Future not so easy to predict

The trouble with trends is that they never continue. Whenever statistics appear in a news story, someone is invariably asked to project conditions 10 years or more into the future.

The trouble with trends is that they never continue.

Whenever statistics appear in a news story, someone is invariably asked to project conditions 10 years or more into the future. The result is always extreme: either the globe will be knee-deep in grasshoppers or three trillionaires will hold 90 per cent of all global wealth, or the total numbers of cars on Earth will exceed the space needed to park them.

The predicted future hasn’t happened yet and probably never will, because life doesn’t follow statistical models.

There are viral emails circulating the globe right now declaiming the declining birthrates of developed countries, high birthrates in undeveloped countries, and the tendency of people of a certain religion to immigrate to rich countries while having enough children to overwhelm the stable demographics of host nations.

If the current trend continues, these emails tell us, Europe and Canada will be essentially Muslim in two generations, while the U.S. will be predominately Latino. India will surpass China as the world’s most populous country by the time today’s nursery school children have children of their own in nursery school.

That is, if current trends continue, which never happens.

That’s why it’s so hard to project any lessons at all from the Statistics Canada release on birthrates.

For the fifth year in a row, Canadian birth rates have risen.

According to stats from 2007, Canadian mothers gave birth to just under 368,000 babies.

It was the highest year-over-year increase in births since 1989, a time when far fewer people were concerned with the long-term implications of declining birthrates.

Yet despite the five-year trend, Canadian birthrates are still below what is needed to maintain population. The 2007 baby bump raised birthrates to 1.66 children per female, while a rate of 2.1 children is needed to stabilize the population.

We continue our general one per cent population growth rate through immigration.

But the world in general is also slowing its population growth and if trends continue, even the high growth from impoverished countries will soon be unable to supply developed countries’ needs for immigrants to stabilize their populations and prevent a population crash with its attendant labour crisis.

Last year, before the 2007 figures were released, we were told that Canada would be short 1.2 million workers by 2020 because there won’t be enough young people to replace retirees.

Today’s young workers can only wish. In many professions, older workers are retiring and then coming back to work part-time, while the full-time jobs are eliminated. If only today’s youth don’t starve or leave the country for 11 more years, presumably there’ll be jobs for them — if current trends continue.

Really, there are only two interesting facts in the Statistics Canada release:

l More babies are being born to women over 30 than under 30. The long-term implications of that will become more plain when parents in their 50s are learning to relate to their teenaged children and then waiting until nearly age 70 to see their grandchildren — if there are any.

l Someone at Canadian Press decided — with no attribution — that the 2007 baby boom will “fray the national patchwork of education.” Excuse me? It’s hard enough to convince Canadians to have babies at all, but now we must also have them in correct numbers to satisfy the education system?

That’s projecting trends a little too far.

Greg Neiman is an Advocate editor.

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