By Jonathan Power
Over 200 years we have watched with a mixture of fascination and horror the explosion of population in most parts of the world. In the 1960s and 70’s many people were convinced that it was the single most important issue of our times. Government aid agencies, especially in the Western world, gave overriding priority to distributing condoms wherever and whenever they had the chance.
Some people like the bishops of the Catholic Church and the mullahs of Iran got very hot under the collar. Indeed, these two groups would unite together to vote the “no” in UN population conferences.
In the Third World militants argued that this was one more perfidy carried out by the West – to rid the world of dark skinned people.
Half a century later it all looks very different. Attitudes have changed everywhere. Only a few islands of Catholics continue to be anti artificial birth control. Whatever the Pope might say, not many listen.
Now we stand on the cusp of a profound change in the human condition. Forecasts show a dramatic, unprecedented, fall in fertility rates, even affecting some of the poorest parts of the world. Within a few decades we could be living in a world with a stable population.
Eighty-three countries containing 46% of the world’s population now have a fertility replacement rate of 2.1 births per woman. Another 46% live in countries where the birth rate is falling sharply.
That leaves only 9% of countries to worry about. And since China is not one of those 9%, the numbers involved in over-producing are no longer mind-boggling.
Africa is the continent to now worry about. Many women are still bearing five or six children. But fertility rates are coming down – in some countries at a steady rate. Within a decade there will probably be only three countries with a fertility rate higher than five – Mali, Niger and Somalia.
In future, once the wars in the Middle East are settled, the only people who will want to migrate are Africans and judging by what has happened in yesterday’s baby over-producing countries Africans’ urge to emigrate will subside over time.
Look at Mexico where Donald Trump goes on and on about the need to build an almighty wall to cut off Mexico from the US. (Amusingly, Mexicans say, “Well, it could be a good thing – it will keep Trump out of Mexico!”). In the past 40 years Mexico’s fertility rate has gone from above 6 to 2.27, a little over replacement level. Mexican emigration to the US has fallen to a few thousand.
We now have to turn our attention to the other great issue in the world’s population debate – how women are treated.
In a new book “Sex and World Peace” Valeria Hudson and her colleagues argue there is a strong link between state security and women’s security. Indeed, the best predictor of a state’s peacefulness is how well its women are treated.
Along with other scholars who have separately studied the issue this book shows convincingly that the larger the gender gap between the treatment of men and women in a society the more likely a country is to be involved in conflict, even war. It is more likely to be the first to resort to force in such conflicts.
While it is true, as Steven Pinker argued in his landmark book (2011), that the world as a whole is becoming much more peaceful, violence against women in many countries is becoming more common. It certainly dwarfs the violence produced by war and armed conflict.
In fact women are being badly treated even before they are born. In 18 countries, from Armenia to Vietnam and including the two giants, India and China, childhood sex ratios are significantly abnormal in favour of boys.
The United Nations Population Fund says that 163 million women are missing from Asia’s population. Sex-selective abortion in the days of scanning is all too easy. It has been calculated that China will face a deficit of more than 50 million young adult women by the end of this decade.
What does this mean for world peace?
It is creating an underclass of young men who cannot find a woman to marry. They will never become heads of households, the marker for manhood in their cultures. Should we be surprised if we see a rise in violent crime, theft and smuggling?
It is one way for men to compete in the marriage market – by demonstrating, albeit in a crude way, their manhood and their earning power. These volatile young males are easy pickings for the recruiters of terrorist movements and in triggering urban unrest.
The fulcrum is female. And using that they have to make men understand what is really going on in the other side of the sex divide.
Copyright: Jonathan Power