Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington, N.Z. Vol. 7, No. 7 July 26, 1944
Immigration Problems — Where Are Our Children?
Where Are Our Children?
The most important post-war problem facing New Zealand is the maintenance of an adequate population. On that depends the country's social, economic and national security.
The birth-rate is declining. In 1938 it was barely more than half what it was in 1888. In 1943 it had increased to two-thirds of the 1888 rate, but the increase was brought about by the post-depression and war marriage rush, and can only be regarded as temporary.
Unfortunately the serious implications of the decline are not fully realised by the public, perhaps because the total population has not yet begun to fall. Population figures can be gravely misleading. They do not reveal, for instance, that in 1942 the percentage of females over the age of 45 years, from whom no offspring might be expected, was three times the percentage in 1881. G. H. Maddex, English actuary, has estimated that, by 1979, 20 per cent, of the population will be over 60 years of age.
The fact is that, though the population has not yet begun to fall, it is rapidly ageing. If no remedial action is taken, that ageing will soon manifest itself in a still further declining birth-rate, an increasing death-rate, and, before long, a sharply declining population.
The fact should not be overlooked that, merely to ensure the replacement of the present sparse population, every person now living must have one surviving child. It is obvious, therefore, that, to make up for those who have no children and for the children who do not survive, every married couple must have considerably more than two children; the number has been estimated at four. Well, do they? Actually more than 40 per cent, of married couples have fewer than two children.
Even if they are aware of the statistical position, many people may not realise the disaster toward which it is leading. They may not understand how it can, and will, affect their own personal happiness and prosperity and the welfare of, perhaps, their carefully limited and cherished family. The threat is not something looming in the distant future; it is just around the corner.
It has been calculated that, if present trends continue, the population in 60 years' time will be only 400,000. What, long before that, will happen to business houses, built up on the assumption, and to have the realisation, of an expanding population? One has only to look at one of New Zealand's almost derelict mining towns to realise the decay that would spread over the country on a vast scale. What will happen to our public services—our railways, our hydro-electric undertakings, our gas companies, our hospitals, our schools? Most of them will still be needed because of spread of population, but will numbers justify them? Who will pay for them? Who, too, with a rapidly ageing population casting an ever-increasing burden on them, will bear the cost of pensions, superannuation and social security schemes?
Failing conquest by some more virile race, the ultimate result will be poverty and depression for everyone, the alternative acceptance, probably enforced by some world tribunal, of an influx of peoples of mixed nationalities, speaking different languages and arriving in many cases penniless. New Zealand, at least, will have lost the peace.
The most constructive proposals for dealing with the problem have, so far, come from the Dominion Settlement Association. Interviewed by Salient, the chairman, Mr. A. Leigh Hunt, said that the association urged that every endeavour should be made to stimulate the birth-rate by extension of housing projects, family benefits, assistance for mothers and more stringent measures against abortion, which at present was costing the country at least one potential citizen for every two live births. Native born children were admittedly the best immigrants, but natural increase, even if by a miracle the present birth-rate were to double, would not be sufficient to avert disaster.
For that reason the association advocated the immediate appointment of a Royal Commission to plan long range, large scale adult and family immigration. "The association, fully realises the debt we owe to the men overseas, but we would be failing in our duty to them if, through apathy or any other cause, we neglected to deal with a situation which threatens the whole future security of the country," he said. Housing and rehabilitation were of primary importance, but there was no reason why properly planned immigration should not proceed in conjunction with them. It would be, experts agreed, not a hindrance but a help.
Comprehensive planning covering every avenue into which streams of immigrants could be directed over a long period would probably take a year. Meantime an immediate start could be made by securing as many child immigrants as possible. With them there would be few, if any, of the initial difficulties associated with adult immigration. They would cast no burden on the employment market, would, in fact, for several years, help to create employment. Nor would they make any material demands on housing. Many would be adopted into existing homes, and others could be placed in "Fairbridge" farm schools. Being young, they would readily learn the language and the ways of a new country.
There were already in Europe fifty million homeless children, more than ten million of them orphans. For reasons of humanity, if not for self-preservation, we might well offer them a haven of refuge. Up to 1,000,000 could be taken into New Zealand over ten years, or even a shorter period, and it was easy to imagine that in a few years they would become worthy citizens of their adopted country.
Statistics.—Birth-rate, 1888, 31.22; 1938, 17.93; 1943, 19.70. Percentage of females over the age of 45 years, 1881, 9.46; 1942, 29.45.