IVF is Nobel-worthy, but ethical issues remain
By Susan Martinuk,
October 8, 2010
Thirty-two years ago the world anxiously held its breath and waited for news of the birth of the first test- tube baby. Both scientists and the public alike were questioning the novel technology that created her, worried that some kind of a monster child with multiple birth defects would emerge.
But when Louise Brown was born on July 25, 1978, she was remarkably ordinary. A five-pound, 12-ounce, blond baby girl with 10 fingers and 10 toes. Adorable. Just like every other baby.
Yet, as we look back, it's clear that this one changed our view of human reproduction and ushered in a new era of medicine. Suddenly, a diagnosis of infertility wasn't the end of all hope -- it was merely the beginning of making a baby the "high-tech" way.
In recognition of this achievement, the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine was awarded this week to Robert Edwards, the British biologist who developed the IVF (in vitro fertilization) technology that produced Louise Brown. The Nobel citation stated that Edwards' vision now brings "joy to infertile people all over the world."
The problem is, the Nobel Prize implicitly marks society's broad acceptance of the process of fertilizing eggs outside of the human body. Over the years, the once-extreme technology has gradually morphed into a commonplace means of having a baby.
The history of IVF's rapid societal acceptance demonstrates how easily we will accept controversial technology -- and that's something to take note of as we consider other controversial technologies, such as cloning or genetic engineering. While Edwards' discovery opened the door to hope for the nearly 15 per cent of all couples who suffer from infertility, it also opened the door to numerous still-unanswered ethical, social and legal questions.
In other words, Edwards' highly successful technology has left a big, fat ethical mess in its wake and we're still trying to figure it out.
IVF is a relatively simple procedure. It involves taking eggs from a woman's ovary and fertilizing them in a petri dish. One or two of the fertilized eggs are then placed into a woman's womb to develop naturally. In bypassing the natural process of egg meets sperm, IVF can overcome a host of infertility problems.
But the ethical concerns that stem from Edwards' work aren't that simple. Approximately 70 to 80 per cent of fertilized eggs are never used. Hence, there are now huge numbers of leftover, but still viable embryos that are stored in fertility clinics around the world. What do we do with them? They can be donated to other couples, but rarely are. In some countries, extra embryos supply the live material needed for embryonic stem cell research -- but the embryos are killed as the cells are removed.
Edwards' work also founded the principles that are used in reproductive cloning technologies and pre-implantation genetic diagnosis -- a technique that allows scientists to test embryos for undesirable genes and traits prior to implantation in the womb. If any undesirables are found, the embryo is destroyed.
The ability to fertilize eggs outside of the body has also redefined fundamental social roles such as mother/ father/family. Using IVF, women can donate eggs to others or donate their wombs to carry a child for other couples. Children can now have biological parents who supply the genetic material and birth parents who raise them. Women are giving birth to their own grandchildren.
Finally, there are legitimate concerns that the search for the perfect child has lead to the commodification of human life as sperm and eggs are bought and sold.
All of the above stems from the IVF technology developed by Edwards and his impact on our lives isn't about to go away any time soon. According to Arthur Caplan, a well-known American bioethicist, "Edward's discoveries will make the issue of designing our descendants . . . trying to create children who are stronger, faster, live longer . . . the biggest issue in the first half of the 21st century."
Edwards' scientific achievement is worthy of a Nobel. So far, more than 4.3 million children have been born using IVF technology. But he also opened Pandora's box of ethical surprises and, for many observers, that's the gift that just keeps on giving.
October 14, 2010
As Populations Age, a Chance for Younger Nations
By TED C. FISHMAN
YOU MAY KNOW that the world’s population is aging — that the number of older people is expanding faster than the number of young — but you probably don’t realize how fast this is happening. Right now, the world is evenly divided between those under 28 and those over 28. By midcentury, the median age will have risen to 40. Demographers also use another measure, in addition to median age, to determine whether populations are aging: “elder share.” If the share, or proportion, of people over 60 (or sometimes 65) is growing, the population is aging. By that yardstick too, the world is quickly becoming older. Pick any age cohort above the median age of 28 and you’ll find its share of the global population rising faster than that of any segment below the median. By 2018, 65-year-olds, for example, will outnumber those under 5 — a historic first. In 2050, developed countries are on track to have half as many people under 15 as they do over 60. In short, the age mix of the world is turning upside down and at unprecedented rates.
This means profound change in nearly every important relationship we have — as family members, neighbors, citizens of nations and the world. Aging populations also alter how business is done everywhere. The globalization of the economy is accelerating because the world is rapidly aging, and at the same time the pace of global aging is quickened by the speed and scope of globalization. These intertwined dynamics also bear on the international competition for wealth and power. The high costs of keeping our aging population healthy and out of poverty has caused the United States and other rich democracies to lose their economic and political footing. Countries on the rise amass wealth and geopolitical clout by refusing to bear those costs. Older countries lose work to younger countries.
For most of television history, sitcoms have been about families. From “The Dick Van Dyke Show” to “All in the Family” to “The Cosby Show,” TV shows have generally featured husbands and wives, parents and kids.
But over the past several years, things have shifted. Today’s shows are often about groups of unrelated friends who have the time to lounge around apartments, coffee shops and workplaces exchanging witticisms about each other and the passing scene.
As Neal Gabler wrote in The Los Angeles Times this week, “Over the last 20 years, beginning with ‘Seinfeld,’ and moving on through ‘Friends,’ ‘Sex and the City’ and more recently ‘Desperate Housewives,’ ‘Glee,’ ‘The Big Bang Theory,’ ‘How I Met Your Mother,’ ‘Cougartown’ and at least a half-dozen other shows, including this season’s newbies ‘Raising Hope’ and ‘Better With You,’ television has become a kind of friendship machine dispensing groups of people in constant and intimate contact with one another.”
These flock comedies serve an obvious dramatic function. In an age of quick cuts and interlacing, frenetic plots (think “30 Rock”), it helps to have a multitude of characters on hand zooming in and out of scenes.
But the change also reflects something deeper about the patterns of friendship in society. With people delaying marriage and childbearing into their 30s, young people now spend long periods of their lives outside of traditional families, living among diverse friendship tribes. These friendship networks are emotionally complicated and deeply satisfying — ripe ground for a comedy of manners.
Then, when these people do get married, friendship becomes the great challenge. Middle-aged Americans are now likely to live in two-earner families. But despite career pressures, they have not cut back on the amount of time they spend with their kids. Instead, they have sacrificed friendship time.
So these flock comedies serve another purpose for the middle-aged. They appeal to people who want to watch fictional characters enjoying the long, uninterrupted bonding experiences that they no longer have time or energy for.
The shows also serve one final purpose. They help people negotiate the transition between dyadic friendships and networked friendships.
Throughout history, the most famous friendships were one on one. As Ruth says to Naomi in the biblical narrative: “Whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge; thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.”
Most essayistic celebrations of friendship have also been about the deep and total commitment that can exist between one person and another. In his book, “The Four Loves,” C.S. Lewis paints a wonderful picture of such an ideal: “It seems no wonder if our ancestors regarded Friendship as something that raised us almost above humanity. This love, free from instinct, free from all duties but those which love has freely assumed, almost wholly free from jealousy, and free without qualification from the need to be needed, is eminently spiritual. It is the sort of love one can imagine between angels.”
But today’s friendships — those represented in the flock comedies and perhaps in real life — are less likely to be one on one. Instead, individual relationships tend to be deeply embedded in a complex web of group relationships. This creates a different set of social problems.
Thanks to social network technologies, people have to figure out how concentrated they want their friendship networks to be. Those with low-density networks can have a vast array of friends, but if the network gets too distended you are left with nothing but a dispersed multitude of shallow connections. People with a concentrated network have a narrower circle of friends, but if it is too dense you have erected an insular and stultifying social fortress.
Thanks to the segmentation of society, people have to figure out how rigorously they should segregate their different friendship circles: their work friends from their play friends; their artsy friends from their jock friends; their college friends from their religious or ethnic friends.
Thanks to greater equality between the sexes, people are more likely to socialize within co-ed flocks. They have to figure out how to handle sexual tension within the group: whether the eroticization of friendship ruins the essential bond; whether sex between two people within a friendship mob threatens to destroy the entire chemistry of the mob.
Finally, there is the question of whether group friendships are more or less satisfying than the one-on-one, bosom-buddy relationships. In an age of Facebook, Twitter networks and geo-location apps, are people trading flexibility and convenience for true commitment?
In other words, group friendship is burbling to the surface of television life because the promise and perplexities of modern friendship networks are burbling to the top of national life. What’s striking is not that television is treating changing friendship norms so thoroughly but that other cultural institutions are treating it so sparingly.
Growing Up With H.I.V.
Interviews by Pam Belluck, Video by Tony Cenicola, Produced by Lisa Iaboni
The first generation of children born with H.I.V. are now entering adulthood. What is it like to be a child with H.I.V.? How does it affect your relationships and your outlook? Four young adults speak about a their lives with H.I.V.
November 5, 2010
As H.I.V. Babies Come of Age, Problems Linger
By PAM BELLUCK
WARWICK, R.I. — “They’ve been telling me since age 3 that I would die,” Tom Cosgrove said quietly. “Then age 6, age 8, age 10.”
Now 20, he is considered the longest-living person born with H.I.V. in his state, but every year has brought struggle.
As a toddler at a shelter for children infected with H.I.V. from birth, he watched others die. Then, AIDS killed his mother and newborn brother. At 8, his body rejected medication and he became temporarily unable to walk.
He raged with anger, once even striking a teacher with a chair. Classmates, paranoid about his disease, refused to shake his hand or sit at his lunch table. Friends’ parents forbade them to visit, and he could not join basketball teams or karate classes.
Even now, medications impair his short-term memory, making school, and job prospects, difficult.
“We call them his stupid drugs,” said Barbara Cosgrove, who adopted Tom at 3. “But, as I say to Tom, ‘You’re either stupid or you’re dead.’ ”
At a time when H.I.V. in the United States has become a manageable disease for many, Tom Cosgrove and others like him are proof of the epidemic’s troubling, lingering legacy. They are the survivors, born beginning in the 1990s to the first big wave of people with AIDS, babies practically destined to die. Improvements in drugs, along with some luck, allowed some 10,000 of them to live — and these days only about 200 children a year are born with H.I.V., thanks to vigilant drug treatment of infected pregnant women.
But life for those first H.I.V. babies now entering adolescence and adulthood has been a battle, and their experience is considered so significant — not only in this country but also for the millions of H.I.V.-positive babies worldwide — that federal health agencies have begun an extensive study to follow these young people as they grow up.
Some are weakened by years of yo-yoing symptoms that early drugs failed to treat. Some have developmental delays or other problems related to having H.I.V. at birth. And their medications often have harsher side effects than those taken by people infected more recently as teenagers or adults because complications from their illness, or previous drugs they took and became resistant to, have made their disease more stubborn to treat.
Emotionally, they grapple with hostility toward parents who infected them, grief that those parents suffered and usually died, and anxiety about trusting others with a secret that still provokes hazing and fear.
And a serious problem is emerging: some are rebelling or asserting independence by skipping or stopping medication, which can make H.I.V. spiral out of control and become impervious to previously effective therapies.
“It ain’t over yet,” Dr. Ellen Cooper, medical director of pediatric and adolescent H.I.V. at Boston Medical Center, said about keeping these young people alive and healthy. Although she has not lost a patient in five years, she said, “I’m expecting a second wave” of these young people “dying because they’re not adherent” to medication, or because of “complications from treatment.”
No rights, no obligations - just companionship
Misyar or 'confidential' marriages abound in the region
* Muna Ahmed
Published Monday, August 23, 2010
The wife is not added to the citizenship document in misyar marriage. (FILE)
More than 20,000 marriages in the UAE are "misyar marriages", according to a judge. He also pointed out that the men and women who choose such confidential marriages, are almost exclusively Arabs.
A misyar marriage is legal in the UAE. It is a contract under which the husband and wife give up several rights by their own free will, such as living together, equal division of nights between wives, the wife's rights to housing, and maintenance money, and husband's right of homekeeping and access etc.
The couple continue to live separately from each other, as before their marriage, but get together regularly, often for sexual relations in a permissible and halal manner.
Although allowed in some Muslim countries, misyar is not popular with many because women lose nearly all their rights in a confidential marriage. A large number of such marriages end up in divorce.
A misyar marriage is one under which a couple get officially married in courts, but later on, the man does not complete the processes of the marriage.
He doesn't add the wife into the Citizenship Document, which is a must so that the wife gets her full official rights, sources said.
Widad Naser Lootah from the Community Development Authority in Dubai, said that misyar marriage is a legal marriage in the country.
"In this, they get married officially and have marriage certificate from the courts. They avoid having children, but if this happens, the children will be given their father's name and will be issued passports. The man is not obliged to spend on the wife and the children. He is exempted from paying for anything for them. However, he can pay from his own will."
She added: "Women generally accept to get into this kind of marriage when they reach 35 years of age and above and need male companionship.
"These women don't want to be alone. They seek male companionship, and thus accept to get married instead of being alone. In many cases, these women are divorced or widows," she said.
She added that almost all men who seek this type of marriages are getting married for the second time. "In these cases, the man normally hides his misyar marriage from his first wife and children. Thus, he doesn't spend the night with the second wife. He only visits her during the day after work and spends some time with her without his first wife's knowledge."
She added that the girl's family also doesn't mind such marriages as they want their daughter to have someone in their lives.
"When I was a marriage counselor in Dubai Courts, I received many women who wanted to get into such marriages. I personally don't encourage such marriages, but for some women, it is the best solution for their loneliness. For example, a widow came to me once and needed help for a misyar marriage.
"Her children had gone abroad for higher education, and they were to spend many years away from home. She was all alone, and got a misyar marriage proposal. She accepted it, and her uncle encouraged her to get married. Now she is living happily with her husband. This marriage was the perfect solution for both of them as they don't want to have children. All they want is to have each other's companionship," she said.
Below is an interesting graphical illustration of the socio/economic trends in our world based on information and statistics generated from 200 countries. It is also providing an interesting projection into the future....
Earlier this year, women became the majority of the workforce for the first time in U.S. history. Most managers are now women too. And for every two men who get a college degree this year, three women will do the same. For years, women’s progress has been cast as a struggle for equality. But what if equality isn’t the end point? What if modern, postindustrial society is simply better suited to women? A report on the unprecedented role reversal now under way— and its vast cultural consequences
By Hanna Rosin
February 14, 2011
The Experience Economy
By DAVID BROOKS
Tyler Cowen’s e-book, “The Great Stagnation,” has become the most debated nonfiction book so far this year. Cowen’s core point is that up until sometime around 1974, the American economy was able to experience awesome growth by harvesting low-hanging fruit. There was cheap land to be exploited. There was the tremendous increase in education levels during the postwar world. There were technological revolutions occasioned by the spread of electricity, plastics and the car.
But that low-hanging fruit is exhausted, Cowen continues, and since 1974, the United States has experienced slower growth, slower increases in median income, slower job creation, slower productivity gains, slower life-expectancy improvements and slower rates of technological change.
Cowen’s data on these slowdowns are compelling and have withstood the scrutiny of the online reviewers. He argues that our society, for the moment, has hit a technological plateau.
But his evidence can also be used to tell a related story. It could be that the nature of technological change isn’t causing the slowdown but a shift in values. It could be that in an industrial economy people develop a materialist mind-set and believe that improving their income is the same thing as improving their quality of life. But in an affluent information-driven world, people embrace the postmaterialist mind-set. They realize they can improve their quality of life without actually producing more wealth.
For example, imagine a man we’ll call Sam, who was born in 1900 and died in 1974. Sam entered a world of iceboxes, horse-drawn buggies and, commonly, outhouses. He died in a world of air-conditioning, Chevy Camaros and Moon landings. His life was defined by dramatic material changes, and Sam worked feverishly hard to build a company that sold brake systems. Sam wasn’t the most refined person, but he understood that if he wanted to create a secure life for his family he had to create wealth.
Sam’s grandson, Jared, was born in 1978. Jared wasn’t really drawn to the brake-systems business, which was withering in America. He works at a company that organizes conferences. He brings together fascinating speakers for lifelong learning. He writes a blog on modern art and takes his family on vacations that are more daring and exciting than any Sam experienced.
Jared lives a much more intellectually diverse life than Sam. He loves Facebook, YouTube, Wikipedia and his iPhone apps. But many of these things are produced outside the conventional monetized economy. Most of the products are produced by people working for free. They cost nothing to consume.
They don’t even create many jobs. As Cowen notes in his book, the automobile industry produced millions of jobs, but Facebook employs about 2,000, Twitter 300 and eBay about 17,000. It takes only 14,000 employees to make and sell iPods, but that device also eliminates jobs for those people who make and distribute CDs, potentially leading to net job losses.
In other words, as Cowen makes clear, many of this era’s technological breakthroughs produce enormous happiness gains, but surprisingly little additional economic activity.
Jared’s other priorities also produce high quality-of-life gains without huge material and productivity improvements. He practically defines himself by what university he went to. Universities now have nicer dorms, gyms and dining facilities. These improvements have not led to huge increases in educational output.
Jared is very health conscious and part of a generation that has spent much more on health care. This may help Jared lead a vibrant life in retirement. But these investments have had surprisingly little effect on productivity or even longevity.
For Sam, income and living standards were synonymous. But for Jared, wealth and living standards have diverged. He is more interested in the latter than the former. This means that Jared has some rich and meaningful experiences, but it has also led to problems. Every few months, new gizmos come out. Jared feels his life is getting better. Because he doesn’t fully grasp the increasingly important distinction between wealth and standard of living, he has the impression that he is also getting richer. As a result, he lives beyond his means. As Cowen notes, many of our recent difficulties stem from the fact that many Americans think they are richer than they are.
Jared is also providing much less opportunity for those down the income scale than his grandfather did. Sam was more hardhearted, yet his feverish materialism created more jobs.
Jared worries about that. He also worries that the Chinese and others have a material drive that he and his cohort lacks. But he’s not changing. For the past few decades, Americans have devoted more of their energies to postmaterial arenas and less and less, for better and worse, to the sheer production of wealth.
During these years, commencement speakers have urged students to seek meaning and not money. Many people, it turns out, were listening.
May 3, 2011
U.N. Forecasts 10.1 Billion People by Century’s End
By JUSTIN GILLIS and CELIA W. DUGGER
The population of the world, long expected to stabilize just above 9 billion in the middle of the century, will instead keep growing and may hit 10.1 billion by the year 2100, the United Nations projected in a report released Tuesday.
Growth in Africa remains so high that the population there could more than triple in this century, rising from today’s one billion to 3.6 billion, the report said — a sobering forecast for a continent already struggling to provide food and water for its people.
The new report comes just ahead of a demographic milestone, with the world population expected to pass 7 billion in late October, only a dozen years after it surpassed 6 billion. Demographers called the new projections a reminder that a problem that helped define global politics in the 20th century, the population explosion, is far from solved in the 21st.
“Every billion more people makes life more difficult for everybody — it’s as simple as that,” said John Bongaarts, a demographer at the Population Council, a research group in New York. “Is it the end of the world? No. Can we feed 10 billion people? Probably. But we obviously would be better off with a smaller population.”
The projections were made by the United Nations population division, which has a track record of fairly accurate forecasts. In the new report, the division raised its forecast for the year 2050, estimating that the world would most likely have 9.3 billion people then, an increase of 156 million over the previous estimate for that year, published in 2008.
Among the factors behind the upward revisions is that fertility is not declining as rapidly as expected in some poor countries, and has shown a slight increase in many wealthier countries, including the United States, Britain and Denmark.
The director of the United Nations population division, Hania Zlotnik, said the world’s fastest-growing countries, and the wealthy Western nations that help finance their development, face a choice about whether to renew their emphasis on programs that encourage family planning.
Though they were a major focus of development policy in the 1970s and 1980s, such programs have stagnated in many countries, caught up in ideological battles over abortion, sex education and the role of women in society. Conservatives have attacked such programs as government meddling in private decisions, and in some countries, Catholic groups fought widespread availability of birth control. And some feminists called for less focus on population control and more on empowering women.
Over the past decade, foreign aid to pay for contraceptives — $238 million in 2009 — has barely budged, according to United Nations estimates. The United States has long been the biggest donor, but the budget compromise in Congress last month cut international family planning programs by 5 percent.
“The need has grown, but the availability of family planning services has not,” said Rachel Nugent, an economist at the Center for Global Development in Washington, a research group.
Dr. Zlotnik said in an interview that the revised numbers were based on new forecasting methods and the latest demographic trends. But she cautioned that any forecast looking 90 years into the future comes with many caveats.
That is particularly so for some fast-growing countries whose populations are projected to skyrocket over the next century. For instance, Yemen, a country whose population has quintupled since 1950, to 25 million, would see its numbers quadruple again, to 100 million, by century’s end, if the projections prove accurate. Yemen already depends on food imports and faces critical water shortages.
In Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa, the report projects that population will rise from today’s 162 million to 730 million by 2100. Malawi, a country of 15 million today, could grow to 129 million, the report projected.
The implicit, and possibly questionable, assumption behind these numbers is that food and water will be available for the billions yet unborn, and that potential catastrophes including climate change, wars or epidemics will not serve as a brake on population growth. “It is quite possible for several of these countries that are smallish and have fewer resources, these numbers are just not sustainable,” Dr. Zlotnik said.
Well-designed programs can bring down growth rates even in the poorest countries. Provided with information and voluntary access to birth-control methods, women have chosen to have fewer children in societies as diverse as Bangladesh, Iran, Mexico, Sri Lanka and Thailand.
One message from the new report is that the AIDS epidemic, devastating as it has been, has not been the demographic disaster that was once predicted. Prevalence estimates and projections for the human immunodeficiency virus made for Africa in the 1990s turned out to be too high, and in many populations, treatment with new drug regimens has cut the death rate from the disease.
But the survival of millions of people with AIDS who would have died without treatment, and falling rates of infant and child mortality — both heartening trends — also mean that fertility rates for women need to fall faster to curb population growth, demographers said.
Other factors have slowed change in Africa, experts said, including women’s lack of power in their relationships with men, traditions like early marriage and polygamy, and a dearth of political leadership. While about three-quarters of married American women use a modern contraceptive, the comparable proportions are a quarter of women in East Africa, one in 10 in West Africa, and a mere 7 percent in Central Africa, according to United Nations statistics.
“West and Central Africa are the two big regions of the world where the fertility transition is happening, but at a snail’s pace,” said John F. May, a World Bank demographer.
Some studies suggest that providing easy, affordable access to contraceptives is not always sufficient. A trial by Harvard researchers in Lusaka, Zambia, found that only when women had greater autonomy to decide whether to use contraceptives did they have significantly fewer children. Other studies have found that general education for girls plays a critical role, in that literate young women are more likely to understand that family size is a choice.
The new report suggests that China, which has for decades enforced restrictive population policies, could soon enter the ranks of countries with declining populations, peaking at 1.4 billion in the next couple of decades, then falling to 941 million by 2100.
The United States is growing faster than many rich countries, largely because of high immigration and higher fertility among Hispanic immigrants. The new report projects that the United States population will rise from today’s 311 million to 478 million by 2100.
June 18, 2011
A Father’s Day Plea to Sperm Donors
By COLTON WOOTEN
WHEN I was 5, my mother revealed to me that I had been conceived through artificial insemination. This was before I understood anything about sex or where babies came from — I think I thought they just sprang from their mothers’ stomachs at random. Because my understanding of conventional conception was so thin, my mom remained vague about the details of my conception — in all its complexity — until I got older.
When that time came, I learned how my mother, closing in on her 40s, found herself unmarried and childless. She had finished graduate school and established a career, but regretted not having a family. And so she decided to take the business of having a baby into her own capable hands. Artificial insemination seemed like a smart idea, perhaps the only idea.
She arranged a consultation at the University of North Carolina fertility clinic in early 1992. During the visits that followed she examined the profiles of the sperm bank’s donors, compared favorable traits and credentials, and picked one. In the autumn of that year, I was born.
My mom’s decision intrigued many people. Some saw it as a triumph of female self-sufficiency. But others, particularly her close friends and family, were shocked. “You can’t have a baby without a man!” they would gasp.
It turns out, of course, you can, and pretty easily. The harder part, at least for that baby as he grows older, is the mystery of who that man was. Or is.
I didn’t think much about that until 2006, when I was in eighth grade and my teacher assigned my class a genealogy project. We were supposed to research our family history and create a family tree to share with the class. In the past, whenever questioned about my father’s absence by friends or teachers, I wove intricate alibis: he was a doctor on call; he was away on business in Russia; he had died, prematurely, of a heart attack. In my head, I’d always dismissed him as my “biological father,” with that distant, medical phrase.
But the assignment made me think about him in a new way. I decided to call the U.N.C. fertility center, hoping at least to learn my father’s name, his age or any minutiae of his existence that the clinic would be willing to divulge. But I was told that no files were saved for anonymous donors, so there was no information they could give me.
In the early days of in vitro fertilization, single women and sterile couples often overlooked a child’s eventual desire to know where he came from. Even today, despite recent movies like “The Kids Are All Right,” there is too little substantial debate on the subject. The emotional and developmental deficits that stem from an ignorance of one’s origins are still largely ignored.
I understand why fertility centers chose to keep sperm donation anonymous. They were attempting to prevent extra chaos, like custody battles, intrusion upon happy families (on either party’s side), mothers showing up on donors’ doorsteps with homely, misbegotten children with runny noses and untied shoelaces to beg for child support. It’s entirely reasonable, and yet the void that many children and young adults born from artificial insemination experience from simply not knowing transcends reason.
I don’t resent my mom; she did the best thing she knew how to do at the time, and found a way to make a child under the circumstances. But babies born of the procedure in the future should have the right to know who their donors are, and even have some contact with them. Sperm donors need to realize that they are fathers. When I was doing college interviews, one of the interviewers told me that he didn’t have any children, but that he had donated sperm while in college because he needed the money. He didn’t realize that he probably is someone’s father, regardless of whether he knows his child.
I’m one of those children, and I want to know who my father is. There are some programs like the Donor Sibling Registry that try to connect those conceived through sperm and egg donation with lost half-siblings and sometimes even parents. But I don’t have much hope that I’ll ever find him.
For my eighth grade project, I settled on fabricating the unknown side of my family tree, and not much has changed since then. I’m 18 now, today is Father’s Day, and I still hardly know anything about my biological father, just a few vague details that my mother remembers from reading his profile so many years ago. I know that he was a medical student at U.N.C. the year I was born. I know that he had olive skin and brown hair. I know that his mother was Italian and his father Irish.
I call myself an only child, but I could very well be one of many siblings. I could even be predisposed to some potentially devastating disease. Because I do not know what my father looks like, I could never recognize him in a crowd of people. I am sometimes overwhelmed by the infinite possibilities, by the reality that my father could be anywhere: in the neighboring lane of traffic on a Friday during rush hour, behind me in line at the bank or the pharmacy, or even changing the oil in my car after many weeks of mechanical neglect.
I am sometimes at such a petrifying loss for words or emotions that make sense that I can only feel astonished by the fact that he could be anyone.
Colton Wooten graduated from Leesville Road High School this month.
elderly in JapanKo Sasaki for The New York Times Playing gateball in Matsue, Japan. Some economists see graying societies like Japan as a disaster in the making. Others see falling fertility as a rational response to a crowded planet.
A recent report from the Social Trends Institute points to falling fertility rates -- not only in Japan and Western Europe, but also in China and the United States -- and warns that "nations wishing to enjoy robust long-term economic growth and viable welfare states must maintain sustainable fertility rates of at least two children per woman." In the United States, the Pew Research Center recently said that the birth rate appears to be falling when the economy suffers. If a slow economy curbs the birth rate, and low birth rates hurt the economy, it sounds like a downward spiral.
As Japanese, European, Chinese and American women have fewer children, is the global economy endangered? Or is that trend a healthy step toward balancing the population explosion in many developing nations?
November 23, 2011
Are We Getting Nicer?
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
It’s pretty easy to conclude that the world is spinning down the toilet.
So let me be contrary and offer a reason to be grateful this Thanksgiving. Despite the gloomy mood, the historical backdrop is stunning progress in human decency over recent centuries.
War is declining, and humanity is becoming less violent, less racist and less sexist — and this moral progress has accelerated in recent decades. To put it bluntly, we humans seem to be getting nicer.
That’s the central theme of an astonishingly good book just published by Steven Pinker, a psychology professor at Harvard. It’s called “The Better Angels of Our Nature,” and it’s my bet to win the next Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction.
“Today we may be living in the most peaceable era in our species’ existence,” Pinker writes, and he describes this decline in violence as possibly “the most important thing that has ever happened in human history.”
He acknowledges: “In a century that began with 9/11, Iraq, and Darfur, the claim that we are living in an unusually peaceful time may strike you as somewhere between hallucinatory and obscene.”
Still, even in a 20th century notorious for world war and genocide, only around 3 percent of humans died from such man-made catastrophes. In contrast, a study of Native-American skeletons from hunter-gather societies found that some 13 percent had died of trauma. And in the 17th century, the Thirty Years’ War reduced Germany’s population by as much as one-third.
Wars make headlines, but there are fewer conflicts today, and they typically don’t kill as many people. Many scholars have made that point, most notably Joshua S. Goldstein in his recent book “Winning the War on War: The Decline of Armed Conflict Worldwide.” Goldstein also argues that it’s a myth that civilians are more likely to die in modern wars.
Look also at homicide rates, which are now far lower than in previous centuries. The murder rate in Britain seems to have fallen by more than 90 percent since the 14th century.
Then there are the myriad forms of violence that were once the banal backdrop of daily life. One game in feudal Europe involved men competing to head-butt to death a cat that had been nailed alive to a post. One reason this was considered so entertaining: the possibility that it would claw out a competitor’s eye.
Think of fairy tales and nursery rhymes. One academic study found that modern children’s television programs have 4.8 violent scenes per hour, compared with nursery rhymes with 52.2.
The decline in brutality is true of other cultures as well. When I learned Chinese, I was startled to encounter ideographs like the one of a knife next to a nose: pronounced “yi,” it means “cutting off a nose as punishment.” That’s one Chinese character that students no longer study.
Pinker’s book rang true to me partly because I often report on genocide and human rights abuses. I was aghast that Darfur didn’t prompt more of an international response from Western governments, but I was awed by the way American university students protested on behalf of a people who lived half a world away.
That reflects a larger truth: There is global consensus today that slaughtering civilians is an outrage. Governments may still engage in mass atrocities, but now they hire lobbyists and public relations firms to sanitize the mess.
In contrast, until modern times, genocide was simply a way of waging war. The Bible repeatedly describes God as masterminding genocide (“thou shalt save alive nothing that breatheth” — Deuteronomy 20:16), and European-Americans saw nothing offensive about exterminating Native Americans. One of my heroes, Theodore Roosevelt, later a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, was unapologetic: “I don’t go so far as to think that the only good Indians are the dead Indians, but I believe nine out of ten are, and I shouldn’t like to inquire too closely in the case of the tenth.”
The pace of moral progress has accelerated in the last few decades. Pinker notes that on issues such as civil rights, the role of women, equality for gays, beating of children and treatment of animals, “the attitudes of conservatives have followed the trajectory of liberals, with the result that today’s conservatives are more liberal than yesterday’s liberals.”
The reasons for these advances are complex but may have to do with the rise of education, the decline of chauvinism and a growing willingness to put ourselves in the shoes (increasingly, even hooves) of others.
Granted, the world still faces brutality and cruelty. That’s what I write about the rest of the year! But let’s pause for a moment to acknowledge remarkable progress and give thanks for the human capacity for compassion and moral growth.
By DAVID BROOKS
We’re living in the middle of an amazing era of individualism. A few generations ago, it was considered shameful for people to have children unless they were married. But as Jason DeParle and Sabrina Tavernise reported in The Times on Saturday, these days, more than half of the births to women under 30 occur outside of marriage.
In 1957, 57 percent of those surveyed said that they believed that adults who preferred to be single were “immoral” or “neurotic.” But today, as Eric Klinenberg reminds us in his book, “Going Solo,” more than 50 percent of adults are single. Twenty-eight percent of households nationwide consist of just one person. There are more single-person households than there are married-with-children households. In cities like Denver, Washington and Atlanta, more than 40 percent of the households are one-person dwellings. In Manhattan, roughly half the households are solos.
A few generations ago, most people affiliated with one of the major parties. But now more people consider themselves independent than either Republican or Democrat. A few generations ago, many people worked for large corporations and were members of a labor union. But now lifetime employment is down and union membership has plummeted.
A few generations ago, teenagers went steady. But over the past decades, the dating relationship has been replaced by a more amorphous hook-up culture. A few generations ago, most people belonged to a major religious denomination. Today, the fastest-growing religious category is “unaffiliated.”
The trend is pretty clear. Fifty years ago, America was groupy. People were more likely to be enmeshed in stable, dense and obligatory relationships. They were more defined by permanent social roles: mother, father, deacon. Today, individuals have more freedom. They move between more diverse, loosely structured and flexible networks of relationships.
People are less likely to be trapped in bad marriages and bad situations. They move from network to network, depending on their individual needs at the moment. At the same time, bonds are probably shallower and more tenuous.
We can all think of reasons for this transformation. Affluence: people have more money to live apart if they want to. Feminism: women have more power to define their own lives. The aging society: more widows and widowers live alone. The information revolution: the Internet and smartphones make it easier to construct far-flung, flexible networks. Skepticism: more people believe that marriage is not for them.
But if there is one theme that weaves through all the different causes, it is this: The maximization of talent. People want more space to develop their own individual talents. They want more flexibility to explore their own interests and develop their own identities, lifestyles and capacities. They are more impatient with situations that they find stifling.
Many people have argued that these changes have led to a culture of atomization, loneliness and self-absorption. That’s overdrawn. In “Going Solo,” Klinenberg nicely shows that people who live alone are more likely to visit friends and join social groups. They are more likely to congregate in and create active, dynamic cities.
It’s more accurate to say that we have gone from a society that protected people from their frailties to a society that allows people to maximize their talents.
The old settled social structures were stifling to many creative and dynamic people (and in those days discrimination stifled people even more). But people who were depressed, disorganized and disadvantaged were able to lead lives enmeshed in supportive relationships.
Today, the fast flexible and diverse networks allow the ambitious and the gifted to surf through amazing possibilities. They are able to construct richer, more varied lives. They are able to enjoy interesting information-age workplaces and then go home and find serenity in a one-bedroom apartment.
On the other hand, people who lack social capital are more likely to fall through the cracks. It takes effort, organization and a certain set of skills to surf these new, protean social networks. People who are unable to make the effort or lack social capital are more likely to be alone. As Klinenberg and others have shown, this is especially likely to happen to solitary middle-aged men, who are more likely to lack the drive and the social facilities to go out and make their own friendship circles.
Over all, we’ve made life richer for the people who have the social capital to create their own worlds. We’ve also made it harder for the people who don’t — especially poorer children.
These trends are not going to reverse themselves. So maybe it’s time to acknowledge a core reality: People with skills can really thrive in this tenuous, networked society. People without those advantages would probably be better off if we could build new versions of the settled, stable and thick arrangements we’ve left behind.
March 12, 2012
The Fertility Implosion
By DAVID BROOKS
When you look at pictures from the Arab spring, you see these gigantic crowds of young men, and it confirms the impression that the Muslim Middle East has a gigantic youth bulge — hundreds of millions of young people with little to do. But that view is becoming obsolete. As Nicholas Eberstadt and Apoorva Shah of the American Enterprise Institute point out, over the past three decades, the Arab world has undergone a little noticed demographic implosion. Arab adults are having many fewer kids.
Usually, high religious observance and low income go along with high birthrates. But, according to the United States Census Bureau, Iran now has a similar birth rate to New England — which is the least fertile region in the U.S.
The speed of the change is breathtaking. A woman in Oman today has 5.6 fewer babies than a woman in Oman 30 years ago. Morocco, Syria and Saudi Arabia have seen fertility-rate declines of nearly 60 percent, and in Iran it’s more than 70 percent. These are among the fastest declines in recorded history.
The Iranian regime is aware of how the rapidly aging population and the lack of young people entering the work force could lead to long-term decline. But there’s not much they have been able to do about it. Maybe Iranians are pessimistic about the future. Maybe Iranian parents just want smaller families.
As Eberstadt is careful to note, demographics is not necessarily destiny. You can have fast economic development with low fertility or high fertility (South Korea and Taiwan did it a few decades ago). But, over the long term, it’s better to have a growing work force, not one that’s shrinking compared with the number of retirees.
If you look around the world, you see many other nations facing demographic headwinds. If the 20th century was the century of the population explosion, the 21st century, as Eberstadt notes, is looking like the century of the fertility implosion.
Already, nearly half the world’s population lives in countries with birthrates below the replacement level. According to the Census Bureau, the total increase in global manpower between 2010 and 2030 will be just half the increase we experienced in the two decades that just ended. At the same time, according to work by the International Institute of Applied Systems Analysis, the growth in educational attainment around the world is slowing.
This leads to what the writer Philip Longman has called the gray tsunami — a situation in which huge shares of the population are over 60 and small shares are under 30.
Some countries have it worse than others. Since the end of the Soviet Union, Russia has managed the trick of having low birthrates and high death rates. Russian life expectancy is basically the same as it was 50 years ago, and the nation’s population has declined by roughly six million since 1992.
Rapidly aging Japan has one of the worst demographic profiles, and most European profiles are famously grim. In China, long-term economic growth could face serious demographic restraints. The number of Chinese senior citizens is soaring by 3.7 percent year after year. By 2030, as Eberstadt notes, there will be many more older workers (ages 50-64) than younger workers (15-29). In 2010, there were almost twice as many younger ones. In a culture where there is low social trust outside the family, a generation of only children is giving birth to another generation of only children, which is bound to lead to deep social change.
Even the countries with healthier demographics are facing problems. India, for example, will continue to produce plenty of young workers. By 2030, according to the Vienna Institute of Demography, India will have 100 million relatively educated young men, compared with fewer than 75 million in China.
But India faces a regional challenge. Population growth is high in the northern parts of the country, where people tend to be poorer and less educated. Meanwhile, fertility rates in the southern parts of the country, where people are richer and better educated, are already below replacement levels.
The U.S. has long had higher birthrates than Japan and most European nations. The U.S. population is increasing at every age level, thanks in part to immigration. America is aging, but not as fast as other countries.
But even that is looking fragile. The 2010 census suggested that U.S. population growth is decelerating faster than many expected.
Besides, it’s probably wrong to see this as a demographic competition. American living standards will be hurt by an aging and less dynamic world, even if the U.S. does attract young workers.
For decades, people took dynamism and economic growth for granted and saw population growth as a problem. Now we’ve gone to the other extreme, and it’s clear that young people are the scarce resource. In the 21st century, the U.S. could be the slowly aging leader of a rapidly aging world.
Last October, the United Nations announced the global population had breached seven billion and would expand rapidly for decades, taxing natural resources if countries cannot better manage the growth.
Nearly all of the increase is in sub-Saharan Africa, where the population rise far outstrips economic expansion. Of the roughly 20 countries where women average more than five children, almost all are in the region.
Elsewhere in the developing world, in Asia and Latin America, fertility rates have fallen sharply in recent generations and now resemble those in the United States — just above two children per woman. That transformation was driven in each country by a mix of educational and employment opportunities for women, access to contraception, urbanization and an evolving middle class. Whether similar forces will defuse the population bomb in sub-Sarahan Africa is unclear.
July 29, 2012, 5:00 pm98 Comments
The Morality of Migration
By SEYLA BENHABIB
In announcing the Department of Homeland Security’s policy directive on June 15 stating that undocumented migrant youths who meet certain conditions would no longer be deported, President Obama said that “It was the right thing to do.” What he did not say was whether he meant “the right thing” legally or morally.
Obviously, he considered the action to be legal, even though this invocation of his administration’s power drew strong criticism from many, including Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. But the president’s grounds for believing it moral were much less clear.
This should come as no surprise: the morality and politics of migration are among the most divisive issues in much of the world. In the United States, discussions of immigration flow seamlessly into matters of national security, employment levels, the health of the American economy, and threats to a presumptive American national identity and way of life. Much the same is true in Europe. Not a week goes by without a story of refugees from Africa or Asia perishing while trying to arrive at the shores of the European Union.
Nor are such developments restricted to the resource-rich countries of the Northern Hemisphere. The United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Singapore, Israel and Jordan are countries with the highest percentage share of migrants among their total population, while the United States, the Russian Federation, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Canada and France lead in the actual number of international migrants. Migrations are now global, challenging many societies in many parts of the world.
Whereas from 1910 to 2012, the world’s population increased slightly more than fourfold, from 1.6 billion to to more than 7 billion, the number of people living in countries other than their own as migrants increased nearly sevenfold, from roughly 33 million to more than 200 million.
Leif ParsonsMigrations pit two moral and legal principles, foundational to the modern state system, against each other. On one hand, the human right of individuals to move across borders whether for economic, personal or professional reasons or to seek asylum and refuge is guaranteed by Articles 13 and 14 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. On the other hand, Article 21 of the declaration recognizes a basic right to self-government, stipulating that “the will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government.” Under the current regime of states, that fundamental right includes control over borders as well as determining who is to be a citizen as distinguished from a resident or an alien.
The international system straddles these dual principles but it has not been able to reconcile them. The irony of global developments is that while state sovereignty in economic, military, and technological domains is eroded and national borders have become more porous, they are still policed to keep out aliens and intruders. The migrant’s body has become the symbolic site upon which such contradictions are enacted.
Why not advocate a “world without borders” then? From a moral point of view, no child deserves to be born on one side of the border rather than another, and it is deeply antithetical to our moral principles to punish individuals for what they cannot help being or doing. Punishment implies responsibility and accountability for one’s actions and choices; clearly, children who through their parents’ choices end up on one side of the border rather than another cannot be penalized for these choices.
A strong advocate of the right to self-government might retort that rewarding certain children for the wrongs committed by their parents, in this case illegal immigration, by legalizing undocumented youths is illogical as well as immoral and that “the right thing to do” would be to deport all undocumented migrants – parents and children alike. Apart from the sheer impracticality of this solution, its advocates seem to consider undocumented “original entry” into a country as the analog of “original sin” that no amount of subsequent behavior and atonement can alter.
But such punitive rigor unfairly conflates the messy and often inadvertent reasons that lead one to become an undocumented migrant with no criminal intent to break the law.
If conditions in a person’s native country so endanger his life and well-being and he becomes willing to risk illegality in order to survive, his right to survival, from a moral point of view, carries as much weight as does the new country’s claim to control borders against migrants. Immanuel Kant, therefore, called the moral claim to seek refuge or respite in the lands of another, a “universal right of hospitality,” provided that the intentions of the foreigner upon arriving on foreign lands were peaceful. Such a right, he argued, belonged to each human being placed on this planet who had to share the earth with others.
Even though morally the right to hospitality is an individual right, the socioeconomic and cultural causes of migrations are for the most part collective. Migrations occur because of economic, environmental, cultural and historical “push” and “pull” factors. “We are here,” say migrants, “because in effect you were there.” “We did not cross the border; the border crossed us.”
We do have special obligations to our neighbors, as opposed to moral obligations to humanity at large, if, for example, our economy has devastated theirs; if our industrial output has led to environmental harm or if our drug dependency has encouraged the formation of transnational drug cartels.
These claims of interdependence require a third moral principle — in addition to the right of universal hospitality and the right to self-government — to be brought into consideration: associative obligations among peoples arising through historical factors.
States cannot ignore such associative obligations. Migration policies, though they are often couched in nation-centric terms, always have transnational causes and consequences. It is impossible to address Mexican migration into the United States, for example, without considering the decades-long dependency of the rich California agricultural fields upon the often undocumented and unorganized labor of Mexican workers, some of whose children have now grown up to become “Dreamers” (so named after the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act introduced to Congress in 2001). Among the three million students who graduate from United States high schools, 65,000 are undocumented.
The United States owes these young people a special duty of hospitality, not only because we, as a society, have benefited from the circumstances under which their parents entered this country, but also because they have formed strong affiliations with this society through being our friends, students, neighbors and coworkers. In a liberal-democratic society the path to citizenship must follow along these associative ties through which an individual shows him or herself to be capable and worthy of citizenship.
Migratory movements are sites of imperfect justice in that they bring into play the individual right to freedom of movement, the universal right to hospitality and the right of collectives to self-government as well as specific associative moral obligations. These rights cannot always be easily reconciled. Furthermore, international law does not as yet recognize a “human right to citizenship” for migrants, and considers this a sovereign prerogative of individual states. Nonetheless, the responsible politician is the one who acts with a lucid understanding of the necessity to balance these principles rather than giving in to a punitive rigorism that would deny, in Thomas Jefferson’s words, “the right which nature has given to all men of departing from [and I would add, from joining with] the country in which choice, not chance has placed them” (1774).
Whether or not President Obama considered all these moral aspects of the matter, his handling of this issue shows that he acted as a “responsible politician,” and not opportunistically as some of his critics charged. It was “the right thing to do.”
Seyla Benhabib is the Eugene Meyer professor of Political Science and Philosophy at Yale University. She is the author of “Dignity in Adversity. Human Rights in Troubled Times” (2012).
August 24, 2012
Men, Who Needs Them?
By GREG HAMPIKIAN
MAMMALS are named after their defining characteristic, the glands capable of sustaining a life for years after birth — glands that are functional only in the female. And yet while the term “mammal” is based on an objective analysis of shared traits, the genus name for human beings, Homo, reflects an 18th-century masculine bias in science.
That bias, however, is becoming harder to sustain, as men become less relevant to both reproduction and parenting. Women aren’t just becoming men’s equals. It’s increasingly clear that “mankind” itself is a gross misnomer: an uninterrupted, intimate and essential maternal connection defines our species.
The central behaviors of mammals revolve around how we bear and raise our young, and humans are the parenting champions of the class. In the United States, for nearly 20 percent of our life span we are considered the legal responsibility of our parents.
With expanding reproductive choices, we can expect to see more women choose to reproduce without men entirely. Fortunately, the data for children raised by only females is encouraging. As the Princeton sociologist Sara S. McLanahan has shown, poverty is what hurts children, not the number or gender of parents.
That’s good, since women are both necessary and sufficient for reproduction, and men are neither. From the production of the first cell (egg) to the development of the fetus and the birth and breast-feeding of the child, fathers can be absent. They can be at work, at home, in prison or at war, living or dead.
Think about your own history. Your life as an egg actually started in your mother’s developing ovary, before she was born; you were wrapped in your mother’s fetal body as it developed within your grandmother.
After the two of you left Grandma’s womb, you enjoyed the protection of your mother’s prepubescent ovary. Then, sometime between 12 and 50 years after the two of you left your grandmother, you burst forth and were sucked by her fimbriae into the fallopian tube. You glided along the oviduct, surviving happily on the stored nutrients and genetic messages that Mom packed for you.
Then, at some point, your father spent a few minutes close by, but then left. A little while later, you encountered some very odd tiny cells that he had shed. They did not merge with you, or give you any cell membranes or nutrients — just an infinitesimally small packet of DNA, less than one-millionth of your mass.
Over the next nine months, you stole minerals from your mother’s bones and oxygen from her blood, and you received all your nutrition, energy and immune protection from her. By the time you were born your mother had contributed six to eight pounds of your weight. Then as a parting gift, she swathed you in billions of bacteria from her birth canal and groin that continue to protect your skin, digestive system and general health. In contrast, your father’s 3.3 picograms of DNA comes out to less than one pound of male contribution since the beginning of Homo sapiens 107 billion babies ago.
And while birth seems like a separation, for us mammals it’s just a new form of attachment to our female parent. If your mother breast-fed you, as our species has done for nearly our entire existence, then you suckled from her all your water, protein, sugar, fats and even immune protection. She sampled your diseases by holding you close and kissing you, just as your father might have done; but unlike your father, she responded to your infections by making antibodies that she passed to you in breast milk.
I don’t dismiss the years I put in as a doting father, or my year at home as a house husband with two young kids. And I credit my own father as the more influential parent in my life. Fathers are of great benefit. But that is a far cry from “necessary and sufficient” for reproduction.
If a woman wants to have a baby without a man, she just needs to secure sperm (fresh or frozen) from a donor (living or dead). The only technology the self-impregnating woman needs is a straw or turkey baster, and the basic technique hasn’t changed much since Talmudic scholars debated the religious implications of insemination without sex in the fifth century. If all the men on earth died tonight, the species could continue on frozen sperm. If the women disappear, it’s extinction.
Ultimately the question is, does “mankind” really need men? With human cloning technology just around the corner and enough frozen sperm in the world to already populate many generations, perhaps we should perform a cost-benefit analysis.
It’s true that men have traditionally been the breadwinners. But women have been a majority of college graduates since the 1980s, and their numbers are growing. It’s also true that men have, on average, a bit more muscle mass than women. But in the age of ubiquitous weapons, the one with the better firepower (and knowledge of the law) triumphs.
Meanwhile women live longer, are healthier and are far less likely to commit a violent offense. If men were cars, who would buy the model that doesn’t last as long, is given to lethal incidents and ends up impounded more often?
Recently, the geneticist J. Craig Venter showed that the entire genetic material of an organism can be synthesized by a machine and then put into what he called an “artificial cell.” This was actually a bit of press-release hyperbole: Mr. Venter started with a fully functional cell, then swapped out its DNA. In doing so, he unwittingly demonstrated that the female component of sexual reproduction, the egg cell, cannot be manufactured, but the male can.
When I explained this to a female colleague and asked her if she thought that there was yet anything irreplaceable about men, she answered, “They’re entertaining.”
Gentlemen, let’s hope that’s enough.
Greg Hampikian is a professor of biology and criminal justice at Boise State University and the director of the Idaho Innocence Project.
You’re probably aware of the basic trends. The financial rewards to education have increased over the past few decades, but men failed to get the memo.
In elementary and high school, male academic performance is lagging. Boys earn three-quarters of the D’s and F’s. By college, men are clearly behind. Only 40 percent of bachelor’s degrees go to men, along with 40 percent of master’s degrees.
Thanks to their lower skills, men are dropping out of the labor force. In 1954, 96 percent of the American men between the ages of 25 and 54 worked. Today, that number is down to 80 percent. In Friday’s jobs report, male labor force participation reached an all-time low.
Millions of men are collecting disability. Even many of those who do have a job are doing poorly. According to Michael Greenstone of the Hamilton Project, annual earnings for median prime-age males have dropped by 28 percent over the past 40 years.
Men still dominate the tippy-top of the corporate ladder because many women take time off to raise children, but women lead or are gaining nearly everywhere else. Women in their 20s outearn men in their 20s. Twelve out of the 15 fastest-growing professions are dominated by women.
Over the years, many of us have embraced a certain theory to explain men’s economic decline. It is that the information-age economy rewards traits that, for neurological and cultural reasons, women are more likely to possess.
To succeed today, you have to be able to sit still and focus attention in school at an early age. You have to be emotionally sensitive and aware of context. You have to communicate smoothly. For genetic and cultural reasons, many men stink at these tasks.
But, in her fascinating new book, “The End of Men,” Hanna Rosin posits a different theory. It has to do with adaptability. Women, Rosin argues, are like immigrants who have moved to a new country. They see a new social context, and they flexibly adapt to new circumstances. Men are like immigrants who have physically moved to a new country but who have kept their minds in the old one. They speak the old language. They follow the old mores. Men are more likely to be rigid; women are more fluid.
This theory has less to do with innate traits and more to do with social position. When there’s big social change, the people who were on the top of the old order are bound to cling to the old ways. The people who were on the bottom are bound to experience a burst of energy. They’re going to explore their new surroundings more enthusiastically.
Rosin reports from working-class Alabama. The women she meets are flooding into new jobs and new opportunities — going back to college, pursuing new careers. The men are waiting around for the jobs that left and are never coming back. They are strangely immune to new options. In the Auburn-Opelika region, the median female income is 140 percent of the median male income.
Rosin also reports from college campuses where women are pioneering new social arrangements. The usual story is that men are exploiting the new campus hookup culture in order to get plenty of sex without romantic commitments. Rosin argues that, in fact, women support the hookup culture. It allows them to have sex and fun without any time-consuming distractions from their careers. Like new immigrants, women are desperate to rise, and they embrace social and sexual rules that give them the freedom to focus on their professional lives.
Rosin is not saying that women are winners in a global gender war or that they are doing super simply because men are doing worse. She’s just saying women are adapting to today’s economy more flexibly and resiliently than men. There’s a lot of evidence to support her case.
A study by the National Federation of Independent Business found that small businesses owned by women outperformed male-owned small businesses during the last recession. In finance, women who switch firms are more likely to see their performance improve, whereas men are more likely to see theirs decline. There’s even evidence that women are better able to adjust to divorce. Today, more women than men see their incomes rise by 25 percent after a marital breakup.
Forty years ago, men and women adhered to certain ideologies, what it meant to be a man or a woman. Young women today, Rosin argues, are more like clean slates, having abandoned both feminist and prefeminist preconceptions. Men still adhere to the masculinity rules, which limits their vision and their movement.
If she’s right, then men will have to be less like Achilles, imposing their will on the world, and more like Odysseus, the crafty, many-sided sojourner. They’ll have to acknowledge that they are strangers in a strange land.
So what is the prescription for Europe’s ills — and the lesson for America’s future?
It is true that good monetary and fiscal policies are important. But the deeper problems in Europe will not be solved by the European Central Bank. No matter what the money supply and public spending levels, a country or continent will be in decline if it rejects the culture of family, turns its back on work, and closes itself to strivers from the outside.
Over the past few years, there has been a sharp rise in the number of people who are atheist, agnostic or without religious affiliation. A fifth of all adults and a third of the youngest adults fit into this category.
As secularism becomes more prominent and self-confident, its spokesmen have more insistently argued that secularism should not be seen as an absence — as a lack of faith — but rather as a positive moral creed. Phil Zuckerman, a Pitzer College sociologist, makes this case as fluidly and pleasurably as anybody in his book, “Living the Secular Life.”
Zuckerman argues that secular morality is built around individual reason, individual choice and individual responsibility. Instead of relying on some eye in the sky to tell them what to do, secular people reason their way to proper conduct.
Secular people, he argues, value autonomy over groupthink. They deepen their attachment to this world instead of focusing on a next one. They may not be articulate about why they behave as they do, he argues, but they try their best to follow the Golden Rule, to be considerate and empathetic toward others. “Secular morality hinges upon little else than not harming others and helping those in need,” Zuckerman writes.
As he describes them, secularists seem like genial, low-key people who have discarded metaphysical prejudices and are now leading peaceful and rewarding lives. But I can’t avoid the conclusion that the secular writers are so eager to make the case for their creed, they are minimizing the struggle required to live by it. Consider the tasks a person would have to perform to live secularism well:
- Secular individuals have to build their own moral philosophies. Religious people inherit creeds that have evolved over centuries. Autonomous secular people are called upon to settle on their own individual sacred convictions.
- Secular individuals have to build their own communities. Religions come equipped with covenantal rituals that bind people together, sacred practices that are beyond individual choice. Secular people have to choose their own communities and come up with their own practices to make them meaningful.
- Secular individuals have to build their own Sabbaths. Religious people are commanded to drop worldly concerns. Secular people have to create their own set times for when to pull back and reflect on spiritual matters.
- Secular people have to fashion their own moral motivation. It’s not enough to want to be a decent person. You have to be powerfully motivated to behave well. Religious people are motivated by their love for God and their fervent desire to please Him. Secularists have to come up with their own powerful drive that will compel sacrifice and service.
The point is not that secular people should become religious. You either believe in God or you don’t. Neither is the point that religious people are better than secular people. That defies social science evidence and common observation. The point is that an age of mass secularization is an age in which millions of people have put unprecedented moral burdens upon themselves. People who don’t know how to take up these burdens don’t turn bad, but they drift. They suffer from a loss of meaning and an unconscious boredom with their own lives.
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- One other burden: Past secular creeds were built on the 18th-century enlightenment view of man as an autonomous, rational creature who could reason his way to virtue. The past half-century of cognitive science has shown that that creature doesn’t exist. We are not really rational animals; emotions play a central role in decision-making, the vast majority of thought is unconscious, and our minds are riddled with biases. We are not really autonomous; our actions are powerfully shaped by others in ways we are not even aware of.
It seems to me that if secularism is going to be a positive creed, it can’t just speak to the rational aspects of our nature. Secularism has to do for nonbelievers what religion does for believers — arouse the higher emotions, exalt the passions in pursuit of moral action. Christianity doesn’t rely just on a mild feeling like empathy; it puts agape at the center of life, a fervent and selfless sacrificial love. Judaism doesn’t just value community; it values a covenantal community infused with sacred bonds and chosenness that make the heart strings vibrate. Religions don’t just ask believers to respect others; rather each soul is worthy of the highest dignity because it radiates divine light.
The only secularism that can really arouse moral motivation and impel action is an enchanted secularism, one that puts emotional relations first and autonomy second. I suspect that over the next years secularism will change its face and become hotter and more consuming, less content with mere benevolence, and more responsive to the spiritual urge in each of us, the drive for purity, self-transcendence and sanctification.
By 2050, India to have the world’s largest Muslim population: study
A comprehensive Pew Research Center study shows that by 2050, India will surpass Indonesia to have the largest Muslim population by any country in the world. However, India will continue to have a Hindu majority, the study noted.
The Muslim population in India is likely to exceed 18% (310 million) while Hindus will comprise of 77% of the country’s population. In 2010, the percentage of Hindus in the country was about 80%, which is likely to come down to 77%. At the same time, over the course of four decades, the Muslim population will increase by four percentage points from 14% to 18%
As of 2010, Indonesia has the largest Muslim population (209 million) followed by India (176 million) and Pakistan (167 million). The largest share of Hindus as of 2010 is in India, followed by Nepal and Bangladesh. By 2050, India and Nepal will be the only two countries with a majority Hindu population, the same situation as of 2010, the study said.
Globally, the most interesting aspect from the study is the fact that by 2050, the number of Muslims will nearly equal the number of Christians in the world. Over the course of four decades, while Christians will go from 2.17 to 2.92 billion, Muslims are seen to have the fastest pace of growth to go from 1.6 billion to 2.76 billion. The study notes that Hindus will go from 1.03 billion to 1.38 billion. The world’s total population itself is expected to rise up to 9.3 billion, a rise of 35%.
Region-wise, Muslims are likely to be dominant in the Asia-Pacific region but their size itself will reduce from 62% in 2010 to 53% in 2050. They are also projected to surpass Hindus as the largest religious group in the region. Hindus will also be predominantly living in the Asia-Pacific region by 2050.
Islam predicted to be fastest growing major faith over the next 40 years
NEW YORK — Over the next four decades, Islam is expected to grow faster worldwide than any other major religion, with the Muslim population nearly matching Christians in both number and share of the global population, according to projections released Thursday.
Christians will remain the largest religious group, increasing to 2.92 billion adherents by 2050 if current demographic trends continue. But Muslims will reach 2.76 billion, making each faith group about 30 per cent of the world population, analysts from the Pew Research Centre said.
The projections in the report, The Future of World Religions, are based on birth and death rates, immigration patterns and rates of religious conversions, among other information found in censuses, demographic surveys and additional reports that asked people to identify what faith they follow.
Much of the growth of both Christianity and Islam will occur in Africa. But Muslims will also grow to comprise 10 per cent of Europe’s population and will outnumber Jews in the U.S. by mid-century.
India is expected to retain a Hindu majority, but the country will surpass Indonesia as the nation with the world’s largest Muslim population. As a group, Muslims are younger and have more children than members of other faiths, driving their global growth, researchers said.
The report is the latest to measure how Christianity in developing countries is far outpacing the growth of the faith in the West. By 2050, four in 10 Christians are expected to be located in Africa. And Christians will no longer be a majority in the United Kingdom, France and Australia.
Atheists, agnostics and people who don’t identify with a religion will increase in much of Europe and North America, but globally will drop from about 16 to 13 per cent. Within the U.S., people with no religious affiliation are projected to become more than a quarter of the population, while the share of Christians is expected to decrease from more than three-quarters to two-thirds.
The number of Buddhists will remain about the same, but because of overall global population growth, will comprise a smaller share of the world’s population. Hindus will grow to reach 1.4 billion people. Worldwide, the number of Jews is expected to grow by about 16 per cent to 16.1 million.
Sex Education in Europe Turns to Urging More Births
Recently, Sex and Society, a nonprofit group that provides much of Denmark’s sex education, adjusted its curriculum. The group no longer has a sole emphasis on how to prevent getting pregnant but now also talks about pregnancy in a more positive light.
It is all part of a not-so-subtle push in Europe to encourage people to have more babies. Denmark, like a number of European countries, is growing increasingly anxious about low birthrates. Those concerns have only been intensified by the region’s financial and economic crisis, with high unemployment rates among the young viewed as discouraging potential parents.
BEREA, Ky. — I WAS always with older folks when I was very young. They called me “Little Man” and told me I was “an old soul.” I worked in the garden with my grandparents, learned how to count money with Old Man Hoskins at the local store, and eavesdropped on the tales of my ancient neighbors. But it was the stories of my fierce aunt, Sis, that were my favorite.
Unfortunately, it seems there are fewer opportunities for different generations to interact now. The 2010 United States census shows that Appalachia, where I live, has some of the lowest levels of age segregation in the nation. Yet even here I notice a shift away from the intergenerational activity I enjoyed as a child in the 1980s.
What do we lose as we drift further away from our elders?
I spent a great deal of my time with Aunt Sis, who seems to have always been old. She knew how to plant and how to build a fire. She had once been known as the wildest and most beautiful woman in Leslie County, Ky. She was blunt and hard to please. Sis loved to wear red dresses and red lipstick. Her coal-black hair was always styled, even after long hours in the yarn factory that left her hands bloody with thin cuts. I grew up right next door to her, and everyone said I was “her pick.” She didn’t bother to deny it. “Little Man is my baby,” she always said, even when I was into my 40s.
Sis challenged my notions of what it meant to be elderly. Sis loved the most current music. She cussed. She took me to concerts and sneaked me into R-rated movies. Sometimes she and I danced in her living room to the latest Bob Seger record. “He’s my favorite!” she’d yell while she snapped her fingers, every part of her moving. “Turn it up, Little Man!”
More than anything else, my aunt told me stories. She knew all the key elements of storytelling: love, mystery, trouble. In her tales there was comedy, tragedy, a man who got his comeuppance, a defiant woman who would not be defeated, a community that ostracized the heroine. She recalled rationing and claimed to remember listening to F.D.R., my childhood hero, on the radio. She brought my long-lost great-grandparents to life.
This is the main thing we lose when we don’t talk to our elders: the histories. How many teenagers, for example, know the intimate details of the Kardashians’ lives but don’t know the love stories of their own parents? The joys and sorrows of the older generations serve as examples for us to learn from, to emulate or, perhaps even more useful, to avoid. As age segregation becomes more ingrained in our culture, what cycles will be repeated, what misconceptions will flourish?
Sis was not without fault, of course. She could be racist and xenophobic in a casual way that many of her generation shared. I had learned that slurs like this were not appropriate, and taught her as much. Intergenerational education.
Many of us move away from our hometowns and extended family. As I got older, I moved, too. We also take less part in the activities that once brought different generations together: things like church, community-focused entertainment and communal work. In my hometown, entire families used to attend an annual sorghum cook-off. We pulled foam off the bubbling syrup, sat around an outdoor fire and exchanged stories. First the teenagers stopped coming, then the middle-aged folks. For a while the older generation soldiered on, but that particular tradition stopped a few years ago now.
The generational divide is nothing new, of course, and it may only continue to grow. According to the most recent census, the elderly population will more than double between now and 2050. Before then we’ll have to decide if it’s better to ignore a huge chunk of our population, or if we will embrace everything we can give to one another.
Members of the older generation can help; they are certainly not innocent in this. They, too, congregate with those their own age. My generation should be bridging the gap between the young and the elderly.
My daughters, both teenagers, spent a lot of time with Sis in her very old age. She may have been on oxygen and in a wheelchair, but the stories she shared taught them how to be as strong, defiant and determined as she had always been. Sis taught them that people of all ages have value, and revealed to them that multigenerational mixing can lead to true laughter, knowledge and mutual respect.
Sis’s favorite singer, Bob Seger, turned 70 this week and recently released another album. Shortly before her death in February, I played a few of his new songs for Sis. She managed to swing her foot along to the beat. Struggling for breath, she smiled at the music and our joint memories. Now she is gone, and a universe of stories has gone with her. Fortunately, I had been taught to listen, to be present, and so those stories go on in me and in my daughters, handed down from one generation to another.
Chicago — NOW that the dust is settling from the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, which recognized a right to same-sex marriage, there are new questions. In particular, could the decision presage a constitutional right to plural marriage? If there is no magic power in opposite sexes when it comes to marriage, is there any magic power in the number two?
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.’s dissent in Obergefell raised this very question, intending to show how radical the majority’s decision could become. But the issue was hard to discuss candidly while same-sex marriage was still pending, because both sides knew that association with plural marriage, a more unpopular cause, could have stymied progress for gay rights. (Opponents of same-sex marriage had reasons to emphasize the association, while supporters had reasons to play it down.) With same-sex marriage on the books, we can now ask whether polyamorous relationships should be next.
There is a very good argument that they should. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy’s majority opinion in Obergefell did not focus primarily on the issue of sexual orientation. Instead, its main focus was on a “fundamental right to marry” — a right that he said could not be limited to rigid historical definitions or left to the legislative process. That right was about autonomy and fulfillment, about child rearing and the social order. By those lights, groups of adults who have profound polyamorous attachments and wish to build families and join the community have a strong claim to a right to marry.
And while Justice Kennedy’s opinion does not explicitly discuss this possibility, it is easy to see how future generations could read his language to include polyamory or plural marriage. Earlier court decisions about marriage, Justice Kennedy wrote, had “presumed a relationship involving opposite-sex partners,” but now we understand that the presumption was wrong. Similarly, while Justice Kennedy’s opinion repeatedly presumes that marriage involves two people, it is not hard to imagine another justice in 20 or 40 years saying that the assumption is similarly unenlightened. (It is even conceivable that Justice Kennedy himself anticipated that possibility.)
Nonetheless, many supporters of the same-sex marriage decision reject the possibility of plural marriage with surprising confidence. Writing in Slate after the decision in Obergefell, Judge Richard A. Posner of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit rejected a right to plural marriage because it would lead to gender imbalances if “the five wealthiest men have a total of 50 wives.” Similarly, the same-sex marriage advocate Jonathan Rauch has argued that polygamy allows “high-status men to hoard wives” and destabilizes society.
Gender equality is of course a serious concern. But the arguments above rest on the assumption that plural marriage will involve only one man and multiple women. That assumption is weak. Plural relationships could well be (and in some circles today are) between multiple people of both sexes, not all of whom are strictly heterosexual.
True, most past episodes of plural marriage have been patriarchal. But the lesson of the same-sex marriage case is that we should not be too wedded to historical assumptions. It was not that long ago that many people held vicious stereotypes about same-sex relationships that led them to wrongly assume that gay people were unfit for marriage. We should not make the same mistake in assuming we know what plural marriages in the future would be like.
To be sure, there are many potentially sound legal arguments against plural marriage. It might be administratively difficult to modify some of our marital laws, currently designed for pairs of people, to handle larger numbers of spouses. And if one thinks that the well-being of children can justify restricting marriage rights, it is possible that plural marriages could present difficulties. On the other hand, it may turn out that plural marriages are very good for children, because more adults are available to share the physical, financial and emotional demands of caring for them. If so, maybe any administrative difficulties will seem minor in comparison.
The deeper point is that we should remember that today’s showstopping objections sometimes come to seem trivial decades later. Very few people supported a constitutional right to same-sex marriage when writers like Andrew Sullivan and Mr. Rauch were advocating it only two decades ago. (Judge Posner, for example, did not.) As we witness more experiments with non-nuclear families, our views about plural marriage might change as well. As Justice Kennedy put it, “The nature of injustice is that we may not always see it in our own times.”
So the real force of the polygamy question is a lesson in humility. We should not assume that our judges have all the answers. And we should not assume we have them either. Instead we should recognize that once we abandon the rigid constraints of history, we cannot be sure that we know where the future will take us.
India Will Be Most Populous Country Sooner Than Thought, U.N. Says
Demographers have known for some time that the number of people in India would surpass the number in China, the two most populous countries in the world. But they did not anticipate that the change would happen so quickly.
The United Nations reported on Wednesday that India’s population will probably surpass China’s by 2022, not 2028, as the organization had forecast just two years ago.
In its 2015 revision report, the population division of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs said China’s population was now 1.38 billion, compared with 1.31 billion in India. But in seven years, the populations of both are expected to reach 1.4 billion.
Thereafter, the report said, India’s population will grow for decades, to 1.5 billion in 2030 and 1.7 billion in 2050, while China’s is expected to remain fairly constant until the 2030s, when it is expected to slightly decrease.
Over all, the report said, the world’s current population of 7.3 billion is expected to reach 9.7 billion by 2050, slightly more than the 9.6 billion forecast two years ago. The number could reach 11.2 billion by the end of the century.
Much of the overall increase between now and 2050 is expected in high-fertility countries, mainly in Africa, or in countries with large populations, the report said.
Half the growth is expected to be concentrated in just nine countries: India, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Tanzania, the United States, Indonesia and Uganda.
By contrast, the populations of 48 countries are expected to decline in that period, mainly in Europe, because of a slowdown in fertility rates that started decades ago. The report said several countries faced a population decline of more than 15 percent by 2050, including Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Romania, Serbia and Ukraine.
Among the 10 largest countries by population, one is in Africa (Nigeria), five are in Asia (Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia and Pakistan), two are in Latin America (Brazil and Mexico) one is in North America (the United States), and one is in Europe (Russia). Among these, Nigeria’s population, currently ranked seventh largest, is growing the fastest, and it is expected to surpass the population of the United States by 2050, which would make it the world’s third most populous country.
The population revision report also included some notable findings on aging. The number of people 80 or older is projected to more than triple by 2050 and increase more than sevenfold by 2100, the report said. In 2015, 28 percent of all people 80 and older lived in Europe, but that share is expected to decline to 16 percent in 2050 and to 9 percent by 2100, as the populations of other areas increase in size and grow older.
The revision report confirmed that substantial improvements in life expectancy have been made in recent years.
Globally, life expectancy has risen to 68 years for men and 73 years for women in 2010-15, from 65 years for men and 69 years for women in 2000-5.
The highest levels of life expectancy in 2010-15 are in China, followed by Japan, Italy, Switzerland, Singapore, Iceland, Spain, Australia and Israel, in that order.
Globally, the report said, life expectancy is projected to rise to 77 years in 2045-50 and 83 years in 2095-2100, from 70 years in 2010-15.
The population estimates and projections from the United Nations are an important benchmark for global trends, as well as for helping provide demographic data to calculate many other important indicators, including health data, around the world.
My Sunday column took up the question of the world’s obligations to Syrian refugees, and looked back to an earlier column to question the wisdom of Germany’s present open door policy. Given the demographic pressure facing Europe over the next half-century— the aging of the native population and the rapid population growth to Europe’s southeast and (especially) south — I argued that the continent needs to manage migration policy very carefully, or risk a dramatic escalation of its existing assimilation problem (and the nativist backlash associated with it).
As a partial counterpoint, offering a more sanguine take on the underlying demographic issues, I recommend this piece by Matt Ridley for the Times of London, which makes the case that the long-run pressure on Europe will be much weaker than merely running the numbers for population trends on either side of the Mediterranean would suggest. Ridley’s core point is that it takes a truly extraordinary event, like the complete collapse of Syria and Iraq, to persuade large numbers of people to pick up and move, so it’s a mistake to extrapolate from the current wave of migration to a Eurabian or Eurafrican future:
With African populations growing fastest, are we glimpsing a future in which the scenes we saw on the Macedonian border, or on Kos or in the seas around Sicily last week will seem tame? … I don’t think so. The current migration crisis is being driven by war and oppression, not demography. Almost two thirds of the migrants reaching Europe by boat this year are from three small countries: Syria, Afghanistan and Eritrea. These are not even densely populated countries …
… demography is a poor predictor of migration. Nowhere in the world are people leaving countries specifically because of population growth or density … Tiny Eritrea, with only five million people, is a hell-hole for purely political reasons. It has a totalitarian government that tries to make North Korea and the old East Germany look tame: it conscripts every 17-year-old into lifelong and total service of the state. No wonder 3 per cent of its people have already left.
So it is simply not the case that migration of Africans (or Asians) will be driven by their ever-increasing numbers. Ethiopia, next-door to Eritrea, is the second most populous country in Africa, with higher population density than Eritrea, and 90 million people. But its government is only mildly authoritarian, its economic growth rate is an astonishing 8-12 per cent over the past five years and people are not clamouring to leave.
Geographically speaking, Africa is an enormous continent. You can fit China, India, the United States, Mexico, Europe and Japan inside it, and still have space left over. When it has a population of 2.4 billion in 2050, it will still have fewer people than the 4 billion who live in those places today. Of the 50 least densely populated countries in the world, 16 are in Africa. The continent is far from overflowing.
Ridley goes on to quote a range of optimistic projections about Africa, all of which suggest that the continent is unlikely to produce a Jean Raspail-style exodus in the next half century, and that its billions of inhabitants will be able to do well enough, and get rich enough, while staying home. And then, too: “Africa’s population growth will slow during this century,” and “the richer it gets the more that growth rate will slow.” So the only thing Europe should fear is a political-driven — or religious-extremism-driven — mass migration; the demographics alone will not make the current scene in the Mediterranean a permanent feature of European life.
Ridley may be right, and I would go with him this far: The Syrian crisis is distinctive, the current surge of refugees into eastern and southern Europe need not represent the beginning of a permanent emergency, and if it does the problem will be, as he says, heavily political rather than purely demographic. Demographic pressure doesn’t work this fast unless there’s a military-political catastrophe driving it, and if the Middle East and North Africa stabilize somewhat and the African continent as a whole stays on a solid economic path, the pressure will ease, the pace of change will slow, and this summer’s remarkable scenes won’t be recreated annually on Europe’s borderlands and shores.
But of course the Levant and the Maghreb may not stabilize for a while … and even if they do, migration rates need not hit this summer’s crisis point every year for demographic change to matter a great deal. In particular, the fact that Africa will be (hopefully) richer and more politically stable in 2050 and 2100 than today, and the fact that the continent theoretically has room enough for its growing population, by no means precludes steady northward migration over the next 50-100 years.
Mexican and Latin American immigration to the United States, for instance, has proceeded at a brisk pace since the 1970s in the absence of Syrian-style disasters or Eritrean-style nightmares — or, for that matter, extraordinary human density — south of the Rio Grande. Yes, Mexico was stagnant and occasionally crisis-wracked during this period, but it was much richer than most African nations, and yet still millions of people decided to move north, even risking their lives to do it, simply because the potential rewards, to keep and/or to send back home, were so obvious and large. And if you take the last thirty years of Hispanic immigration to the U.S. rather than the Syrian refugee crisis as the template for what might happen as Europe ages and African populations grow, you could still end up with a world-historical demographic transformation, as Noah Millman noted earlier this year:
… Historically, migration out of Africa has been relatively small, with only 440,000 people leaving per year from 2000 to 2005, a rate equivalent to roughly 2 percent of population growth. If this rate of out-migration continues over the next 35 years, then an additional 26 million Africans will leave the continent—mostly for Europe, based on past migration patterns.
But that migration rate is likely to increase for several reasons. Higher rates of migration within Africa, between countries and toward urban areas, will make for a more mobile society acutely aware of the opportunities outside the continent. The presence of significant diaspora communities will make it easier for new migrants to contemplate the journey. And, as Africa’s population numbers rise, both prosperity or stagnation could drive larger outflows, the former by providing greater means for travel, the latter due to a desperate battle for limited resources within Africa.
To get a handle on the possible scale of future African migration to Europe, it’s worth looking at past Mexican migration to America. Prior to the 1970s, migration from Mexico to the United States was negligible; fewer than 1 million Americans in 1970 were immigrants from Mexico. But beginning in the mid-1970s, migration from Mexico to the United States began to increase, and increased further with every decade until only a few years ago. Today, roughly 11 million Americans were born in Mexico. During a period in which the Mexican population doubled, growing by about 60 million people, an additional 10 million (on a net basis) migrated to the United States. Applying comparable ratios to Africa and Europe, between now and 2050 nearly 200 million Africans would be expected to migrate to Europe. Between one in four and one in five Europeans would be African immigrants.
It seems safe to assume that the 200 million scenario simply won’t happen; the width of the Mediterranean alone makes that hard to imagine, to say nothing of what’s likely to happen in European domestic politics. But then if you had predicted a few years ago that Germany would be accepting hundreds of thousands, and possibly millions, of mostly-Muslim refugees during a single period of crisis, that would have seemed fairly implausible as well. And this crisis doesn’t have to repeat itself exactly to set a precedent that attracts the young, the adventurous, the ambitious, and the wired-in and social-media-savvy from countries where they might do well enough if they stayed, but where no matter how they worked and saved they could never hope to have it as good as the average European.
That’s the dynamic, and the incentive, that’s drawn people north into the United States, and I suspect it will be enough to draw people north into Europe at rising rates even absent massive crises. Which is why the choices that Europe’s policymakers make now, the scale of the welcome they extend, matters for the long term: Not because the world must inexorably come to Europe, but because trends build on themselves, migration patterns get established, and the more people come and stay, the more will expect to, want to, and try to follow them.
The Most Important Thing, and It’s Almost a Secret
We journalists are a bit like vultures, feasting on war, scandal and disaster. Turn on the news, and you see Syrian refugees, Volkswagen corruption, dysfunctional government.
Yet that reflects a selection bias in how we report the news: We cover planes that crash, not planes that take off. Indeed, maybe the most important thing happening in the world today is something that we almost never cover: a stunning decline in poverty, illiteracy and disease.
China Ends One-Child Policy, Allowing Families Two Children
BEIJING — Driven by fears that an aging population could jeopardize China’s economic ascent, the Communist Party leadership ended its decades-old “one child” policy on Thursday, announcing that all married couples would be allowed to have two children.
The decision was a dramatic step away from a core Communist Party position that Deng Xiaoping, the Chinese leader who imposed the policy in the late 1970s, once said was needed to ensure that “the fruits of economic growth are not devoured by population growth.”
For China’s leaders, the controls were a triumphant demonstration of the party’s capacity to reshape even the most intimate dimensions of citizens’ lives. But they bred intense resentment over the brutal intrusions involved, including forced abortions and crippling fines, especially in the countryside.
The efforts to limit family size also led to a skewed sex ratio of males to females, because traditional rural families favor boys over girls, sometimes even resorting to infanticide to ensure they have a son.
Nearly 60 million people are currently displaced from their
homes by war and persecution — more than at any time since
World War II. Half are children. This multimedia journey in text,
photographs and virtual reality tells the stories of three of them.
The world now is a thoroughly awful place, compared with what it should be. But not compared with what it was.
The percentage of states perpetrating mass killings of civilians is also well down since 1945, and fatalities from armed assaults on civilians (and from genocide) are down since reliable records have been kept. And while the numbers on deaths from terrorism vary according to the definition of that word, all agree that the numbers of terrorism deaths are quite small compared with those caused by (increasingly rare) wars.
These statistics definitely do not prove that animus or madness has ended. No decent person would deny that violence is still much too high everywhere. And there is no guarantee that any of these positive trends will continue.
Still, the big picture of postwar history shows significant improvements in nearly all indicators of lived human experience. The average life span of humans is today longer than it has ever been. A smaller proportion of women die in childbirth than ever before. Child malnutrition is at its lowest level ever, while literacy rates worldwide have never been higher. Most impressive has been the recent reduction in severe poverty — the reduction in the percentage of humans living each day on what a tall Starbucks coffee costs in America. During a recent 20-year stretch the mainstream estimate is that the percentage of the developing world living in such extreme poverty shrank by more than half, from 43 to 21 percent.
The real trick to understanding our world is to see it with both eyes at once. The world now is a thoroughly awful place — compared with what it should be. But not compared with what it was. Keeping both eyes open gives depth to our perception of our own time in history, and makes us better able to see where paths to more progress may be open.
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