectancy has grown only slightly in recent decades, fertility has fallen dramatically, meaning the widening dependency ratio is largely due to the fact that many of the taxpayers needed to finance these programs were never even born. Raising taxes would depress fertility rates even further. As a result, they will have to be scaled back or even abolished and family units that are less dependent on government will become more common as these now enjoy an evolutionary advantage. Longman also predicted that single-child households would find their number dwindle as a percentage of the population because one child can only replace one parent, not both, and the descendants of families with many children will slowly become a majority and will retain the values that made such families possible. Of course, history contains cases of major youth revolts, with the 1960s being a recent example. But back in the post-war era, it was the norm for people to marry and have many children, with very little difference along social, political or religious lines. In the early twenty-first century, families with just one or no children have become a lot more common, meaning the future proponents of counterculture would likely find that their companions will have never existed.
In his 2010 book, Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth? Demography and Politics in the Twenty-First Century, political and religious demographer Eric Kaufmann argued that the answer to the question raised in the title is in the affirmative because demographic realities pose real challenges to the assumption of the inevitability of secular and liberal progress. He observed that devout factions tend to have a significant fertility advantage over their more moderate counterparts and the non-religious. For instance, white Catholic women in France have on average half a child more than their white secular counterparts while the Amish in the United States have three to four times more children than their fellow Christians on average. Highly religious groups tend to isolate themselves from the secularizing effects of modern mainstream Western society, making it more likely that the children will retain their parents' faiths. At the same time, secular people generally have rather low fertility rates by comparison for a variety of reasons, such as materialism, individualism, the preference for the here and now, feminism, environmentalism, or general pessimism. Kaufmann projected that secularism will have a mixed future in Europe. It will remain strong in most Catholic countries, notably Ireland and Spain, but has essentially ground to a halt in Protestant Europe and in France, and will falter in Northwestern Europe by mid-century. He told Mercator Net that the only way to buckle the trend involves "a creed that touches the emotional registers can lure away the children of fundamentalists" and "a repudiation of multiculturalism." He suggested that "secular nationalism" and moderate religion associated with the nation-state could be part of the mix, but these traditions have been losing support at a considerable rate.
A 2017 projection by the Pew Research Center suggests that between 2015 and 2060, the human population would grow by about 32%. Among the major religious groups, only Muslims (70%) and Christians (34%) are above this threshold and as such would have a higher share of the global population than they do now, especially Muslims. Hindus (27%), Jews (15%), followers of traditional folk religions (5%), and the religiously unaffiliated (3%) would grow in absolute numbers, but would be in relative decline because their rates of growth are below the global average. On the other hand, Buddhists would find their numbers shrink by 7% during the same period. This is due to sub-replacement fertility and population aging in Buddhist-majority countries such as China, Japan, and Thailand. This projection has taken into account religious switching. Moreover, previous research suggests that switching plays only a minor role in the growth or decline of religion compared to fertility and mortality.
Eric Kaufmann's Whiteshift is an extensive study of how the migration-driven demographic transformation of the West affects the ballot box. The title of the 2018 book encodes Kaufmann's predictions that, as a result of international migration, Western countries will become ever more ethnically diverse and a growing number of people will be of mixed heritage. He further argues that the category of 'white people' will be enlarged to include more ethnically diverse individuals. For Kaufmann, one of the major schisms in the political landscape of the West at the time of writing is due to factions that want to speed up this process and those who want to slow it down. He suggested that the surge of nationalism and populism observed in many Western countries is due to the latter group. For decades, the norms of acceptable political demands had been established by the media, institutions of higher education, and mainstream political groups. Such norms include what he called "left modernism," a more precise term for what is commonly referred to as political correctness, and "asymmetrical multiculturalism," or the idea that all cultures present in a given society deserve to be preserved except the host culture. These norms have prevented mainstream politicians and political parties from responding to the concerns of large swathes of the voting population, giving nationalist populists an opportunity to rise to the front.
In a related book, National Populism – The Revolt Against Liberal Democracy, political scientists Roger Eatwell and Matthew Goodwin attempted to explain the political phenomenon of the same name using a '4D model': destruction of the national culture due to large-scale international migration; deprivation of opportunities due to globalization and in the post-industrial economy with its frequent disruptions and slow growth; growing distrust by working-class and rural voters who feel increasingly alienated by liberal cosmopolitan city-dwelling political and media elites; and de-alignment from traditional allegiances, which can be seen in high levels of voter volatility, or people switching from one party to another between elections. National populism should not be confused with left-wing populism, which focuses on socioeconomic class rather than love of country. Eatwell and Goodwin observed that support for mainstream social democratic parties all across Europe has plummeted – in France and the Netherlands the socialists got pushed to the fringe – and predicted that nationalism and populism would remain a dominant characteristic of Western politics until the other side can build a platform that resonates better with the general public. Even after some surprising political developments such as the 2016 United Kingdom European Union Membership Referendum (Brexit), many mainstream politicians still believed their constituents wanted more immigration, more deregulation, more globalization, and more cultural diversity, when YouGov opinion polls of European voters showed that their number one concern was immigration.
- The Downside of Diversity. Michael Jonas. The New York Times. August 5, 2007.
- How childhood trauma affects health across a lifetime. TED-Ed Talk by pediatrician Nadine Burke Harris. February 17, 2015.
- Is a University Degree a Waste of Money? CBC News: The National. March 1, 2017. (Video, 14:39)
- Why your smartphone is irresistible (and why it's worth trying to resist). Psychologist Adam Alter on the PBS Newshour. April 21, 2017.
- The Power of Play: A Pediatric Role in Enhancing Development in Young Children. Michael Yogman, Andrew Garner, Jeffrey Hutchinson, Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, Roberta Michnick Golinkoff. Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Children and Family Health, Council on Communications and Media, American Academy of Pediatrics. September 2018.
- A 'million word gap' for children who aren't read to at home. Jessica A. R. Logan, Laura M. Justice, Melike Yumuş, Leydi Johana Chaparro-Moreno. Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics. April 4, 2019.
- The Amish use tech differently than you think. We should emulate them. Jeff Smith. The Washington Post. February 17, 2020.
- Population pyramids of the EU-27 without France and of France in 2020. Population pyramids of the developed world without the U.S. and of the U.S. in 2030. Zeihan on Geopolitics.