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None of the Above

None of the Above

Having No Religion in the United States and Canada
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Empty Planet

Empty Planet

The Shock of Global Population Decline
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It was a girl.

On Sunday, October 30, 2011, just before midnight, Danica May Camacho entered the world in a crowded Manila hospital, bringing the human population of our planet to seven billion. Actually, the scales could have tipped a few hours later, in a village in Uttar Pradesh, India, with the arrival of Nargis Kumar. Or it might have been a boy, Pyotr Nikolayeva, born in Kaliningrad, Russia.

Of course, it was none of them. The birth that took us to seven billion people was attended by no cameras and ceremonial speeches because we can never know where or when the event occurred. We can only know that, according to the United Nations’ best estimates, we reached seven billion sometime around October 31 of that year. Different countries designated certain births to symbolize this landmark in history, and Danica, Nargis, and Pyotr were among those chosen.

For many, there was no reason to celebrate. Indian health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad declared that a global population of seven billion was “not a matter of great joy, but a great worry. . . . For us a matter of joy will be when the population stabilizes.” Many share Azad’s gloom. They warn of a global population crisis. Homo sapiens is reproducing unchecked, straining our ability to feed, house, and clothe the 130 million or more new babies that UNICEF estimates arrive each year. As humans crowd the planet, forests disappear, species become extinct, the atmosphere warms.

Unless humankind defuses this population bomb, these prophets proclaim, we face a future of increasing poverty, food shortages, conflict, and environmental degradation. As one modern Malthus put it, “Barring a dramatic decline in population growth, a rapid decrease in greenhouse gas emissions, or a global outbreak of vegetarianism—all of which are trending in the opposite direction at the moment—we’re facing nothing less than the end of plenty for the majority of the earth’s people.”

All of this is completely, utterly wrong.

The great defining event of the twenty-first century—one of the great defining events in human history—will occur in three decades, give or take, when the global population starts to decline. Once that decline begins, it will never end. We do not face the challenge of a population bomb but of a population bust—a relentless, generation-after-generation culling of the human herd. Nothing like this has ever happened before.

If you find this news shocking, that’s not surprising. The United Nations forecasts that our population will grow from seven billion to eleven billion in this century before leveling off after 2100. But an increasing number of demographers around the world believe the UN estimates are far too high. More likely, they say, the planet’s population will peak at around nine billion sometime between 2040 and 2060, and then start to decline, perhaps prompting the UN to designate a symbolic death to mark the occasion. By the end of this century, we could be back to where we are right now, and steadily growing fewer.

Populations are already declining in about two dozen states around the world; by 2050 the number will have climbed to three dozen. Some of the richest places on earth are shedding people every year: Japan, Korea, Spain, Italy, much of Eastern Europe. “We are a dying country,” Italy’s health minister, Beatrice Lorenzin, lamented in 2015.

But this isn’t the big news. The big news is that the largest developing nations are also about to grow smaller, as their own fertility rates come down. China will begin losing people in a few years. By the middle of this century, Brazil and Indonesia will follow suit. Even India, soon to become the most populous nation on earth, will see its numbers stabilize in about a generation and then start to decline. Fertility rates remain sky-high in sub-Saharan Africa and parts of the Middle East. Even here, though, things are changing as young women obtain access to education and birth control. Africa is likely to end its unchecked baby boom much sooner than the UN’s demographers think.

Some of the indications of an accelerating decline in fertility can be found in scholarly research and government reports; others can only be found by talking to people on the street. And so we did. To gather research for this book, we traveled to cities on six continents: to Brussels and Seoul, Nairobi and São Paulo, Mumbai and Beijing, Palm Springs and Canberra and Vienna. There were other stops as well. We talked to academics and public officials, but more important, we talked to young people: on university campuses and at research institutes and in favelas and slums. We wanted to know what they were thinking about the most important decision they will ever make: whether and when to have a baby.

Population decline isn’t a good thing or a bad thing. But it is a big thing. A child born today will reach middle age in a world in which conditions and expectations are very different from our own. She will find the planet more urban, with less crime, environmentally healthier but with many more old people. She won’t have trouble finding a job, but she may struggle to make ends meet, as taxes to pay for healthcare and pensions for all those seniors eat into her salary. There won’t be as many schools, because there won’t be as many children.

But we won’t have to wait thirty or forty years to feel the impact of population decline. We’re feeling it today, in developed nations from Japan to Bulgaria that struggle to grow their economies even as the cohort of young workers and consumers diminishes, making it harder to provide social services or sell refrigerators. We see it in urbanizing Latin America and even Africa, where women are increasingly taking charge of their own destinies. We see it in every household where the children take longer to move out because they’re in no rush to settle down and haven’t the slightest intention of having a baby before they’re thirty. And we’re seeing it, tragically, in roiling Mediterranean seas, where refugees from wretched places press against the borders of a Europe that is already starting to empty out.

We may see it, very soon, influencing the global contest for power. Population decline will shape the nature of war and peace in the decades ahead, as some nations grapple with the fallout of their shrinking, aging societies while others remain able to sustain themselves. The defining geopolitical challenge in the coming decades could involve accommodating and containing an angry, frightened China as it confronts the consequences of its disastrous one-child policy.

Some of those who fear the fallout of a diminishing population advocate government policies to increase the number of children couples have. But the evidence suggests this is futile. The “low-fertility trap” ensures that, once having one of two children becomes the norm, it stays the norm. Couples no longer see having children as a duty they must perform to satisfy their obligation to their families or their god. Rather, they choose to raise a child as an act of personal fulfillment. And they are quickly fulfilled.

One solution to the challenge of a declining population is to import replacements. That’s why two Canadians wrote this book. For decades now, Canada has brought in more people, on a per capita basis, than any other major developed nation, with little of the ethnic tensions, ghettos, and fierce debate that other countries face. That’s because the country views immigration as an economic policy—under the merit-based points system, immigrants to Canada are typically better educated, on average, than the native-born—and because it embraces multiculturalism: the shared right to celebrate your native culture within the Canadian mosaic, which has produced a peaceful, prosperous, polyglot society, among the most fortunate on earth.

Not every country is able to accept waves of newcomers with Canada’s aplomb. Many Koreans, Swedes, and Chileans have a very strong sense of what it means to be Korean, Swedish, or Chilean. France insists its immigrants embrace the idea of being French, even as many of the old stock deny such a thing is possible, leaving immigrant communities isolated in their banlieues, separate and not equal. The population of the United Kingdom is projected to continue growing, to about 82 million at the end of the century, from 66 million today, but only if the British continue to welcome robust levels of immigration. As the Brexit referendum revealed, many Brits want to turn the English Channel into a moat. To combat depopulation, nations must embrace both immigration and multiculturalism. The first is hard. The second, for some, may prove impossible.

Among great powers, the coming population decline uniquely advantages the United States. For centuries, America has welcomed new arrivals, first from across the Atlantic, then the Pacific as well, and today from across the Rio Grande. Millions have happily plunged into the melting pot—America’s version of multiculturalism—enriching both its economy and culture. Immigration made the twentieth century the American century, and continued immigration will define the twenty-first as American as well.

Unless. The suspicious, nativist, America First groundswell of recent years threatens to choke off the immigration tap that made America great by walling up the border between the United States and everywhere else. Under President Donald Trump, the federal government not only cracked down on illegal immigrants, it reduced legal admissions for skilled workers, a suicidal policy for the U.S. economy. If this change is permanent, if Americans out of senseless fear reject their immigrant tradition, turning their backs on the world, then the United States too will decline, in numbers and power and influence and wealth. This is the choice that every American must make: to support an open, inclusive, welcoming society, or to shut the door and wither in isolation.

The human herd has been culled in the past by famine or plague. This time, we are culling ourselves; we are choosing to become fewer. Will our choice be permanent? The answer is: probably yes. Though governments have sometimes been able to increase the number of children couples are willing to have through generous child care payments and other supports, they have never managed to bring fertility back up to the replacement level of, on average, 2.1 children per woman needed to sustain a population. Besides, such programs are extremely expensive and tend to be cut back during economic downturns. And it is arguably unethical for a government to try to convince a couple to have a child that they would otherwise not have had.

As we settle into a world growing smaller, will we celebrate or mourn our diminishing numbers? Will we struggle to preserve growth, or accept with grace a world in which people both thrive and strive less? We don’t know. But it may be a poet who observes that, for the first time in the history of our race, humanity feels old.

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The Millennial Mosaic

The Millennial Mosaic

How Pluralism and Choice Are Shaping Canadian Youth and the Future of Canada
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The Worrying Continues … and Is Getting Worse

The phrase “What’s the matter with kids today?” has become a cultural idiom, removed from its origins as a phrase in a popular movie many decades ago. In the four related books on youth that have preceded this one, a point that has been emphasized is that people seemingly have always worried about the latest youth cohort that has been making its way onto the social stage. So it was that Reg and Don Posterski, in the first of this youth book series, The Emerging Generation in 1985, cited educator Anthony Kerr’s observation, “I have a pretty fair idea of history over the past twenty-five centuries and I cannot recall a time when the old were fully satisfied with the young.” To underline the point, a very old line from Socrates has frequently been recalled: “Children today are tyrants. They contradict their parents, gobble their food, and tyrannize their teachers.” Lest the anxiety level about emerging generations be seen as subsiding as the twentieth century came to an end, Reg noted that a highly respected pollster, Alain Giguere, reflecting on his survey findings concerning the young people of the day, told an Ottawa gathering of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2000, “I tremble to see what kind of society they are going to produce in 20–25 years. ”

We just never stop worrying about young people. Here we are on the eve of twenty-first century’s version of the Roaring Twenties, worrying as much as ever about what the latest youth entry — the Millennials — are going to bring with them and the impact they are going to have on Canada, North America, and the rest of the world.

But there’s a distinct difference in the nature of the anxiety this time around. People keep telling us that the impact is going to be unprecedented because of the revolution in technology that the Millennials have experienced from infancy. Pundits are reminding us that this is the first generation in history that has grown up with the Internet and social media; a generation whose genetic makeup has been affected by unlimited information and global communication.

The information and technological revolution of the late twentieth and twenty-first centuries has been of a magnitude that is extremely difficult to comprehend. Because of the way it has encompassed so much of life in tsunami-like fashion, it has taken on an incredible mystique. Most of us cannot begin to grasp the implications. If information and technology have altered how we meet and live and work and play, what kind of an impact is it having and going to have on life as a whole in the rest of the twenty-first century? All the new technology — texting, smartphones, social media, and online everything — has added new layers of mystery to what is going to happen next.

That’s our way of saying that, yes, we have always worried about the newest, emerging generation, but Millennials in Canada are bringing with them a greatly magnified mystique. We’ve never seen anything like them before. As a result, lots of people have lots of anxiety. This anxiety over Millennials occurs at the very mention of the term. An article featured in The Atlantic in 2014 begins “We can all agree that Millennials are the worst.” With that resolved, the article continues with an almost afterthought, by-the-way question: “But what is a Millennial?” This book provides considerable information on who Millennials are, what’s important to them, how they might turn out, and the impact they might have on everyone else. In the process, we intend to get past some of the mystique and myths about Millennials and also defuse a fair amount of the anxiety.


In its important study of Canadian Millennials released in February of 2017, Toronto-based research company Environics noted that “much of what passes for analysis of this generation of Canadian adults amounts to little more than anecdote and stereotype,” with the Canadian conversation “remarkably devoid of solid evidence about how Millennials live, what they think, what they value, what they want, or what they hope to achieve.” Environics made use of an online survey of 3,072 Canadians between the ages of 21 and 36 in July and August of 2016 to provide data on life goals, career aspirations, and political and civic engagement. Similarly, Vision Critical, based in Vancouver with a considerable global reach, released a major overview on Millennials in 2016, drawing heavily on two national surveys with samples of some 800 young Americans early in the year. In introducing its report, it stated, “Companies can’t rely on stereotypes about Millennials. They must become Millennial experts and tailor their brands to meet this generation’s expectations.”

We solidly concur with the need to go beyond stereotypes and conjecture and obtain sound data on Millennials. That’s why we have undertaken this project.

A prosaic but important point that we want to underline as we begin our examination of Millennials is that if we want to understand the ideas that people have in their heads, we have to ask them. Rather than standing a safe distance away from young people and pontificating from safe but poor sightlines about what they are thinking, planning, and doing, it’s critically important to provide them with the opportunity to tell us what’s going on in their lives.

That’s what we have done. Through two major national surveys carried out in 2015 and 2016, we have had the opportunity to converse with more than 6,000 Canadians, including more than 1,000 young people between the ages of 18 and 29 who were born between approximately 1986 and 2000. These people under 30 have included the first teenagers in the new millennium — young adults who rightfully can be dubbed “Millennials. “ Close to 600 are 18 to 23. (For methodological details, see the Appendix.)

What makes the examination of the younger Millennials in our surveys so fascinating is the fact that Reg — through his Project Teen Canada surveys dating back to the mid-1980s — has been looking at their slightly younger, 15- to 19-year-old counterparts over the past four decades. The 2015 and 2016 surveys have repeated many of the items from the earlier surveys, making trend examinations possible. For example, we can readily compare young people in 1984 with those in 2016.

But the ongoing surveys allow us to do much more. Individuals who were 15- to 19-year-olds in 1984 reappear in 2016 — 32 years later — as 47- to 51-year-olds in our latest large-scale national surveys. The same is true for teen cohorts in 1992, 2000, and 2008. By looking at them, respectively, 24, 16, and 8 years later, we can take a peek at how they have “turned out” … so far.

At the risk of making readers dizzy, we also can draw on Reg’s Project Canada adult national surveys spanning from 1975 to now, which allow us to compare teenagers and adults over a considerable period of time. In short, we have access to a gold mine of youth and adult data that we can draw on, a body of trend data that simply cannot be matched.

From the outset, we want to remind readers that our primary interest does not lie with numbers but rather with ideas. Consequently, we don’t want to simply throw numbers around so that this becomes a tedious, statistical monograph. On the contrary, we want to look at the survey findings and attempt to interpret them in the context of everyday life. We will draw generously on relevant material from a wide range of academic and additional sources. In the end, we want the research to help us all to understand more clearly “how the world works.”

A conscious goal is to make the material readily accessible. We want to write with clarity. What’s more, we want this to be an enjoyable conversation, not a lifeless report written by dull clinicians. For worse, and we think for better, our personalities will be readily evident.

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Could It Happen Here?

Could It Happen Here?

Canada in the Age of Trump and Brexit
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