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A new paper by Oxford researchers argues that some countries in Western Europe, and the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand now have birth rates that are now relatively close to replacement, that the underlying trend in Europe is upwards, and that population ageing, although inevitable, is likely to be 'manageable'.

Claims about the decline of the west are 2018exaggerated2019

The publication in the journal, Population Studies, by Professor David Coleman and Associate Professor Stuart Basten, provides a more optimistic demographic picture of the future in the West, in contrast to the commonly accepted narrative. Much has been written about the Death of the West: how declining birth rates, falling populations, and population ageing will reduce Europe and end the supremacy of the US while Asian superpowers, such as China and India, see their economies grow to match their huge populations.

The authors say while the West and the English speaking world will have to accept some 'painful adjustments', the population time-bomb scenario is simply wrong.  It points out that although the Western economies have difficulties with the rising costs of pension entitlement for its ageing populations, societies are adapting through increases in retirement age and other measures. Countries in the developing world, however, are facing a variety of different challenges. It argues that these have been understated; in some cases persistent substantial population growth, in others rapid fertility decline leading to severe levels of population ageing. In many of these societies, political and social instability makes adjustment difficult.

On the other hand, many countries in Western Europe have reasonably favourable demographic trends that are ‘more stable and sustainable than supposed’ (with total fertility rates between 1.8-2.1). In countries such as the UK, robust birth rates combined with record immigration ensure that population decline is not on the agenda and indeed that population growth has become a problem, argues the paper. Western countries, for all their difficulties, benefit from established civil society, functioning democracy, the rule of law, relatively high levels of trust in political institutions, and some degree of equality between the sexes, it suggests.

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