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Karl W. Smith

No Good Comes From a Shrinking Population


The economic consequences of a smaller nation are more dire, and more wide-ranging, than commonly believed.

Businesses need people.

Businesses need people.

Photographer: Spencer Platt/Getty Images North America

America’s population may be shrinking. That’s mostly because of Covid, but it’s also part of longer-term trends in fertility that show no signs of abating. These trends, which are worldwide, have already caused major economic dislocation and are likely to continue to do so.

First, some data. From 1936 to 1956, the U.S. fertility rate rose from 1.8 to 3.2. At the peak of the baby boom, the average woman in the U.S. was having at least three children who survived until adulthood. (A rate of 2.1 is considered replacement level, holding the population steady over time.)