SALT LAKE CITY — Congress may have dodged a bullet in January with its last-minute decision to postpone a sequestration until March 1. But according to Jonathan Last, in a column for the Wall Street Journal, there is a far bigger problem facing America.
"Forget the debt ceiling. Forget the fiscal cliff, the sequestration cliff and the entitlement cliff. Those are all just symptoms. What America really faces is a demographic cliff: The root cause of most of our problems is our declining fertility rate," said Last.
In part, Last is commenting about a growing demographic change that is happening and has been happening for years worldwide: Singles, now aging into their middle years, are not forming families.
Research by Eric Klinenberg, author of "Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone," shows that about 22 percent of American adults were single in 1950. Today, more than 50 percent of adults are single. His research also showed that in 1950, 4 million Americans lived alone, or 10 percent of households. Today, more than 32 million live alone, or 28 percent of households.
In an interview for The New York Times, Klinenberg commented on the reasons more people may be foregoing marriage for the single life: "For young professionals, [being single] is a sign of success and a mark of distinction, a way to gain freedom and experience the anonymity that can make city life so exhilarating."
However, singles chasing an "exhilarating" lifestyle, may not understand the long-term social repercussions.
A recent Deseret News article by Eric Schulzke analyzed the social costs of this shifting demographic. Schulzke clarified that there are "shattering implications for societies that fail to adequately replace one generation with another. The difficulty … is that modern societies place the burden of each retired generation on those currently working."
Similarly, Last explains, "The nation's falling fertility rate underlies many of our most difficult problems. Once a country's fertility rate falls consistently below replacement, its age profile begins to shift. You get more old people than young people. And eventually, as the bloated cohort of old people dies off, population begins to contract. This dual problem — a population that is disproportionately old and shrinking overall — has enormous economic, political and cultural consequences."
One of those consequences could be an inability to care for an aging population as the working population shrinks: At about 16 percent today, the population 65 or older could reach 25 percent by 2030, straining resources both at home and in the government.
Perhaps no country has been witness to those consequences like China, which has for more than three decades implemented a one-child policy. As a result, Chinese women have a fertility rate of 1.54 — a fertility rate is the number of children an average woman bears over the course of her lifetime. "Here in America," Last comments, "white, college-educated women—a good proxy for the middle class — have a fertility rate of 1.6." America has, in effect, its own one child policy. But unlike Chinese women, we have chosen it for ourselves.