In early 2007, we were asked about filming an international conference called The World Congress of Families that was to take place in Warsaw, Poland. This was to be a gathering of scholars, experts and government representatives from around the world coming together basically to discuss the state of the family in the world.
When we began our research into World Congress of Families, we could immediately see that the story was far deeper than the Congress. The story was to be found in what motivated the thousands of people to attend these international gatherings and especially in what was quietly happening throughout the world.
Filming for Demographic Winter started in May 2007 at the World Congress of Families IV in Warsaw, Poland, interviewing the speakers, leaders and participants at this international conference. From there we traveled to Berlin, Osnabruck, Rome, Geneva, Paris and Moscow, conducting other interviews with sociologists, demographers, economists, psychologists, parliamentarians, government representatives, and other civic and religious leaders, as well as engaging in “man on the street” interviews in these localities.
After returning from Europe, we traveled to university campuses all around the United States interviewing sociologists and economists, and attended other conferences, interviewing many other scholars, civic leaders and diplomats from many different countries around the world.
Hundreds of interviews were conducted, representing every continent of the world, save Antarctica, in the research for this documentary. The New Economic Reality is the most exhaustive study ever conducted on film addressing demographic changes, the decline of the family, and the impact on the economy and society.
Making a documentary film is a journey of discovery. Like doing research for a book or to qualify for a PhD, there is so much that is learned and it becomes an eye opening experience for the filmmaker. What we were to find as we did the research for the film and as we conducted the interviews would surprise and shock us. We found a subtext we never expected to find.
Like many of the scholars we interviewed in the film, we tried to steer clear of making moral claims, and instead used data based analysis. Looking to see where the facts take us rather than trying to fit the facts into our current paradigm.
What we discovered is that one of the most ominous events of modern history is quietly unfolding. The social scientists and economists we interviewed in this film agree - we are headed toward a demographic winter which threatens to have catastrophic social and economic consequences. The effects will be severe and long lasting and are already becoming manifest in some parts of the world. In the words of Phil Longman, Senior Research Fellow at the progressive think-tank New America Foundation, “This is at least as big a deal as global warming, only far more certain.”
The greatest minds of the ages are remembered because they stepped outside prevailing thought to discover profound truths or to reveal that which had not been imagined. The New Economic Reality is a paradigm shift for most of us. It will be difficult for us to make the shift, but we cannot operate and pontificate only within the realm of the cause de jour. The scholars in this film lay out a forthright province of discussion, a discussion of realities better faced and provided for now, than when the full weight of the consequences of a demographic winter are upon us.
The New Economic Reality: Demographic Winter
One of the most ominous events of modern history is quietly unfolding. Social scientists and economists agree - we are headed toward a demographic winter which threatens to have catastrophic social and economic consequences.
The New Economic Reality draws upon experts from all around the world - demographers, economists, sociologists, psychologists, civic and religious leaders. Together, they reveal the dangers facing society and the world’s economies, dangers far more imminent than global warming and at least as severe.
Part 1 explores how what we thought produced actions that planted the seeds of decline, producing unexpected consequences.
Human populations have always grown, but in the last 250 years, they have grown much more quickly. During the baby boom, the rate of that growth increased, and consequently, by the late 1960s, many of us began to believe in the population bomb - that human populations would always grow at exponential rates, and that this growth was necessarily bad. We worried about how we were going to feed everyone, and worried about the impact on the environment.
But even while the world seemed ever more crowded, something else was happening under the surface. In Part 1, demographers reveal how all over the world for the last 50 years, fertility has been falling rapidly, and how sub-replacement fertility has become the new norm. Many parts of the world, these experts explain, are already seeing population decline and by mid-century, for the first time in history, total world population will begin to decline.
With that decline, economists tell us, comes a decline in human capital – the human resources needed to fuel economic growth. Fewer producers and fewer consumers lead to economic contraction, but even worse, fewer innovators to create productivity advance – “the engine”, as Nobel Economist Gary Becker tells us “for growth in any economy”.
Along with Dr. Becker, other economists explain how the supply of workers will peak and then decline “as far as the demographer’s eye can see”. This means an inverted population structure which is also an aged population structure--that is, it has proportionately less young than old.
Some countries are concerned about having enough young people to produce the goods and services that their aging population really needs in order to thrive, or even survive. Providing retirement benefits including health care, for the elderly, is rapidly becoming unsustainable, even in the most wealthy nations of the world.
Countries seeking to replace labor not being born in native populations are encouraging immigration, bringing in people from different cultures and different races, changing the composition of their societies, creating unprecedented cultural and political stresses. But these countries are finding that even this immigration is not enough, as even developing countries’ birthrates are falling ever more rapidly.
These economists tell us further that the huge baby boom generation is aging, and are now downsizing, attempting to sell their large homes to younger people, creating about 60% too many sellers relative to the number of buyers in future decades. They are flooding the market of homes for sale, a massive impact on real estate that has already begun.
Part 2 asks the question “Why did fertility decline?” The film’s experts explore sociological catalysts for decline including the paradox that prosperity almost always accompanies fertility decline.
The women’s revolution, which had the positive result of increased education for women and more women in the workplace, also naturally resulted in fertility decline as women delayed child bearing or chose careers over children.
Sociologists and psychologists explore the decline of the family as the sexual revolution separated sex from the responsibility of childbearing or the commitment to family, and the divorce revolution broke intact families, directly impacted the well-being and development of children, and created a deeper breach in fertility. Individualism is discussed as a theme over-arching all of these reasons behind family and fertility decline.
As the film explores an economic solution, economists and sociologists discuss the tremendous impact these trends have had, and are having, on the development of human capital, as a higher percentage of children are disadvantaged at a young age, making it difficult as they get older to obtain the education and skills they need to contribute in the economy. The accompanying decline in both social capital and moral capital erodes the overall environment of trust so necessary for economies and societies to function effectively.
Combing through sociological data, these experts show that the development of human capital, moral capital and social capital are key for growing economies and developing strong societies and the data reveals that strengthening families may be our very best hope for the future.
Is there hope? The film finally asks this question, exploring how some countries, having recognized their precarious future, have begun instituting baby bounties, by cash award and by tax incentives, encouraging couples to have children, and have begun instituting family friendly and family strengthening policies in their countries.
The film also recognizes the reality that popular culture, while having contributed to the problem will have to be engaged in contributing to the solutions. This will mean educating our popular assumptions with the reality that we have been wrong in many of our ideas and giving way to new models of population projection, and new ways of dealing with the real world ahead.
A groundbreaking film, The New Economic Reality reveals in chilling soberness how societies all around the world are now grimly seen as being in social and economic jeopardy. Together, the scholars in this film lay out a forthright province of discussion about what to expect from a Demographic Winter.
Distinguished Scholars appearing in The New Economic Reality: Demographic Winter (listed in alphabetical order)
Maria Sophia Aguirre, PhD - Associate Professor of Economics, Catholic University of America
Gary Becker, PhD - Nobel Prize in Economics, Professor of Economics and Sociology, University of Chicago
Allan Carlson, PhD - Distinguished Visiting professor of History, Hillsdale College, International Secretary, World Congress of Families
Joseph Chamie - Former Director, United Nations Population Division, Director of Research, Center for Migration Studies
Matthew Connelly, PhD - Columbia University Associate Professor of History, Author, Fatal Misconception
Janice Crouse, PhD - Senior Fellow, Beverly LaHaye Institute
Harry S. Dent, MBA - Harvard University, Author, The Great Depression Ahead
Alban d'Entremont - Ph.D, Chair, dept of Geography, Professor Economic and Human Geography, University of Navarra
Nicholas Eberstadt, PhD - Economics, Harvard University, Henry Wendt Scholar, American Enterprise Institute
Paul R. Ehrlich, PhD - Stanford University Professor of Biology, Author, The Population Bomb
Patrick Fagan - Former U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Health and Human Services, Senior Fellow, Family Research Counsel
Norval Glenn - Ph.D, Ashbel Smith Professor of Sociology, Stiles Professor of American Studies, University of Texas at Austin
Bruce C. Hafen, JD - General Authority, LDS Church, Former Dean, BYU Law School
Kay Hymowitz - William E. Simon Fellow, Manhattan Institute, Contributing Editor, City Journal
Larry Jacobs, MA - Economics, Yale University, MFS Natural Resource Policy and Economics, Vice President, Howard Center
Dr. Jianguo Liu - Rachel Carson Chair in Ecological Sustainability and University Distinguished Professor in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife as well as Director of the Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability at Michigan State University
Phillip Longman - Schwartz Senior Fellow, New America Foundation, Author, The Empty Cradle
Robert Michael, PhD - Eliakim Hastings Moore Distinguished Service Professor in the Harris School of Public Policy, University of Chicago
Victor Medkov - Professor, Department of Sociology, Moscow Lomonosov State University, co-author of Population: An Encyclopedic Dictionary
Jennifer Roback Morse, PhD - Former Professor of Economics, Yale University, Author, Love and Economics, Smart Sex
Steven W. Mosher, PhD - Population Expert & Author, Population Research Institute
Dowell Myers, PhD - Professor of Urban Planning and Demography University of Southern California
Steve Nock - Ph.D, Commonwealth Professor, Professor of Sociology and Director of the Marriage Matters project, University of Virgnia
David Popenoe - Ph.D, Professor of Sociology at Rutgers, Author: War Over The Family
Mark Regnerus - Ph.D, Assistant Professor of Sociology, University of Texas at Austin
Bill Saunders, JD - Harvard Law School, Senior Counsel, Americans United for Life
Inese Slesere - Member Parliament of Republic of Latvia
Dr. Manfred Spieker - Professor of Sociology, University of Osnabrück
Lola Velarde - President, European Network Institute For Family Policies
Alan Viard - Ph.D, Economics, Harvard University, Resident Scholar American Enterprise Institute
Christine de Marcellus Vollmer - Founder and President Alianza Latinoamericana para la Familia (ALAFA), Member, Pontifical Council for the Family
Linda Waite - Ph.D,Lucy Flower Professor in Urban Sociology, Director, Center on Aging at N.O.R.C.; Co-Director, Alfred P. Sloan Center on Parents, Children and Work; Co-Director, MD/PhD Program in Medicine, the Social Sciences, and Aging;
Bradford Wilcox - Ph.D, Assitant Professor of Sociology, University of Virginia
Hania Zlotnik - Director, United Nations Population Division