Thoughts on the Population Implosion
"Perhaps in a few generations the world will be disproportionately composed of Amish, Mennonites, Orthodox Jews, fundamentalist Muslims, traditionalist Catholics, and the like." this is the most optimistic thing i have ever read.
Just an ironic comment. I was one of the organisers of the first earth day at my university. During the run up to the “day” and the day itself I found most of the other participants, both students and faculty, to be insufferable hypocrites. I therefore did, not quite the opposite, but married and had four children. I thought my actions made up for my youthful indiscretion.
Another thought. Every technological society has a minimum population required to maintain its level of technological sophistication. You just need a certain number of people to maintain the manufacturing capacity, infrastructure, and flow of goods necessary to keep things going as they are. For a very long time now increasing levels of crop productivity, mechanization, and automation have reduced labor requirements while increasing capital requirements. Correlation isn’t causation, but the less labor we need, the less labor we seem to have. Carry this trend far enough forward, however, and there simply aren’t enough people to retain the practical knowledge and skills required to keep it all going. Could AI solve that problem and allow populations to shrink even further as technological advancements progress apace? Maybe, but it’s also possible that at some point the system simply can’t sustain itself. I would also add that I’ve now seen two places in my life where people seem devoid of purpose, and both have had terrible human outcomes. One is our American interior small town. That was once an idealized and even romanticized setting - think Bedford Falls. Sadly, the reality is now more like Pottersville. The other is the wealthy Middle East, and they have the opposite problem. Plenty of wealth but little purpose also creates great discontents.
We live in a world which depends on women for life. People understood this when I was young. No women, no children... My recollection is that importance of the of the women's role was celebrated. Married women had a particular honorific: Mrs. What men do is try to keep the thing going.
If you don't put family on the front burner, you get less family. This is because women are most fertile roughly between sixteen and thirty six. Earlier maybe, but is is dicey. After thirty six: Sure but your fertility is falling like a rock.
We are told that to have large families is a detriment to society for this reason and that reason. We are told that our children are taught this in school. I don't know, because I was finished with high school in the fifties. At that time young men wanted a a girl friend, a car, and a house. They wanted to marry and have a family.
Don't know what is happening in schools today, perhaps some could fill me in. We didn't like what we saw and taught our children at home. Children are impressionable and go along with instruction. If the message they are receiving from the surrounding society is that it is proper and satisfying to have large families, that is what they will do. It seems that kids are not getting this message.
Speaking of PAUL EHRLICH, I met him about 10 years ago at a nature preserve near Stanford. He was friendly and affable. I told him I had watched him on the Johnny Carson show in the late 1960s. He smiled upon hearing that.
When I told him that my favorite PAUL EHRLICH was the Nobel-Prize-winning German immunologist (with same name) who had discovered a cure for syphillis back in the early 1900s, his demeanor changed and he moved on.
Thank you for this very informative article.
One additional point: According the UN's decennial population report for 2020, 140 million women were missing from the world's population, mostly in China and neighboring countries and partly due to the preference for a male child if you only will have one. See for example:
for information about this.
Because of the lower number of women, the fertility rate must be higher than the 2.1 that is the standard. That adds a barrier to maintaining the population.
There is an illusion in the developed west that aging well is a matter of having sufficient funds available to pay for a comfortable retirement , senescence and (though perhaps this isn't said aloud) death. The Birth Dearth is about productivity, innovation, the ability and willingness and sheer number of younger taxpayers to pony up for the codgers. The reality became much clearer to me when my mother was dying. Mom had money. However, the care she received from her three children and seven grandchildren---the kind of care that makes the difference between a good death and a miserable, lonely one---- simply could not have been purchased at any price. I hope for their sakes that my young Scandinavian and bicoastal American relations grasp this lesson: If you don't have children, you are signing yourself up for an old age of vulnerable dependency, with no one to advocate for you or provide your dying self with the kind of attention available only from someone who knows you well and loves you anyway. (Or, if Dutch or Canadian, for "voluntary" euthanasia.)
Well, what we need is a pro-family religion. Golly, there's this thing called Christianity.
Or, maybe our TERF friends can get a clue and go for woman power. In the home.
Well, Professor, no one can accuse you of not wrestling with the big questions.
I have to say, I liked an America with 225 million people far more than the current model.
I have four kids. They were out of car seats by age four, no matter that the government wanted them in booster seats until they were nine or something.
My parents had four kids and sixteen grandkids. I don’t know that I’d advise my kids to have four each, but you never know.
Thanks for the post.
As usual Science Fiction got here first; The Shaker Revival, 1970, by Gerald Jonas. A celibate charismatic religious revival sweeps the world and humanity dies out within a generation.
Certainly those who have sex are less interested in having children, but the coming generations seem less interested in having sex at all, and when they do it is less likely to be with another person with the other type of gametes. Nowadays sex has many more pleasurable activities with which to compete, and the sexualization of our culture has removed the taboo aspect of sex which made it titillating in the past. But I think this is just further evidence for Glenn's thesis, which fundamentally is a correlation between "excess-beyond-survival societal energy to spend on space exploration" and "excess-beyond-survival societal energy to spend on fun".
A contributory factor not mentioned is the high percentage of two income families in most developed nations. Observationally, It seems that in families where the mother provides an income, two kids is the pratical limit. 2+ kids requires a stay at home mom. Nations where fertility rates exceed 3 children are mostly under developed and maintain the "traditional" family structure of stay at home mothers with parenting duties shared across multiple families.
Maybe immutable insterstellar economics of the middle class are the true "great filter". :}
Excellent and thought-provoking piece. ... ... Another contributing factor is that we live in an era of officially mandated, retroactive, highly granular oikophobia. Educators incessantly tell you that, not only is the country bad, but that you and your family specifically are bad--and always have been and likely always will be. You have been intractably racist since birth, with no pathway to redemption. You despoil the environment. And whatever you have was stolen. Your own people's history is irredeemably negative, and things will only get worse. Those so indoctrinated naturally ask, "Why would I want to bring someone as awful as I am into the world, especially in a country as terrible as mine, just when things are about to spiral downward? The "Amish, Mennonites, Orthodox Jews, fundamentalist Muslims, traditionalist Catholics" that you mention have not bought into this narrative. (https://graboyes.substack.com)
A few months ago I saw a very thoughtful Heritage Foundation interview of someone that specializes in this area. He pointed to Israel as one of the few countries in the world with a birth rate well above the replacement rate. Ironic considering how little space they have to work with!
Our birthrates have been in decline for a long time. I grew up during the '50s and '60s (HS class of '68). Many of my classmates were from families with 4 or more kids. My own parents, because of medical issues, only had 2. But in the past year I started researching my family's history, and in the 1800s most families were much larger. Most of the couples in my ancestry seem to have had 8 or more children. One of my great-great grandmothers birthed 17 babies in 31 years--11 of them lived to adulthood. But in the mid-1800s, in what was still mostly a farming economy, children were an economic asset rather than a liability. My wife and I had 3 kids. My older son and his wife have 2. My younger son only has 1. My daughter and her husband evened things up a bit--they have 7! (My attitude about that is, somebody's gotta keep my Social Security going!)
Local culture can be a factor, too. Our family lives in Indianapolis now, but we're originally from Cincinnati, OH, which has a large Catholic population; large families are more common there. My daughter has noted that if she takes her kids to the zoo or a museum, people in Indianapolis stare at them, because of the family size; in Cincinnati, nobody bats an eye! If you look at real estate in Cincinnati, homes with 4, 5, or even 6 bedrooms can be found all over town.
It's interesting. My folks wanted four, we wanted three and didn't get the third, my kids and most of my younger coworkers either don't marry or want just one. The few exceptions are all ethnic or had a COVID oops.
So I fear my bloodline ends with me and my grave will be untended.