The United States Is Growing – And Shrinking

At the dawn of the 21st century the United States had about 300 million people, and could add 50 million by 2030. Still, some parts of the US will lose population as more people move to the city.

The Urban Institute’s map of regional population shifts illustrates this. Although Maine won’t see any population growth overall, the population of southern Maine is growing. Northern Maine’s population, however, is shrinking. It’s all about where the jobs are (and are not).

Take a look at the Urban Institute’s map. The rust belt from Upstate New York to Ohio, and down the Appalachians into Kentucky stand out as an area in decline. The Dakotas down to central Texas and New Mexico also stand out.

Texas is poised for a population boom, but it will be concentrated in the Dallas/Fort Worth, Houston, San Antonio triangle (Austin is in the middle). The coastal South and the West Coast, as well as most major urban areas in the Heartland, are also expected to grow significantly.

It’s not just the United States. The greater Tokyo area has almost 36 million people, but the countryside is emptying out. Some rural Japanese schools are running out of students.

In the mid-20th century, researcher John B. Calhoun made several attempts to create a mouse utopia. He constructed an enclosed area capable of housing 5,000 mice. There was plenty of food, no predators, and the original 8 mice (half male, half female) were disease free. Calhoun thought the mouse population would rise rapidly, then level off, and the mice would have a groovin’ good time with nothing to worry about.

But it went horribly wrong. Every.single.time. (He did this several dozen times.) The problem is that the mice would gather in clusters, while other areas were abandoned. Eventually the overcrowding and competition for resources led to violence among the males. The females stopped bearing young, and some killed their pups.

And then there were the “beautiful ones.” These non-aggressive males withdrew to the abandoned areas to live as hermits. They spent much of their time grooming, hence the nickname.

At first Calhoun wondered if the population decline would level off, enabling mouse society to stabalize as violence decreased. But no. Extinction was the fate of every mouse “utopia.”

What does this mean for humans? Generalizing from one species to another is tricky at best, especially considering that humans are much more intelligent (though Douglas Adams might disagree).

This doesn’t mean the apocalypse.

Still, there are striking parallels. There’s plenty of food on this planet to feed everyone, we no longer have natural predators, and while disease hasn’t been entirely conquered we’ve made enormous strides in medical science.

In addition to crowding into cities and the decline of the countryside, there’s the plummeting birthrates in Europe and Japan to below replacement level, which is expected to result in a population decrease.

But there’s more. In Japan there’s a group of young men called the “grass eaters” or “herbivore men” (草食男子, soshokukei danshi) who live as urban hermits, do not seek sex with women (or men), and who are rumored to spend more than the average man on grooming products. It’s hard to say how numerous they are, but there are enough of them to catch the West’s attention. Will the “beautiful ones” phenomenon come to Europe or America?

On the other hand, there’s contrary evidence. Crime, already low in Japan, has been decreasing. But if Calhoun’s mouse experiment applied equally to humans then crime in Japan should be increasing.

And that’s cause for hope. If humans follow some of the patterns from Calhoun’s experiment but not others then there’s an opportunity for humans to continue thriving.

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Author: Dave DuBay

Dave is a social worker from Phoenix, Arizona. He blogs at thepaintedporch.net. He's also at twitter.com/Dave_DuBay.

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