Doctors Raise Alarm on Dropping Global Fertility Rate, Environmental Pollutants Cited

Yves here. Even though studies from time to time have warned of declining fertility rates, a new study contends that reproduction will fall below replacement rates in 90% of the countries by 2100. The New Lede article makes it sounds as if the underlying study cited pollution as a significant factor in increasing infertility, as opposed to social facts, such as rising incomes in combination with (often) less durable marriages and limited support for child-rearing.

In fact, the underlying article appears to have not considered very deeply why infertility is increasing. But the Abstract presents contraception as the first, by implication, the biggest reason, and argues for the need for “family building” as opposed to “family planning” and more generous support for infertility therapies. That should not be surprising, since it seems to be the product of a consortium of NGOs dedicated to this sort of think. From the abstract:

Family-planning policies have focused on contraceptive approaches to avoid unintended pregnancies, postpone, or terminate pregnancies and mitigate population growth. These policies have contributed to significantly slowing world population growth. Presently, half the countries worldwide exhibit a fertility rate below replacement level. Not including the effects of migration, many countries are predicted to have a population decline of >50% from 2017 to 2100, causing demographic changes with profound societal implications….

To our knowledge, this International Federation of Fertility Societies (IFFS) consensus document represents the first attempt to describe major disparities in access to fertility care in the context of the global trend of decreasing growth in the world population, based on a narrative review of the existing literature

The concept of family building, the process by which individuals or couples create or expand their families, has been largely ignored in family-planning paradigms.

Needless to say, the study also fails to consider whether pollution is in part the result of industrial practices that enable (at least for now) humans to consume at levels that are much higher than if safer and less resource-intensive measures were implemented. It also does not consider that some, and perhaps many, young couples are choosing not to have children due to their concerns that the pace of climate change and other environmental degradation means any progeny might wind up living in desperate conditions.

By Shannon Kelleher. Originally published at The New Lede

Health researchers from around the world are sounding an alarm on a persistent drop in fertility rates, pointing to environmental pollutants among a wide range of factors that they argue need to be urgently addressed in a paperpublished Wednesday.

Both male and female reproductive health is deteriorating, especially in industrialized regions, suggesting important roles of environmental factors, such as endocrine-disrupting chemicals and pesticides, the authors of the paper state. Studies indicate that the global fertility rate is dropping, with 93% of all countries worldwide expected to dip below levels necessary to keep populations from shrinking by 2100.

The trend is driven, in part, by the impacts of exposure to toxic chemicals, as well as lifestyle factors such as smoking and obesity, according to the 11 researchers authoring the paper, which was published Wednesday in the journal Human Reproduction Update.  The researchers – who come from multiple countries, including the United States, Australia, South Africa, Greece, and Denmark – reviewed dozens of studies in coming to their central conclusion that public policy, research and medical access must be stronger on the topic of fertility.

In conjunction with the publication of the paper, the International Federation of Fertility Societies (IFFS), which represents fertility societies in 65 countries, is launching a global campaign Wednesday seeking to push policymakers to make fertility care more affordable, accessible, and equitable, and to adopt policies that aid fertility, including reducing exposures to air pollution and other harmful chemicals linked to reproductive harm.

The paper says that “due to multiple societal and environmental changes, it is important to emphasize that globally between 48 million couples and 186 million individuals of reproductive age live with infertility.” They call infertility “a common chronic disease affecting many reproductive-age women and men.”

Data on the decline in total fertility rate around the world – the number of children each woman gives birth to, a critical factor in population growth – is “pretty remarkable,” said Tracey Woodruff, a professor at the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine who was not involved in the paper.

“This is really an important issue because it impinges on people’s ability to choose pregnancy should they want to choose pregnancy,” said Woodruff

Among environmental pollutants, endocrine-disrupting chemicals, in particular, are a fertility concern, she said. “We know that the number and amount of them are increasing and we know that some of them can directly impact male and female reproductive health.”

It is difficult to fully calculate the role of environmental pollutants in infertility since “we only have data on a very small proportion of endocrine-disrupting chemicals to which we’re exposed,” she added.

About one in six people struggle with infertility, according to the World Health Organization. Research suggests sperm count in men has declined by 1.6% per year since 1973, although the impact on global fertility is unknown, the paper states.

Some data suggests that proximity to major roadways – sources of air pollutants from vehicles – correlates with loss of reproductive potential in women’s ovaries, sperm abnormalities, and lower birth rates, said Linda Giudice, an obstetrician, gynecologist and reproductive endocrinologist at the University of San Francisco and former IFFS president who participated in the paper’s review committee.

Data also ties the chemicals bisphenols, dioxins, and phthalates with decreased fertility, altered sperm, higher miscarriage rates, and lower rates of conception, she said.

Higher use of two common types of insecticides, organophosphates and N- methyl carbamates, is associated with lower sperm concentrations in men, according to a review published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives in November.

To decrease the impact of environmental toxins on reproductive health, policies should address risks from both chemicals currently in use and those that will emerge in the future, said Shanna Swan, an environmental and reproductive epidemiologist at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York and author of a 2021 book on how chemicals in the modern environment endanger fertility.

“Demonstrating that new chemicals are not reproductive toxins prior to introduction into commerce is difficult but a necessary step to help reduce the rapid declines that have been identified is removing known reproductive toxins,” said Swan.

Beyond infertility linked to environmental and lifestyle factors, the paper’s authors concluded that the trend in the global fertility rate is partially driven by education levels, discrimination against women, and lack of support for working parents.

Additionally, women are increasingly choosing to have children at an older age, when their fertility has naturally declined, a factor that also contributes to lower global fertility rates, the paper states.

Some environmentalists have suggested that a world with fewer people would be better for both humans and the environment, but the new paper states that global population decline would have “major societal and economic implications that will severely challenge nations and the global community.”

“Something needs to be done before it is too late,” said IFFS President Edgar Mocanu.

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  1. CA

    Brilliant research, directly and distressingly related:

    January 4, 2024

    Flowers Are Evolving to Have Less Sex
    As the number of bees and other pollinators falls, field pansies are adapting by fertilizing their own seeds, a new study found.
    By Carl Zimmer

    Every spring, trillions of flowers mate with the help of bees and other animals. They lure the pollinators to their flowers with flashy colors and nectar. As the animals travel from flower to flower, they take pollen with them, which can fertilize the seeds of other plants.

    A new study * suggests that humans are quickly altering this annual rite of spring. As toxic pesticides and vanishing habitats have driven down the populations of bees and other pollinators, some flowers have evolved to fertilize their own seeds more often, rather than those of other plants.

    Scientists said they were surprised by the speed of the changes, which occurred in just 20 generations. “That’s rapid evolution,” said Pierre-Olivier Cheptou, an evolutionary ecologist at the University of Montpellier in France who led the research.

    Dr. Cheptou was inspired to carry out the study when it became clear that bees and other pollinators were in a drastic decline. Would flowers that depend on pollinators for sex, he wondered, find another way to reproduce?

    The study focused on a weedy plant called the field pansy, whose white, yellow and purple flowers are common in fields and on roadsides across Europe.

    Field pansies typically use bumblebees to sexually reproduce. But they can also use their own pollen to fertilize their own seeds, a process called selfing.

    Selfing is more convenient than sex, since a flower does not have to wait for a bee to drop by. But a selfing flower can use only its own genes to produce new seeds. Sexual reproduction allows flowers to mix their DNA, creating new combinations that may make them better prepared for diseases, droughts and other challenges that future generations may face…


  2. CA

    December 19, 2023

    Ongoing convergent evolution of a selfing syndrome threatens plant–pollinator interactions
    By Samson Acoca-Pidolle, Perrine Gauthier, Louis Devresse, Antoine Deverge Merdrignac, Virginie Pons and Pierre-Olivier Cheptou


    Plant–pollinator interactions evolved early in the angiosperm radiation. Ongoing environmental changes are however leading to pollinator declines that may cause pollen limitation to plants and change the evolutionary pressures shaping plant mating systems.

    We used resurrection ecology methodology to contrast ancestors and contemporary descendants in four natural populations of the field pansy (Viola arvensis) in the Paris region (France), a depauperate pollinator environment. We combine population genetics analysis, phenotypic measurements and behavioural tests on a common garden experiment.

    Population genetics analysis reveals 27% increase in realized selfing rates in the field during this period. We documented trait evolution towards smaller and less conspicuous corollas, reduced nectar production and reduced attractiveness to bumblebees, with these trait shifts convergent across the four studied populations.

    We demonstrate the rapid evolution of a selfing syndrome in the four studied plant populations, associated with a weakening of the interactions with pollinators over the last three decades. This study demonstrates that plant mating systems can evolve rapidly in natural populations in the face of ongoing environmental changes. The rapid evolution towards a selfing syndrome may in turn further accelerate pollinator declines, in an eco-evolutionary feedback loop with broader implications to natural ecosystems.

  3. lyman alpha blob

    “Some environmentalists have suggested that a world with fewer people would be better for both humans and the environment…”

    One doesn’t have to be an environmentalist to “suggest” that, and those who do would be correct.

    1. The Rev Kev

      Yeah, the planet should really only have a population of some 500,000,000 million – not the present population of over 8 billion individuals. The environment would be much cleaner, resource depletion would no longer be a thing and a lot of the present world problems would go away. The only hitch is that the WEF would try to insist that they get to choose who this smaller population should be made up of.

      1. Eric Anderson

        The article read like a jobs program for Obstetricians to me. “Screw the environment. Having fewer baby docs will lead to ‘major societal and economic implications that will severely challenge nations.'”

        “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

        Ah yes, the fundamental paradox of capitalism. Arbeit macht sklave.

      2. dave -- just dave

        The story cited in today’s Links about metal recycling in post-Roman Britain

        seems relevant to me in terms of considering the probability of a smaller global population, and what will happen on the way there. Briefly, as economic and governance systems degrade and supplies become scarcer – basic supplies like food, fuel, and water, as well as higher-tech supplies – population size will naturally respond to circumstances. Planning and policies will be only part of this process – very possibly a minor part.

        I am writing this in as bland a manner as I can. In practice, it may be quite eventful.

      3. John

        Proposition 1
        Homo Sapiens has exhausted all high grade ore bodies and is now reliant on lower grade ore bodies which demand increased processing and disposal of significant amounts of overburden and waste tailings.

        Proposition 2
        Exploitation of lower grade ore bodies is dependent on: 1) Recognition of significant global demand presumed likely to follow past growth trends; 2) Availability of massive trucks and similar technical inputs to perfrom extraction, processing and shipping of refined ore; 3) Availability of significant finance capital available for long term investment.

        Proposition 3
        Production of massive trucks and similar technical inputs is dependent on the producer having multiple customers so that costs may be distributed over a significant customer base. As customers decline then the price of technical inputs will increase and availability will decline.

        Proposition 4
        Scarce resource inputs will become increasingly scarce. The resultant higher cost structure will increase costs for all production dependent on this resource input. This in turn will make it impossible / implausible to extract needed inputs from low grade deposits.

        Proposition 5
        The availability of an AI button on your next computer keyboard will mitigate the associated eventful social and economic issues.

  4. Ashburn

    I appreciate the mention of Shanna Swan’s 2021 book “Count Down” which discusses the precipitous 50% drop in sperm count among Western males based on a 2017 study. This received very little coverage when the book was published in 2021. Swan basically says that this spells extinction for the human race if this continues at the current rate. You’d think this would be more widely discussed. Made me think of the movie “Children of Men.”

  5. BrooklinBridge

    Sounds like the earth is using a combination of evolution and the natural results of greed and lust for power, such as pollution, fertility and now genocide, to get rid of, or at least put a damper on it’s most dangerous mistake, err, species to date. Empowering us to invent plastic was pure genius in that critical effort.

    1. Pym of Nantucket

      I know you’re probably saying that tongue in cheek but there are quite a few people who might believe that literally. There are a lot of important questions in this article that seem to lead to a lot of assumptions. Is it our duty to actively plan some kind of grand species trajectory? Do we have the humility to do this? In what interest are we acting? (do we represent our species/genome? DNA itself? The universe? A religious mystical being?). I’m fairly confident that a group of a few hundred humans can get organized enough to act in their collective best interests, after that, bad faith grows, the more humans included in the group. On whose authority would the target headcount of the planet be chosen? The implications of this are potentially quite dark, to say the very least.

      All the grand visions aside, I feel that we can probably all agree that pollution induced infertility is unwanted (maybe I’m already assuming too much). After that, I don’t like the sound of anything like an oligarchy meddling with the extremely personal process of procreation. It’s not just eugenics; it’s the risk of hubris and hidden motives that worry me. I would hope prospective parents would have the agency to decide themselves what they want.

  6. eg

    So zero mention of the neoliberalism that increasingly makes reproduction economically somewhere between unattractive and impossible, nor its role in poisoning the environment and our reproductive systems?

    Sheerest blinkered idiocy.

  7. JonnyJames

    “…it also does not consider that some, and perhaps many, young couples are choosing not to have children due to their concerns that the pace of climate change and other environmental degradation means any progeny might wind up living in desperate conditions…”

    This seems very important as well, I would like to see surveys or other studies to explore this aspect further.

    As others have noted: the world is overpopulated, how can the population be reduced in a humane way? The question is who will do the dying, and who will make a killing? But it looks like the population problem will take care of itself through declining fertility and folks choosing not to have kids. Japan and many EU countries have had negative birth rates for decades.

    My wife and I chose not to have children and most of my close friends chose not to as well.

    Our socioeconomic structure and modern society is simply not conducive to child rearing. Many couples must work long hours to pay for the steep overhead: housing, energy, transportation, health care, energy etc. Paying for child care is super expensive, and the quality is doubtful. I would not want to pay a lot of money to leave my kids with strangers. If I don’t have time to raise my own kids, why bother?

    My nieces and nephews say they don’t plan on having kids because of high costs, and a bleak future outlook: the US is a declining society in general, environmental degradation is part of that, but not the only factor.

    The costs of raising kids properly is outrageous: education costs are ridiculous, even if you send them to so-called public institutions. Paying for food, clothing, electronic gadgets etc puts many into debt, but that’s considered “economic growth”.

    Side note: in a society that counts environmental destruction, war, weapons, debt peonage, monopoly price-gouging and extortion as “economic growth” there is no incentive to alter the status quo – the future looks bleak.

    Many don’t want to have kids in a collapsing, toxic, violent, polarized society. But then who will take care of all the old folks? Not an easy problem to fix

    1. Dr. Nod

      In principle, declining populations are not a problem. Many jobs have no real value and many others are actually detrimental to society and the planet. There will be plenty of people that could take care of old folks, produce societies necessities as well as art, scientific progress, etc. The problem is that our economic system allocates talent badly.

    2. JP

      Well maybe young couples are not having children because they don’t want to contribute to the environmental degradation. Not because they are worried their children will have to live in it.

  8. NYMutza

    We all ought to cheer declines in human populations. Maintaining these populations at or above replacement levels is foolish. 8 billion humans are far too many as it is, so increasing these numbers is absolute insanity. Relying on nuclear war, a meteor strike, genocide, or waves of global pandemics to reduce human populations by the necessary billions is also insanity. It is far better for declines in birth rates to be decisions of individual couples. We should all be grateful to those who choose to have fewer or no children.

  9. Val

    Enfeebled reproduction amongst contaminated serfs worries ecocidal death cult managers regarding potential staffing issues, bond yields.

  10. KLG

    Declining population is not a bad thing and will happen one way or another.

    On the other hand, daycare for a near-toddler at the Tier 1 research institution that employs someone close to me, albeit in a very good facility:
    $1,900 per month
    That is a major disincentive, I would think.

    1. ocop

      For our toddler the adequate but not particularly fancy daycare runs an average of over $1600/mo. I don’t know how most people could manage it for one child, much less the potential two you could have < 4yo at one time with a young family. Even at that level of burden, back of the envelope math suggests the staff are not exactly well paid :-(.

      (Not so) Incidentally our daycare is a "brand" of national chain that I assume has been rolled up along side many other "brands" by a single PE firm.

      Constant consolidation and "enshittification"; The doctors, the vets, the daycares, insurance coverage… the list goes on.

  11. Matthew G. Saroff

    Maybe I’m too cynical here, but if falling fertility rates is caused by excessive pollution, and the amount of pollutants produced are largely a function of the population, it appears to me that the problem is self correcting.

    1. JBird4049

      The pollution is more the result of godawful practices more than population size although population size does have its effect.

  12. Planter of Trees

    I’m reminded of how saurian life faced an extended period of declining population, and population diversity before cataclysm finished them off.

  13. Daniel

    By far the birth rate is declining almost world wide for cultural and anthropological reasons. Infertily cause by diffrent form of ”pollution” is a very minor factor in the whole thing.

  14. WillD

    Even if you only looked at nutrition, a large proportion of the world does not get anywhere near the optimum levels of key nutrients in their diet to be considered healthy. After a few generations, this is bound to have an negative effect on fertility, and on mortality. In the west, diets have changed for the worst as well, with more and more people eating less and less healthy vegetables and fruit and more and more highly processed ‘junk’ foods.,

    The globalist think they can feed the world on GMO foods and artificial meat, without understanding enough about even basic nutrition. Farming and food production methods are increasingly destroying what little nutritional benefits the raw foods start out with. There are plenty of studies that have shown significant deterioration in nutrition levels over the last few decades.

    This study by the University of Texas of nutritional data from 43 different vegetables and fruit between 1950 and 1999 showed decline from 6% of protein content right up to 38% decline in vitamin B.

    Environmental pollutants are not the primary cause.

  15. John

    Good that the number of people will be less. It’s just easier to manage. But a problem because of the ratio of young to old people.

  16. Falls City Beer

    I’m not a proper Malthusian. I believe it’s possible to sustain everyone. Nevertheless, fewer people in the extreme pollution, extreme consumption, extreme waste, extreme extraction West can’t be an overall bad thing. Unless of course the aim is eternal growth associated with capitalism.

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