Minister of Education Ronald Jones’ call for Barbadians to have more children has been met with several very emotive responses. His call came against the backdrop of falling numbers of children taking the annual 11-Plus examination.
Barbados TODAY highlighted the numbers that were pointed out by Minister Jones. He revealed that there was an 8.8 per cent decline in the number of students sitting the exam. A total of 3 216 students sat this year compared to 3 970 in 2012.
His solution to the declining birth rate is for Barbadians to have more children. The swift responses were varied but several that I read asked the question as to how would Barbadians economically manage more children in a situation with a significantly high and rising cost of living.
The world’s population stands today at 7.5 billion people. Experts state that the world’s population increased by more than 400 per cent over the 20th century but growth has slowed considerably since then. Over the course of the 21st century, the global population will likely rise by only 50 per cent and reach around 11 billion by 2100.
The growth rate peaked in the late 1960s, and has been falling since. Max Roser, in Future World Population Growth, points out: “There are two primary determinants of population growth: life expectancy and fertility rates. The global improvement in life expectancy works to increase the world population, but it is more than offset by the fall in fertility.
“The global average fertility rate was five children per woman until the end of the 1960s and has halved since then. While the world population increased by two per cent annually in the late 60s, it has now slowed to an increase of just about one per cent.”
A declining birth rate for any nation must be seen as having a significant impact on the future of that country. The long term viability of that nation to sustain itself economically and to grow is also impacted. It is in reality a ‘catch 22’ situation. On the one hand, the future is impacted by lower birth rates; on the other, the present is affected with higher birth rates, especially in economically challenging times.
Max Roser, in his article, explains: “Population growth is driven by two different factors: fertility and life expectancy. It is important to have an idea of how the two drivers changed and how they are interlinked to understand how the forecasts are possible and to assess their credibility.
“As the fertility rate measures the children per woman, a rate of 2 would mean that every woman gives birth to [on average] one girl. Therefore, the current generation of women would just replace itself by a younger generation of girls. The fertility rate that would create this scenario, is called the replacement rate. In reality, the replacement rate is higher than 2 because not all girls reach the age to give birth.
“This means that the replacement rate for populations with low mortality is close to 2 and for populations with a high mortality is considerably over 2. As mortality differs widely between different nations, the replacement rate for different countries ranges from below 2.1 for rich countries to almost 3.5 for Sierra Leone. The population increases not only when more children are born but also when less people die. This makes life expectancy the second driver of population growth.”
Roser continues: “The high population growth rates are a modern development. They were non-existent in the pre-modern world–but not for lack of trying. Previously birth rates were very high, but the horrific child mortality rates in the pre-modern world prevented the population from growing. This lack of population growth implies that during this time period the average family size was small.
“With the onset of modernity, as living standards rose and health improved, more and more children survived, which led to unprecedented growth of the population. This episode of large families was short and only lasted for few generations. As a consequence of further development, the family size began decreasing around the world this time not due to high child mortality, but due to low birth rates.
“How rapidly the world changed is hard to grasp, but a comparison highlights this transformation. In 1950, 44 per cent of the world population had a total fertility of six or more children. By 2010, the world has massively changed and 48 per cent now have less than 2.1 children!”
In June this year, it was revealed that Japan’s falling birth rate was posing serious problems for the economy. A story carried in the Independent online highlights this crisis: “Since Japan began counting its newborns more than a century ago, more than a million infants have been added to its population each year. No longer, in the latest discomforting milestone for a country facing a steep population decline.
“Last year, the number of births in Japan dropped below one million for the first time, the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare said . . . .The shrinking of the country’s population – deaths have outpaced births for several years – is already affecting the economy in areas including the job and housing markets, consumer spending and long-term investment plans at businesses.
After Japan’s population hit a peak of 128 million at the start of the current decade, it shrank by close to one million in the five years through 2015, according to census data. Demographers expect it to plunge by a third by 2060, to as few as 80 million people a net loss of one million a year, on average. Fewer young people mean fewer workers to support a growing cohort of retirees, adding strains to pension and health care systems.”
It is perhaps for these same very reasons, as outlined in the last line quoted, that Minister Jones issued his call for having more children. In the current economic climate, it is very likely that not many persons, if any at all, would heed his call. Interestingly, a possible solution was put forward by UNICEF Representative for Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean Khin Sandi-Lwin.
Barbados TODAY reports her saying: “A global perspective is not about the population of one’s own country . . . . You hear politicians saying we need more children of our nation because we have zero population growth. But if you look at the carrying capacity of this planet, we have to look beyond the borders,” . . .
“It’s been happening in the Caribbean for generations now – the migration of people in the Caribbean . . . and assimilating – either retaining the nationality of the other island, or becoming citizens of that island . . . . The emphasis should be on making migration work, rather than let’s have more children of our nationality.”
So allowing migration would be a solution, but then the cries of diluting Barbadian culture by ‘foreigners’ may be the resulting responses. A further ‘catch 22’ as reflected in Japan’s scenario where “Official efforts to encourage people to have more children have had only modest results, and there is little public support for large-scale immigration – something that has helped to stabilize populations in other wealthy countries with low birthrates.”
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe probably best sums it up when he called for a “national movement” to address Japan’s demographic challenges. The government has taken steps to keep older workers in their jobs longer, and to encourage companies to invest in automation. “The labour shortage is getting serious,” he said. “To overcome it, we need to improve productivity.”
(Suleiman Bulbulia is a Justice of the Peace, Secretary of the Barbados Muslim Association and Muslim Chaplain at the Cave Hill Campus, UWI.