The “demographic arrowhead”

By Razib Khan | March 7, 2013 1:16 am

I haven’t seen anyone else coin this term, but when I see a chart like this, I think “the arrowhead aimed at civilization.”


MORE ABOUT: Demographics
  • TheBrett

    I don’t see it. Marriage being rare before the mid-thirties for Italians doesn’t mean that they aren’t still having children, and it looks like they’ll settle into a more stable lower level of population after the giant bulge of people from 25-65 ages up and dies off.

    It’s good news for the employment prospects of the children of Italy. Can you imagine how much demand there will be for medical services and personal assistance with that kind of bulging elderly population? That’s going to drive wages up, or lead to Italy importing a ton more immigrants.

    • Zenn Diagram

      It will be disastrous for the children of Italy. Older voters will greatly outnumber younger voters. The result will be pensions maintained at a level that will choke the younger generations and wages will fall. Immigrant labor will be brought in to provide services to the old, so the young won’t benefit in any way.

  • UncleTomRukusInWhiteHeaven

    In Europe, especially in protestant nations, the rate of marriage has been decreasing for a long time, but that does not mean people do not have children out of wedlock, in some nations, in Scandinavia the out of wedlock birth rate is about 50%…much higher than America, but the difference is that Europeans still usually form family units (even if informal). So marriage is not the issue in much of Europe, it is truly procreation:

    Maybe a “marriage bonus” might be more healthful in Asia, where people do not tend to have children out of wedlock.

    • Mark

      Only 2% of births in Japan are out-of-wedlock? Wow.

      • UncleTomRukusInWhiteHeaven

        I’ve lived in Japan. I don’t have statistical evidence of this, but I was not under the impression that people were as big on condoms as the U.S. and very few use birth control (this is true in most of East Asia) because many are under the impression it is “unhealthy”. So, when women get pregnant, they usually just get abortions. Morning after pills, etc are common, easy to get…as well as the more traditional form of abortion.

  • Zenn Diagram

    Even if population declines it won’t be for long. The current low fertility rates are selecting for high fertility individuals. In a century everyone will be descended from the people who are having 8+ children now.

    • razibkhan

      have you done the math? if not, don’t assert in such a precise manner (this is not a request, it is a demand). if you have, can you share your results in a data file? i’m curious about this, and don’t have enough time to run simulations in R.

  • AK

    By “arrowhead”, do you mean (1) the narrow base, (2) the bigger share of younger people who are unmarried, or (3) both?

    I have to agree with many of the other commentators that the declining rate of out of wedlock births is something of critical danger of importance (as opposed to just socially undesirable). The middle-aged population bulge along with the narrow base is of course another matter with dangers as regards future dependency ratios and the like.

    Still, I doubt it will be critical either. Life expectancy is increasing, but so is healthy life expectancy; eventually, retirement ages will have to follow, despite the political challenges. I would at this juncture point out that the European country with the most acute aging problems, Germany – whose TFR fell below replacement level rates back in the early 70s, aka a decade before the Med countries – also now has Western Europe’s most dynamic economy.

    I think a bigger challenge for Italy and the Med in general is going to be the renewed mass emigration of skilled workers that is picking up as the economic crisis there shows no signs of easing.

  • Charles Nydorf

    Civilization has be been around for at least 5,000 years and its probably good for another 5,000. This does not exclude minor cycles of “dark ages” and “renaissances.”

  • Peter Yuen

    I would have thought the problem is now the arrowhead. Rather, the base (assuming we are seeing the picture the same way!)


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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at


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