As many of you know, hardly a week goes by without an article, video or “news” item about the very low and still decreasing fertility rates in developed (and now, also some developing) countries. Usually this takes the form of expressing grave concern about the sustainability of this situation- usually centered around issues like sustainability of social welfare systems, ability to build and maintain infrastructure etc. Some wonder if government subsidies to encourage people to have more kids would solve the problem, while other blame feminism and its many consequences for the decline. A few even celebrate this decline claiming that this will be good for the “environment”- whatever that means. My point is that while most people can see the problem, they do not seem to have a workable solution for it. In the rest of this post, I will show you why common explanations for the real cause of this phenomenon are, at best, only a small part of the story- because the underlying reason is far more systemic.
With that in mind, let us turn to the first explanation- namely, it is all due to feminism, female education, female empowerment etc. While nobody is denying that women who are educated and employed do not want to have a dozen kids, it does not explain why a rapidly increasing number don’t have any, or just one towards the end of their fertility window. Even more curiously, women in countries much less affected by western-style feminism (Italy, Spain, Greece, South Korea, Japan) have fertility rates that are as bad or worse than countries where feminism is mainstream. My point is that any theory which uses feminism as the principal explanation for collapsing fertility rates cannot explain why that ideology has such poor correlation with real-life data. It also does not explain why countries with high fertility rates (Italy, Spain etc) in immediate post-WW2 era experienced such a profound downturn over a time span of less than one generation. Clearly, something else is at work.
Another explanation for rapidly declining fertility rates blames the ever increasing cost of living- namely, that raising children today is far more expensive than it was in the past. While this theory might appear feasible to those in the Anglosphere, it is worth noting that even countries with very generous social programs (Scandinavian countries) or good informal ones (many East-Asian countries) do pretty poorly. Many countries in East-Asia with low fertility rates are also fairly affordable places to live in, even when adjusted for income, and having a couple of kids would not condemn their parents to a life of poverty. Also there is no correlation between income and fertility in developed countries, as the ones in the lowest levels usually have more kids than those with far more comfortable lives. You also don’t see centi-millionaires and billionaires having dozens of kids- even though they could easily afford it. Curiously, the rich and powerful of previous eras usually had many legitimate and illegitimate kids.
Some blame the low-fertility rates on modern society encouraging women to not settle for somebody who is not a 6 foot plus millionaire with a 9-inch dick. While this theory might, also, appear feasible for those living in certain countries- there are many lines of evidence which suggest otherwise. For example- in many developed countries, there is no worthwhile stigma against having kids out of wedlock or being a single mother. If women were so desperate for “alpha” sperm, they could easily get it by chasing such men for short-term relationships/hookups or using sperm banks. And yet.. women who specifically chase “alpha” sperm to have kids are a minority. While women certainly prefer men with certain physical characteristics for relationships or fathering kids, this does not explain why total fertility rates are so low and still declining across all developed countries. It is more than just chasing “alpha” dick.
A partial clue to the real underlying reason for very low fertility comes from the class most affected by this decline- aka, the middle class. As some of you know, the class with lowest fertility rates in western and other developed countries is the one which could realistically afford to have kids. While those in Anglosphere countries such as USA might, once again, bring up the rising cost of living as an explanation- this factor clearly does not have the same effect on poorer people- including the working poor. So let us explore why this members of this class are averse to having kids. To understand what I am going to talk about next, it is necessary to take a little dive in human history and pre-history. To make a very long story short, for the vast majority of human history and all of prehistory almost nobody lived in a society based around money. While this might sound trivial, it is not. See.. as late as the 19th century, most people on this earth used money only to pay government taxes and maybe buy some goods which were not produced locally. If you want to know how things worked then, I would recommend ‘Debt: The First 5,000 Years’ by the late David Graeber.
The relevant point is that almost all human relationships prior to the current era of accelerating monetization and financialization were based in mutual non-monetary understandings. These include those between parents and their children. This is why in almost every single human society, family units are multigenerational and nobody asks to be paid for caring for other members in that family. So what has changed in developing countries. The brief answer is as follows: To keep increasing levels of corporate profit and other proxy measures of “productivity” under all materialistic ideologies (capitalism and communism), people have been encouraged to monetize and financialize every human relationship to the point where they see each others as objects with a price tag attached to them. And yes.. capitalism and communism are based on the same core beliefs, share the same worldview and have almost identical institutions- albeit with different names.
But what does any of this have to do with very low and still declining rates of fertility in developed countries? Well.. it comes to the level of acceptance of the materialistic mindset by general population. Once they start seeing themselves as individualistic “entrepreneurs” trying to get the best returns on their investments, they maximize for proxy measures of societal success. This is a fancy way of saying that people who have internalized this worldview live their lives to maximize the number of trinkets their social system provides. In some societies, these trinkets can be money and luxury goods and in others it can be power, status and resources. It is therefore not surprising that countries with a history of state communism have fertility rates as low, or lower than, capitalist countries. But why would the relentless pursuit of these trinkets, monetary or otherwise, cause people to forgo having children?
It comes down to the two interacting factors. Firstly, the process of having and raising children to adulthood is, and always has been. resource intensive. This was even true in the era when young kids worked with their parents on farms or in factories. To make matters worse, the nuclear family as pushed in developed countries makes this process even more resource intensive. It does not take a genius to figure out that people living in societies where such things are monetized and financialized start looking at this through the lens of cost-benefit ratios, which brings us to the next factor in this story. Think of the lifecycle for a person living in any developed country from birth. It starts with impersonal institutionalized care in playschool and school, which severely cuts down on the time kids interact with their parents. The majority of children in these countries have, at best, a mediocre relationship with their parents. After finishing school a significant number of them will move out of the family house to attend universities or to further their careers. After that the amount of interaction between parents and their kids is minimal to non-existent.
It is therefore not surprising that so many people, especially those who can make some money, will forgo having kids or have just one to show their fertility. The system, as it is set up, in all developed countries is accidentally designed to make itself go extinct. While some countries are desperately trying to keep the party going by importing immigrants with a different worldview and higher fertility rates, their kids will usually follow the same scripts as others in that society. Think of it a whirlpool sucking in everything it can to sustain itself. So.. ya, I don’t see a happy ending to this trend and to be blunt, I don’t care. People who believe in, and live their lives based on, external ideologies which they have never seriously interrogated deserve the consequences of their actions. Also, nothing from “AI” to Biotech is going to have any positive or ameliorative effect on this trend. Short of a deep rethink of society, either by intent or by circumstances, things are not going to get better.
What do you think? Comments?
>Italy, Spain, Greece, South Korea, Japan
South Korea actually has a rather extreme feminist movement (also one of the worst fertility rates in the world) While the other countries may not have mainstream feminism, they are still effected by liberalism.
Polling data shows the average woman actually wants 2.5 or more kids. The disconnect that occurs is probably many women can’t find a man they view as worthy of men, as many men are pushed out of the education system and thus job market, and those that do are usually much later in life and don’t have time to have as many kids as they were planning.
"Curiously, the rich and powerful (men) of previous eras usually had many legitimate and illegitimate kids."
Not trying to nitpick, but great post on something I have been looking at for awhile. Fertility rates spell trouble for society, especially if you look at immigration, race, and other factors. I want at least 5 kids myself, but we will see how that goes.