Re: The Baby Bust Economy

Written by Marian Starkey | Published: June 16, 2023

We submitted the following letter to the editor on June 16, 2023, and are sharing it below since it wasn’t published by The Economist.

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To the Editor:

In “The Baby Bust Economy” (June 1), the authors bemoan the world’s “collapsing” fertility rate and the economic consequences of a “baby bust.” It’s true that changing age structures will require ending the population Ponzi scheme that high-income countries’ economies have historically relied upon. But the adjustments can be more gradual than the article implies.

After all, young people are not typically economically productive. That means fewer youth dependents helps to offset the increase in elderly dependents, easing us more slowly into a higher total dependency ratio, a measure the article does not mention. It also doesn’t mention the opportunity, through better preventive health care, to reduce the number of years elderly people spend in ill health. Improving health in people’s sunset years allows them to be employed longer and help with childcare and other unpaid work if they choose. It also reduces strain on overburdened health care systems. Not all people become a drag on pension and/or health systems the second they turn 65—many are healthy and productive into their 80s and even 90s. We should stop talking about older people as if they are a problem to be solved. Older people have wisdom, knowledge, and experience that outshine any other age group—let’s make the most of the invaluable contributions people can provide in their golden years.

Puzzlingly, the authors write that the “world is not close to full,” but then don’t provide any context for the assertion, neither in terms of the environmental consequences of continued population growth nor for the crushing poverty millions of people in high-fertility countries face.

The “welcome” underlying causes of low fertility that the article identifies—more wealth and more choice (I’d add more education to that)—lead to a smaller population of young people, yes, but one that is more equipped and enabled to create the “breakthrough innovations” the authors are so determined to foster.


Marian Starkey
VP for Communications
Population Connection