When Populations Age
The World Youth Alliance recognizes that regions of the world are at different stages of demographic transition. Regions in an advanced stage of demographic transition are aging. Population aging is caused on the one hand by a decrease in fertility and on the other hand by overall progress in global health. The latter has permitted a drop in child and maternal mortality; it has also enabled the population at large to remain healthy and active up to a more advanced age.
Over the years, a global population growth has given rise to the concern that demands – especially demands for food – created by large young populations could not be fulfilled. This concern has been the justification for encouraging people to reduce family sizes. This has been the rationale behind population management policies such as Chinas’, where people are allowed only one child per family. More recently, the government of the Philippines has debated a law proposal in which it encouraged its population to make responsible choices in family planning, and expressly favored two-child family size.
Population management policies that coerce parents to have a certain number of children are not only contrary to the basic right of all couples to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing and timing of their children. They are also based on the faulty assumption that overall population growth is caused by families who have more children than a given ideal number. This assumption unduly puts the burden of culpability on the shoulders of these families.
The World Youth Alliance believes that high fertility and lack of family planning are not the only causes of global population growth. Rather, this growth has been caused by increased life expectancy. In the last decades, the overall fertility rate has dropped. However, this fertility drop has not prevented overall population growth: In Europe, it is population aging that creates concern, now that the region is under the replacement rate required for stabilization.
The World Youth Alliance recognizes that young populations do not hinder development but can facilitate it. Post-War Europe was reconstructed by a young population and reached a high standard of living. In a similar way, the young population of Hong Kong did not hinder the economic miracle in the region but facilitated it. Therefore equating young populations with underdevelopment is untrue. Development depends on access to education and healthcare.
Policies aimed at reducing population growth through mainstreaming family planning practices / use of contraceptives should be attentive not reach the excessive adverse results. A dramatic decrease in fertility has already led to an insufficiently low fertility rate in Western Europe, where populations age with a sparse young population taking over. Such policies do not ultimately serve new generations: Where social security systems are not able to overcome social costs related to aging i.e. youth unemployment, retirement and health care for the elderly, youth has to face disproportional simultaneous burdens of work and care for their elderly. Moreover, such contexts generate an environment prone to potential intergenerational conflicts.
As a global coalition of young people, we urge governments to focus their resources on providing education and health care information to their young populations, and to associate their experienced citizens to direct their resourceful youth on the path of long-term development.
WYA Declaration on Population and Economics
New York, March 2011
We are young people of diverse ethnic, religious, cultural, and economic backgrounds from every region of the world. Many of us are from the developing world, which has large, young populations capable of innovation and creativity, a driver of economic growth. Some of us are from the developed world, which currently has lower fertility rates, ageing populations and in some cases stalled economic growth. As young people, we are concerned about the relationship between population and economic prosperity. A proper understanding of this relationship is necessary in order to propose policies that will reduce poverty and lead to both human and economic flourishing.
The economy is the system of production and management of material wealth in a given society. Proper social and cultural development is a necessary condition for, rather than a result of, a thriving economy. When societies are built upon respect for human dignity and the family, sustainable economic growth follows, demonstrating that cultural and human capital are the primary resources driving overall human development.
The intangibility of human capital makes the relationship between population and economics complex. The potential of the human person to generate wealth using knowledge, skills and creativity is unique and reflects an aspect of human dignity. Therefore, investing in the human person, in a climate of freedom and respect, leads to integral human development and economic growth. Investing in the human person requires investing in healthcare and education, as healthy and educated persons can reach their potential in the workplace, engage civilly and raise healthy families, thus contributing to the economy. A society that recognizes, supports, and encourages the value of occupations that respect human dignity, including informal care-giving, allows for the maximization of human capital and economic growth.
Since human capital is our most important resource, responsible stewardship is a necessary condition of sustainable economic development. Population management programs categorize human beings, especially vulnerable populations, as burdens instead of essential participants in long-term economic development. The premise that fixed resources and equitable distribution require fewer individuals is not only flawed but inconsistent with human dignity. Population management programs ignore the real causes of economic growth: anti-corruption policies, protection of basic human rights, access to education and investment in infrastructure.
Human capital is first and best developed within the family, the basic unit of society. It is within the family that children first understand their dignity, realize their potential and are prepared to be responsible agents of economic and social development. We recognize that both the role of the mother and the father are significant to the child’s development. Civil society, governments, and international institutions can play an important role in the development of human capital by creating supportive environments in which families thrive.
We call on civil society, governments and international institutions to invest in the human person, and to work with us to build societies which foster economic and human flourishing.