The Demographic Winter (How We Got to Where We Are)

Published May 25, 2012

World Congress of Families

The following remarks were delivered by John D. Mueller, Lehrman Institute Fellow in Economics at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, at the VI World Congress of Families in Madrid, Spain, on May 25, 2012.

Hola! I’m afraid that’s about the limit of my Spanish. But what doesn’t require translation is the welcome here in Madrid at the Sixth World Congress of Families to more than 2,500 participants from all over the world, who speak an ancient, universal language: It’s the language Aristotle spoke in the 4th century before Christ, when he said that a human is not only a “rational” and “political” but first a “conjugal animal.”[i] And it’s the language Augustine spoke in 5th century northern Africa, when he said, “the first natural bond of human society is man and wife.”[ii]

Our panel’s subject is “The Demographic Winter (How We Got to Where We Are).” It asks, in effect, why so many nations are acting against human nature.

Our discussion will range widely. And some of us will speak later about the policy implications.

But to introduce some recurring themes it may help if I summarize the model of fertility which I developed in my book (Redeeming Economics)[iii] and at the World Congresses in Warsaw, [iv] Amsterdam[v], and Moscow. [vi]

Four factors explain most variation in birth rates among the countries for which sufficient data are available (comprising about three-quarters of world population).[vii]



The birth rate is strongly and inversely proportional to per capita social benefits, and per capita national saving. These mostly represent provision by current adults for their own well-being.

A legacy of totalitarian government also reduces the birth rate (by about 0.6 children per couple).


Finally, the strongest, and only positive factor is religious practice. On average in the world, a couple which never worships has about 1.2 children; a couple that worships once a week averages about 2.4 more, or about 3.6 children.[viii]


As weekly worship declines, the rate of abortion also increases exponentially.[ix]


In fact, legal abortion alone is responsible in nearly every country where the birth rate is below the replacement rate, and now for the whole world.

Each of our distinguished panelists will speak for 10 minutes. I will enforce these limits by smiling benignly. The World Congress website contains extensive biographies. I won’t shorten their speaking time by repeating them. But I will mention some of their published writings.

Joel Kotkin is famous as an author, professor (at Chapman University) and journalist. The latest of his many books is The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050.

Don Feder’s more than two thousand columns for the Boston Herald alone, before he became the globe-trotting publicist for the World Congress of Families, would fill about four large books. He will speak on “The cultural roots of demographic winter.”

Douglas Sylva, senior fellow and board member of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (C-FAM), recently co-edited the book Population Decline and the Remaking of Great Power Politics. He will speak on “The demographic winter as a threat to world peace.”

Alejandro Macarrón Larumbe, a successful business management and corporate finance consultant, authored the recent book, Spain’s Demographic Suicide (El suicidio demográfico de España). He will speak on “Large families and the way out of demographic winter.”

This morning, then, we have already heard about the natural family and challenges to it, now about the origins of the “demographic winter,” and this afternoon we’ll hear (and some of us will speak) about necessary changes in government and social policy toward the family.

John D. Mueller is the Lehrman Institute Fellow in Economics at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.


[i] St. Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, translated by C. I. Litzinger, OP, foreword by Ralph McInerny (Notre Dame, IN: Dumb Ox Books, 1964), 520.

[ii] Augustine of Hippo, “Of the Good of Marriage,” (de Bono Conjugali),,

[iii] http://www.eppc-stage.local/publications/redeeming-economics-2/. The demographic model with its data sources and regressions was first published in John D. Mueller, “How Does Fiscal Policy Affect the American Worker?” Notre Dame Journal of Law, Ethics and Public Policy Vol. 20 No. 2 (Spring 2006), 563-619; available at http://www.eppc-stage.local/publications/how-does-fiscal-policy-affect-the-american-worker/.

[iv] John D. Mueller, “A Family-Friendly Fiscal Policy to Weather Demographic Winter,” remarks to the Fourth World Congress of Families, Warsaw, Poland, 11 May 2007, http:/ /, and http://www.eppc-stage.local/publications/family-friendly-fiscal-policy-to-weather-demographic-winter/.

[v] John D. Mueller, “How Do Nations Choose ‘Demographic Winter’? Is America Doing So?” Remarks at the Fifth World Congress of Families Panel on “Family and Demography,” Amsterdam,, Netherlands, 11 August 2009, and http://www.eppc-stage.local/publications/how-do-nations-choose-a%C2%80%C2%9Cdemographic-wintera%C2%80%C2%9D-is-america-doing-so/

[vi] John D. Mueller, “Babies and Dollars: Babies and Dollars: Implications for USA, Russia, and the World,” available at and http://www.eppc-stage.local/publications/babies-and-dollars-implications-for-usa-russia-and-the-world/. I’d like to thank Mary Claire Reim for her assistance in gathering the data necessary to update the model.

[vii] Fertility rates should be adjusted for differences in mortality rates. The Net Reproduction Rate (NRR) represents a hypothetical woman whose experience matches the average rates of fertility and death of all women in a given year. (The Total Fertility Rate measures fertility alone.) An NRR of 1.00 indicates that each woman bears exactly one surviving daughter. The Total Fertility Rates used in the model equal twice the NRR. For example, the TFR in Mali in 2006 was 7.42, but the NRR was 1.987, which corresponds to a TFR of 3.97 children per couple. In other words, in Mali the typical couple had about 3-1/2 children simply to compensate for the likelihood of premature death before reaching child-bearing age. United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, World Population Prospects: The 2008 Revision, New York, 2009;

[viii] Data on religious practice from the World Values Survey are available by country at

[ix] Data on abortion rates by country from update of section VII, “Global Abortion Summary,” version 3, March 2000, © 2000-2007, 2008 by Wm. Robert Johnston. Last modified 26 October 2008, available at

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