Russian President Vladimir Putin has inadvertently spotlighted one of today's momentous mysteries: collapsing birthrates in industrialized countries. Putin proposed that Russia pay women to have children to remedy a "critical" population outlook. Actually, he might have said "desperate." In 2000 Russia's population totaled almost 147 million; Putin says it's declining by 700,000 a year. With plausible assumptions, the U.S. Census Bureau projects it at 111 million in 2050. The median age (half the population above, half below) would be almost 50, up from 38 now. Could this Russia maintain a strong economy, national optimism or a capable military?
Russia's case, though extreme, isn't isolated. There's no more population "explosion." In wealthier countries, motherhood is going out of style and plunging birthrates portend population loss. This is a hugely significant development, even if we don't fully understand the causes -- 30 years ago experts didn't predict it -- or the consequences. One way or another, the side effects will be massive for economics, politics and people's well-being. Indeed, they may already have started. Is it a coincidence that Germany and Italy, two countries on the edge of population decline, are so troubled? Read More.