USA still fastest-growing industrialized nation

Updated 2h 4m ago
By Haya El Nasser and Paul Overberg, USA TODAY

Despite the slowest decade of population growth since the Great Depression, the USA remains the world's fastest-growing industrialized nation and the globe's third-most populous country at a time when some are actually shrinking.

The United States reached 308.7 million in 2010, up 9.7% since 2000 — a slight slowdown that many experts says was caused by the recession and less immigration.

Even so, U.S. growth is the envy of most developed nations. Trailing only China and India, the nation is expected to grow at least through the next generation because it is one of the few industrialized countries that has a fertility rate close to replacement level. The rate of births needed for a generation to replace itself is an average 2.1 per woman. The USA's is at 2.06.

CHART: State populations and countries with populations of comparable size

"Between 2010 and 2050, Europe's population will actually decline," says Carl Haub, senior demographer at the non-profit Population Reference Bureau. "In most developed countries, raising the birth rate is a national priority."

The worry is less about size than population imbalance: More elderly people who need social support but fewer young people who work and help a nation's economy thrive.

"That's the critical issue," Haub says. "There will be an unprecedented number of people who will be the old old. That's more people to be cared for but fewer people to fill jobs."

The USA is facing a wave of elderly as the oldest of 77 million Baby Boomers turn 65 this year, but a robust birth rate bolstered by high immigration is offsetting the impact.

"We're going to dodge that bullet," says Steven Ruggles, director of the Minnesota Population Center at the University of Minnesota. "People worry about Social Security and Medicare but it's nothing like the problems they're facing in Italy or Spain … a bigger problem in China."

What's happening:

•India is expected to surpass China as the most populous nation by the mid-2020s because China's strict one-child policy is pushing down growth rates.

•In 2007, Russia began offering $9,000 payments to families who have a second and third child, which gave the birth rate a slight boost. Its population is expected to drop 1% by 2025.

•Japan is shrinking. Last year, 1.2 million died and only 1.1 million were born. Immigration is not making up the difference, and the population declined by about 130,000 in 2010.

The fertility rate averages 1.4 children per woman. People ages 65 and older make up 23% of Japan's population — the highest share of elderly of any country — and that share is expected to top 40% by the middle of the century, Haub says. "Japan considers itself to be in critical condition," Haub says.

•Taiwan has the lowest fertility rate of any country in history: an average 1 child per woman. South Korea is at a low 1.15.

•Spain in 2007 started offering 2,500 euros (about $3,200) to women who gave birth but the program ended in December because of Spain's financial bind.

"The U.S. really stands out," says Vicky Markham, director of the Center for Environment and Population, a non-profit research and policy group based in New Canaan, Conn.

"Growth signals a thriving country but it also signals that we have to look at things differently," she says. "It's a renewed wake-up call … to address the growth and its environmental consequences in a way that will lead to … environmental sustainability." ... tion_N.htm