Whither America’s Demographic Exceptionalism?

Posted on | April 24, 2012 by Susan Yoshihara, Ph.D. |

America’s demographic exceptionalism comes both from it’s relatively high fertility rate and its ability to attract and integrate immigrants. At our book panel at the Hudson Institute last week, Phil Longman provoked lively debate when he wondered aloud whether the next generation of Americans would be dumbfounded that their parents ever built a fence to keep immigrants out. From the attention the media is giving a new report, it looks like he may have been vindicated sooner than expected. The report asserts that immigration from Mexico, long the source of both cheap labor and political fracas, has vanished.

One of the reasons is that fertility rates have plummeted in Mexico, as they have all over the developing world. Indeed, birth rates among Mexican Americans have dropped more than among any other ethnic group in the US since the beginning of the recession in 2008.

Tom Mahnken further wondered at the panel as to why the U.S. makes it easy for unskilled labor to immigrate but hard for skilled workers. If this is true, the U.S. is part of a growing competition among developed nations for “brain gain.” Two stories this week covered a competition in JapanKorea, and Singapore–aging quickly and with few prospects of raising fertility to boost productivity–to draw young talent to Asia. Germany and other European nations have been famously in this battle for years with mixed success.

The United States (along with a few other English-speaking nations) has been the envy of aging economies due to its exceptional ability to draw people from all over the world. The new report signals an opportunity for policy makers to ponder seriously (above the din) what are the underlying reasons for America’s demographic exceptionalism–and to seize upon them.



Turtle Bay and Beyond is a blog covering international law, policy and institutions. Our experts - at the UN, European Institutions, and elsewhere - explore an authentic understanding of international law, sovereignty, and the dignity of the human person. We expose those who would seek to impose a radical social vision that is contrary to these principles.


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