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The Battle Against Population Decline Starts with Homes

Staff writer Mehmet Yufuf Temur argues that the solution to population decline lies in the creation of housing, an initiative that can lead societies for a prosperous future.

The global landscape is witnessing an alarming phenomenon – a decline in birth rates that threatens the very essence of societies. While some developing countries still have child fertility rates above the replacement rate of 2.1 child per women, many governments across the world are grappling with the unsettling prospect of declining birth rates and in some cases even shrinking populations. Making matters, worse, their responses have largely centred around bolstering child support programs. While these initiatives are well-intentioned, they often miss the mark. The reasons for population decline are numerous and interconnected but they all in some way or another connect to the same underlying cause: the lack of necessary housing. As such, while child support programs might provide immediate relief, the solution lies in the creation of adequate housing opportunities.

One nation that symbolises the looming challenge of an aging population is Japan. The nation stands in the epicentre of the demographic shifts that many countries will face in the coming years. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s commitment to double spending on children’s programs is a proof of the gravity of the situation. Moreover, the resonance of Tokyo’s narrative is seen in various corners of the globe. The United States, Europe, and beyond share strikingly similar trends – a surge in delayed marriages, a decline in family sizes, and a growing struggle to secure liveable spaces for the next generation. This is where a paradigm shift is required. It is vital to recognise that merely channeling funds into child support is like placing a bandage on a deep wound. The crisis is not merely a matter of encouraging people to have more children, as they do not need encouraging, it is a crisis of enabling families to thrive – and this hinges on the availability of suitable housing. Instead of fixating on addressing symptoms, society must confront the core issue – the lack of housing opportunities that can sustain growing families. It is important finally to recognise that the population decline is not solely a consequence of work pressures, lack of money or evolving gender roles. It’s a symptom of the chronic inability to provide families with the environment they need to flourish.

The consequences of inadequate housing are profound and multidimensional. Beyond the economic aspects, housing influences public health, environmental sustainability, and the overall well-being of individuals and communities. The conventional notion that suburban life equals contentment has been debunked by a more nuanced understanding. The urban development model, characterised by densely built communities, offers numerous of benefits. It not only promotes healthier lifestyles through greater physical activity but also decreases environmental degradation. Additionally, these spaces foster a sense of belonging and community that positively impacts mental well-being.

The economic argument is equally compelling, as the link between housing and a nation’s economic vitality is undeniable. Consider the staggering statistic that the American economy could have been 74% larger had the housing crisis been mitigated. By focusing on creating affordable housing options, nations can unleash a chain reaction of positive economic outcomes, and there are many precedents for this. For example, while most of the United States’ cities were experiencing record-high inflation rates, Minnesota, the first city to substantially bring down inflation, did so thanks to affordable housing.

The depth of the issue becomes even more obvious when examining the statistics and anecdotes from other countries around the world, which underscore the housing predicament. Countries like Hong Kong, grappling with exorbitant housing prices, exhibit alarming birth rates, where the average woman can barely afford to have one child in her lifetime. The United Kingdom faces a similar challenge as rents skyrocket due to the numbers of houses built being much lower than what is required. The private sector is constrained by excessive planning regulations, and the government continues to miss its own homebuilding targets. Consequently, unable to buy property, more and more people turning to private renting, which forces them to give up most of their income for a house that they will never even own. This is a particularly concerning trend in the big cities like London. These issues in turn directly contribute to the declining birth rates, which could cause a pension crisis, among other problems, in the future. The reason is, once again, evident – families are deferred or deterred from expanding due to the financial burden and the uncertainty of securing a suitable living space.

The ramifications affect domains that are seemingly unrelated. The environment, for instance, is intricately linked with housing solutions. The conventional American suburban dream, picturesque as it may seem, contributes disproportionately to carbon emissions. Suburban sprawl necessitates longer commutes, increased energy consumption, and sprawling infrastructure. Contrast this with densely built urban communities that encourage walking, public transportation, and energy efficiency. The synergy between housing and environmental sustainability is irrefutable.

Moreover, the effects extend to public health. The urban planning of places like the Netherlands, which emphasizes pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods and mixed-use spaces, correlates with lower obesity rates. The proximity of essential amenities encourages active lifestyles, fostering a healthier populace. The connection between housing and health underscores that building communities is essential to providing well-being.

The economic angle further bolsters the argument for housing solutions. The juxtaposition is stark – while urban centers drive innovation, prosperity, and opportunity, the inability to secure affordable housing incapacitates individuals from contributing their best to society. The potential economic gains from addressing the housing crisis are staggering. By providing accessible housing options, nations can uplift citizens, driving higher productivity, increasing disposable incomes, and generating a virtuous cycle of growth.

In the end, the path forward is clear. The essence of the problem is the need to transition from a reactive approach, centred on child support, to a proactive strategy that centres on housing solutions. This shift goes beyond bricks and mortar; it signifies a readjustment of societal priorities. Instead of merely encouraging population growth, governments must eliminate unnecessary regulations on house building for the private sector and prioritise the construction of affordable and accessible housing for all by building more houses. This isn’t a plea for mere construction; it’s a wider call for a paradigm shift. Housing should not be a privilege reserved for a fortunate few; it should be a fundamental right that underpins societal well-being.

The narrative must shift from addressing symptoms to addressing the root cause. Rather than placating the crisis with short-term fixes, such as rent controls, which actually decrease the housing supply in the long term, societies must rally behind housing solutions that offer enduring impact. Governments and the private sector should work together to make affordable housing a reality for all. This requires collaborative efforts from the all sides of the political spectrum, transcending political divides in pursuit of a shared goal. Anyone who thinks their country should have a sustainable future should support this straightforward but extremely effective solution. It is a call for a reimagined future, where the foundations of stable families and thriving communities are fortified. The time for action is now, for the path to renewed population growth is not just paved with good intentions, but with the robust buildings with accessible and affordable housing.



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