Are 8 billion people too many — or too few?

“In 2015, the Chinese government did something it almost never does: It admitted it made a mistake, at least implicitly.

The ruling Communist Party announced that it was ending its historic and coercive one-child policy, allowing all married couples to have up to two children. That was how dire China’s demographic future had become.

The one-child policy had helped lead to the mother of all demographic dividends, as China’s working-age population grew from 594 million in 1980 to a little over 1 billion in 2015. China’s dependency ratio — the total young and elderly population relative to the working-age population — fell from over 68 percent in 1980 to less than 38 percent in 2015,which meant more workers for every non-working person.

More young workers who had fewer young or old dependents to care for was the fuel in China’s economic rocket engine. But no fuel burns forever, and over the past decade, hundreds of millions of Chinese have hit retirement age, with a plummeting number of young people to replace them. So the slogans went from “Having only one child is good” to “One is too few, while two are just right.””

“If population decline can come for the first country to reach 1 billion people, it can come for anyone. And while China’s demography was skewed by the one-child policy, dozens of countries without a similarly coercive program have seen near equally drastic dropoffs in fertility, much older demographics, and population decline, either now or soon. The most recent numbers forJapan: 1.3 births per woman, and a population shrinking by 0.5 percent. ForItaly: 1.2 births, and population shrinking by 0.6 percent. ForPortugal: 1.4 and 0 percent growth. ForRussia: 1.5 and shrinking by0.4 percent.”

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