What the U.S. Should Learn From China’s Population Decline

“the U.S. largely owes its current population growth to immigrants. About 86 percent of U.S. population growth last year was the result of immigration, according to the nonpartisan Brookings Institution. China attracts far fewer newcomers, partially due to its strict immigration policy. United Nations data indicate that China received just 200,000 immigrants between 2010 and 2020. “The United States, by contrast, added more than 6 million new immigrant residents,” writes Washington Post columnist Philip Bump. “China’s increase from immigration was about 0.01 percent of its total population; the United States’ was almost 2 percent.””

“the U.S. may be squandering its immigration advantage. Over half of America’s top startups were founded by immigrants, but the U.S. has no visa pathway specifically devoted to foreigners who want to start a business and remain in the country. Massive visa backlogs mean that thousands of talented immigrants are caught in a decadeslong holding pattern, unable to secure permanent residency. International students are losing interest in the U.S. as a destination.”

Population Growth Still Isn’t a Problem. Anti-Immigrant Groups Still Think It Is.

“In August, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that Massachusetts Coalition for Immigration Reform (MCIR) v. Department of Homeland Security could proceed. Filed by the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), the suit claimed the Biden administration had violated the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 by failing to conduct environmental analyses before ending several of former President Donald Trump’s immigration policies.
Former Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich made the same argument in an April 2021 suit against the Biden administration. “Population growth has significant environmental impacts,” said a press release on the lawsuit, but the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) “and other federal officials did not provide environmental impact statements or environmental assessments when DHS abruptly halted ongoing border wall construction” and began allowing more migrants to enter the country by ending Trump’s “Remain in Mexico” policy.

These ideas have found supporters in Congress as well. In March 2021, Reps. Bruce Westerman (R–Ark.) and Paul Gosar (R–Ariz.) claimed in a letter to DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas that “decreasing illegal crossings protects our border environment.” They cited research from CIS fellows to build their case.”

“this is a faulty way of thinking about immigration and the environment. According to research from Michigan State sociologist Guizhen Ma, places with larger foreign-born populations tend to have better air quality, as immigrants tend to “use less energy, drive less, and produce less waste.” Compared to native-born Americans, immigrants are also disproportionately employed in “jobs that either benefit the environment directly or make their establishment’s production more environmentally friendly,” per 2021 George Mason University research. Immigrants largely settle in urban areas, contradicting the claim that they foster the overdevelopment of pristine lands.”

“”an increasingly wealthy and technologically adept humanity will be withdrawing from nature over the course of this century.” Just as an increased birthrate will lead to more minds and helping hands to solve pressing environmental problems, so will increased immigration.”

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 for Japan: 1.3 births per woman, and a population shrinking by 0.5 percent. For Italy: 1.2 births, and population shrinking by 0.6 percent. For Portugal: 1.4 and 0 percent growth. For Russia: 1.5 and shrinking by 0.4 percent.”

The solution to “differential demography” is more migration

“In 2020, the general fertility rate in the US hit its lowest level on record, and provisional data for the first six months of 2021 showed a 2 percent decline in the number of births compared to the same time period in the previous year.

And what’s happening in the US is taking place in much of the rest of the world, as people are slower to marry and slower to have children.

That trend has helped contribute to what will be one of the dominant themes of the 21st century: the slowdown of population growth, especially in developed countries, and the eventual shrinking of the number of human beings on the planet.”

The great population growth slowdown

“Fewer babies were born in New York City in 2020 than any year on record, while the US population grew by just 0.1 percent in the year between July 2020 and July 2021, with the country adding just 392,665 people from net migration and births over deaths.

That’s the lowest numeric increase since the Census Bureau began making annual population estimates at the beginning of the 20th century. On a percentage basis, it’s the lowest growth in the nation’s history.

Increased deaths from the pandemic plays a role, as do inevitably creeping mortality rates in an aging population. But the primary cause is declining fertility rates, as fewer Americans have children, and those that do tend to have smaller families. The total fertility rate in the US — an estimate of the average total number of children a woman will have over her lifetime — has declined from 2.12 in 2007 to 1.64 in 2020, well below the 2.1 needed for a population to replace itself without immigration.”

“By one estimate, half the world’s population lives in countries with below-replacement-level fertility, and nations like Japan — with very low birth rates and little immigration — are already experiencing population decline.

China, which became a symbol for population control with its coercive one-child policy, now has a fertility rate even lower than Japan’s, and the government is struggling to convince shrinking numbers of young people to have more children — or any children at all.”

“there’s some evidence that many people aren’t having as many children as they would like to. Surveys in the US show that the stated ideal number of kids in a family has stayed a little above 2.5 since the mid-2000s, even as actual fertility rates have declined. Whether because of delayed partnership and marriage, economic concerns, or changing lifestyle preferences, there are forces keeping population growth below the level that people say they want.”

When Growth Grinds to a Halt

“Two mostly external factors are largely responsible for pressing California’s (and New York’s) population numbers down: the Trump administration’s severe cutbacks on legal immigration (many of which only really got started in 2020 and will stretch on into the future) and the pandemic-triggered spike in telecommuting away from office clusters. Yet local policy choices exacerbate both phenomena. Housing unaffordability is a repellant.

That is one reason Texas is alone in gaining two congressional seats after this census. The Lone Star State and Florida, both of which receive a disproportionate amount of policy scorn from coastal elites, have gone from having essentially the same combined population as California in 1990 (29.9 million vs. 29.8 million) to opening up a commanding lead of 50.7 million to 39.5 million. At 2020 rates, Texas will catch California in population by 2035 or so.”

The census shows the US needs to increase immigration — by a lot

“There are two main ways that the US could increase overall population growth: by encouraging people to have more children or by increasing immigration levels.

On their own, pro-natalist policies have historically failed to increase birthrates in the kinds of numbers that would be required to stave off stagnant population growth. Internationally, research has shown that child allowances have led to slight, short-lived bumps in birthrates. From 2007 to 2010, Spain had a child allowance that led to a temporary 3 percent increase in birthrates, but that was mostly because more people decided to have children earlier, rather than have more of them. After the allowance was revoked, the birthrate decreased 6 percent.”

“Immigration is a much more reliable driver of population growth. The average age of newly arriving immigrants is 31, which is more than seven years younger than the median American, meaning that they could help replace an aging workforce. They are also more entrepreneurial, which encourages economic dynamism, and more likely to work in essential industries, such as health care, transportation, construction, agriculture, and food processing.

Immigrants may also help stave off regional population declines. Immigrants are more likely to settle in areas where foreign-born populations already live, which are typically large metro areas that have lost population in recent years. Frey found in a 2019 report that, of the 91 large metro areas that gained population since the beginning of the decade, 15 would have actually lost population were it not for immigration, including New York, Chicago, Detroit, and Philadelphia. In another 11 large metro areas, immigration accounted for more than half of their population growth.

Refugees are also more likely to settle in less dense population centers where housing costs are lower, possibly reinvigorating the nearly 35 percent of rural counties in the US that have experienced significant population loss in recent decades.

Raising immigration levels wouldn’t necessarily require a major reimagining of the US immigration system, though that might offer more flexibility to reevaluate immigration levels periodically — it could be accomplished by just increasing the caps on existing forms of visas and green cards.”