In This Review

Prosperous Paupers and Other Population Problems
Prosperous Paupers and Other Population Problems
By Nicholas Eberstadt
Transaction, 2000, 272 pp

A collection of essays on global demographic and health trends, this book offers an especially interesting section on the former Warsaw Pact countries -- where mortality has risen for the past 30 years, both before and after communism's collapse. This rise cannot be attributed solely to inadequate income or poor health care, since longevity has increased dramatically in much poorer countries. And although air pollution and toxic waste bear some responsibility, they cannot explain why males have been disproportionately afflicted. Emphasizing heavy drinking and smoking, Eberstadt suggests that communism fostered a disabling pessimism that was followed by tremendous stress as societies disintegrated in the 1990s. He also offers intriguing chapters on the impending population decline in East Asia. Combined with increasing longevity, sharp declines in birth rates are leading to a marked aging of society -- with major implications for labor-force growth and national savings rates. Many children will grow up without siblings or even cousins. China, Hong Kong, South Korea, and Taiwan also suffer from an abnormally high ratio of males to females, suggesting an impending shortage of brides and a surplus of restless young men. Importing brides (e.g., from China) can solve the problem for the smaller countries, but not for China itself.