Where Have All the Babies Gone? Falling Birthrates All Over the World Alarm Leaders, Businessmen, Economists

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From the standpoint of having a hope of preserving civilization and some level of planetary health, falling birth rates, and eventually, falling population levels, would seem to be highly desirable. And before the Industrial Revolution, population levels were generally static.

But with modernity came the notion of progress and in parallel, the rise of capitalism, which seems to find growth a necessity. Population growth (absent massive disruptions like war and economic crises) creates a baseline of demand growth. The other source of economic growth is productivity increases.

The perceived need for growth is so strong that a new Wall Street Journal story, Suddenly There Aren’t Enough Babies. The Whole World Is Alarmed, does not feel the necessity to unpack much why declining birth and population rates are perceived to be highly problematic. Ambitious young men need new worlds to conquer, and that impulse can become destructive when the economic pie shrinks or increases only slowly. And lordie, what will happen to real estate prices?

Similarly, the press and punditocracy covers Japan, which has merely had a static but aging citizenry, with horror, even though the Japanese, between having generally very robust oldsters, plus high levels of social cohesion, seems to be wearing its affliction awfully well.

Authors Greg Ip (a sometimes Fed whisperer) and Janet Adamy describe expert puzzlement and distress. But as we’ll explain, this might not be so difficult to understand if undue sentimentality did not get in the way.

While we’ll get to factors that make modern parenting hard despite much higher levels of affluence, some people are better suited to become parents than others. And that matters because raising kids, particularly ones that turn out to be functioning adults, is a hard and more than occasionally not as rewarding as widely depicted, particularly in advertising showing always smiling families. In the US, surveys have repeatedly found that couples with children are on average less happy that their childless peers, but they report a greater sense of purpose in life. Consumer marketing reinforces the idea that pursuit of enjoyment, as opposed to duty, is an important aim.

This is before getting to the fact that childrearing duties fall preponderantly on women (no offense meant, but to simplify the discussion, we will focus on traditional families, since single parents and same-sex couples bringing up kids face additional obstacles). The male partner has the option of how involved he is, including leaving entirely.

It seems odd for a business paper to be so puzzled as to what is happening. Late stage capitalism is not child-friendly. It expects workers to be mobile when that can mean moving away from relatives that provide back-up junior care. The now scarce-as-hen’s-teeth 9 to 5 day for office workers and professionals, and regular shift work for factory laborers, gave scheduling predictability that helped with organizing child supervision and gave the kids themselves a sense of order in the world. Late-stage neoliberalism has also produced in the US and many other advanced economies a large increase in income and wealth inequality and a corresponding fall in income/class mobility. That further increases the stakes of raising children well: getting them into the right schools and/or making sure they travel in circles that increase the odds of landing good jobs and/or good romantic partners.

A final factor is at least some, and perhaps many, potential parents are concerned about the state of the world and wonder if having children is the right thing to do. And that does not just mean that their progeny will add to the environmental load but also that those offspring might suffer from societal upheaval, violence, and other dystopian outcomes as competition for scarce resources becomes desperate.

We’ll turn to key parts of the article:

The world is at a startling demographic milestone. Sometime soon, the global fertility rate will drop below the point needed to keep population constant. It may have already happened.

Fertility is falling almost everywhere, for women across all levels of income, education and labor-force participation. The falling birthrates come with huge implications for the way people live, how economies grow and the standings of the world’s superpowers.

In high-income nations, fertility fell below replacement in the 1970s, and took a leg down during the pandemic. It’s dropping in developing countries, too. India surpassed China as the most populous country last year, yet its fertility is now below replacement.

Let us point out the obvious: women cut back on how many children they had as soon as the Pill and other new types of contraception gave them greater reproductive control. While many women relish being mothers despite its bodily-fluid intensiveness (and here I mean a lot more than nursing), the harsh reality is that in England and Europe, most aristocratic women farmed out child-rearing to servants (see the bios of Talleyrand and Churchill among many others). They regarded it as drudgery. So unless societies affirm that motherhood is important and back that up with action, and not just Hallmark schmaltz, many women will gravitate towards paid work, particularly now that women increasingly can land and hold good, interesting jobs.

Back to the Journal:

Many government leaders see this as a matter of national urgency. They worry about shrinking workforces, slowing economic growth and underfunded pensions; and the vitality of a society with ever-fewer children. Smaller populations come with diminished global clout, raising questions in the U.S., China and Russia about their long-term standings as superpowers.

Some demographers think the world’s population could start within four decades—one of the few times it’s happened in history.

Notice lower groaf is assumed to be bad. But does this necessarily mean lower per capita GDP, particular with all the much hyped productivity enhancing wonders, from AI to self-driving cars to other deployments of robots? Otherwise, shrinking workforces can and probably will translate into having to pay workers more and being more accommodating to now marginalized groups like oldsters and the handicapped (and the ugly!!). The horror! And is the “underfunded pensions” merely about Social Security, which is actually a pay as you go program, or is it a dog whistle to the concern that peppy stock markets may become a thing of the past?

We’ll skip over the detailed discussion about demographers having been surprised by an accelerating decline in global birth rates that began in 2017 and whether the world has already hit the point where the current reproduction rate is below the replacement level. Note here that nowhere does the piece mention that physical fertility is declining, as in more couples are having trouble conceiving, and how much that is lowering birth rates among those who are keen about the parenting project and might have even more if they could.

Next, the piece turns to how parental-commitment-intensive bringing up kids has become in the US, particularly among parents with college degrees. It briefly describes the Pittmans in Raleigh, North Carolina, a dual income couple who decided to have only one child, and the cost of his various enrichment activities seems to have borne their decision out.

From other parts of the world:

Fertility is below replacement in India even though the country is still poor and many women don’t work—factors that usually sustain fertility.

Urbanization and the internet have given even women in traditional male-dominated villages a glimpse of societies where fewer children and a higher quality of life are the norm.

Do not underestimate the power of TV. I was in Bali in the early 1990s when TV was introduced. Thanks to soap operas, wives (recall most married women in Bali then were part of polygamous setups) suddenly started consulting various elders about their worry that their husband did not love them any more.

Back to the article:

Mae Mariyam Thomas, 38, who lives in Mumbai and runs an audio production company, said she’s opted against having children because she never felt the tug of motherhood. She sees peers struggling to meet the right person, getting married later and, in some instances, divorcing before they have kids. At least three of her friends have frozen their eggs, she said.

“I think now we live in a really different world, so I think for anyone in the world it’s tough to find a partner,” she said.

Sub-Saharan Africa once appeared resistant to the global slide in fertility, but that too is changing. The share of all women of reproductive age using modern contraception grew from 17% in 2012 to 23% in 2022, according to Family Planning 2030, an international organization….

Once a low fertility cycle kicks in [president of the Global Aging Institute].

The story then turns to how governments are implementing policies to increase birth rates, but nothing much has worked. They start with Japan’s many efforts, which only briefly reversed the decline in childbirths.

What the article fails to mention is that (implicitly) women in Japan en mass are in revolt against what a lousy deal it is to be a wife and mother. Husbands with normal jobs (the kind that can support a family) work long hours so that their spouses barely see them except on weekends. And the home is the domain of the woman, so I infer they don’t help out much if at all with kid care or household duties. The 1990s saw the rise of “parasite singles,” women who got jobs and stayed home with their parents rather that get married. The post-crisis rise of “freeters” (men who did not land full-time jobs and had erratic employment) didn’t help.

And immigration isn’t a great solution:

Neil Howe, a demographer at Hedgeye Risk Management, has pointed to a recent World Bank report suggesting that worsening demographics could make this a second consecutive “lost decade” for global economic growth.

The usual prescription in advanced countries is more immigration, but that has two problems. As more countries confront stagnant population, immigration between them is a zero-sum game. Historically, host countries have sought skilled migrants who enter through formal, legal channels, but recent inflows have been predominantly unskilled migrants often entering illegally and claiming asylum.

High levels of immigration have also historically aroused political resistance, often over concerns about cultural and demographic change. A shrinking native-born population is likely to intensify such concerns. Many of the leaders keenest to raise birthrates are most resistant to immigration.

Notice (and this is typical) that there is almost no consideration of how reproductive control reduced the risk of hiring women and gave women access to better jobs over time. Women’s liberation (remember that hoary term?) encouraged women to expect more from their marriage partners, when male role expectations have barely budged. This outtrade seems to me to be a significant factor in why women as the primary child-carers are not so keen to have as many kids, yet is weirdly ignored in favor of 50,000 foot explanations, like “women are more educated so they aren’t having kids.” Erm, by itself, that does not have a lot of explanatory power. When my mother went to college, women were depicted as seeking a Mrs. degree. Similarly, when Radcliffe had its centenary, the jibe was “100 years of enlightened motherhood”.

The article also ignores the reality staring policy-makers in the face: they will need to learn to manage stagnant and eventually shrinking populations.

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  1. Louis Fyne

    to be overly broad….pre-birth control, humans didn’t have children for the abstract idea that their DNA would propogate thru the ether….it was the primal dopamine hit from sex, companionship.

    In the modern age, there are near infinite alternatives for dopamine hits, whether literal chemicals (marijuana) or experienctial (travel, a viral social media video).

    now throw in birth control, changed gender roles, wealth inequality, financial and temporal opportunity costs for raising a kid, etc.

    Can’t uncork this genie. It isn’t necessarily good, it isn’t necessarily bad.

    just don’t make any “solution: (eg, mass immigration of unskilled labor) worse than the problem.

    1. Pavel

      Nutrition and diet also play a huge role.

      Around 20 years ago I read an article in Japan about endocrine disrupters and how (for example) all those plastic containers used for “instant ramen” release BPA when hot water is added to them — precisely what many young Japanese ingest on an almost daily basis.

      (There is also the phenomenon of “herbivore” Japanese males who have little or no interest in sexual relations with women.)

      Conversely, the amount of dietary fat and cholesterol has decreased significantly over the last 40 years or so. Cholesterol is of course the precursor to sex hormones.

      Is there any wonder that sperm counts have been cut almost in half?

      In the last 50 years, average human sperm concentrations dropped by 51.6 percent, and total sperm counts dropped by 62.3 percent, according to a study published last week in the journal Human Reproduction Update.

      The researchers conducted a meta-analysis of 223 papers published between 1973 and 2018. The studies analyzed sperm samples of a combined 57,000 men across 53 countries, writes Euronews Next’s Natalie Huet.

      The study expands on a 2017 paper by several of the same authors that found a similar decline. While the former study focused mostly on people in Europe, North America and Australia, the new analysis includes data from South America, Asia and Africa, per USA Today’s Karen Weintraub.

      Human Sperm Counts Declining Worldwide, Study Finds

      1. Louis Fyne

        yes, absolutely etc…whether related to reproduction (BPA, etc.) or cancer (PFAS, etc.).

        reminds me of the a “Precautionary principle” line from the sci-fi short story “Flatlander”: …Anything you don’t understand is dangerous until you do understand it….you come from a planet so kind to you so seemingly adapted to you that you think the whole universe is your oyster.’

      2. Yves Smith Post author

        The article provides tons of anecdata re voluntary childlessness and small families. That’s clearly the overwhelming driver in Japan and the US.

      3. DavidZ

        Conversely, the amount of dietary fat and cholesterol has decreased significantly over the last 40 years or so. Cholesterol is of course the precursor to sex hormones.

        Dietary Cholesterol does not affect the amount of it in the blood. The liver will churn out as much cholesterol as the body needs.

        A good diet is of course necessary for good health.

        Yves Smith – excellent overview and comments.

        1. griffen

          Yes I watched that movie over the weekend. Definitely a should be watched film. Ruffalo I thought did a highly respectable portrayal of a defense lawyer working against a giant corporation that turned into enemy number one.

          Cities in North Carolina are dealing with the pollution in the water now, based on articles I read in the past year.

    2. sfglossolalia

      I think for most of human history you had children primarily because if you didn’t you’d die of starvation as soon as you couldn’t procure food yourself.

    3. Fastball

      I realize I’m being cheeky, but the nuclear war that the Biden administration is courting every day will certainly do a number on fertility rates world wide.

    4. Viaqwerty

      There were a few extra dimensions to “pre-pill”: low level of government social spending, extended families as core economic & social units, children as part of the retirement plan. (Most) Women needed a husband for financial reasons, most men needed women for regular sex under enforced monogamy. And they needed one another, and a family, for social validation and status.

      FFW and women can delay pairing up until they meet Mr Perfect, sex is expected by the 3rd date so men dont have to make something of themselves…which means that the most desirable men are multi dating and average men struggle. It also means age related infertility kicks in. The documentary Birthgap looks at the numbers and has an interesting conclusion: 100 years ago 10% of women had Zero children, the rest had a distribution centered between 2-3. Today that distribution amongst mothers hasn’t changed , but that 10% is now close to 50% childless.

    5. Matthew G. Saroff

      Not this **familyblog** again.

      While there may be issues with some social services, particularly retirement programs, the evidence, and this includes the recent Covid debacle, is that a reduction in workforce results in more power to labor and less to capital.

      That’s why living standards and productivity skyrocketed after the Black Death. (Cue James Burke, his show Connections and underwear, paper, and movable type.)

  2. The Rev Kev

    This is actually good news this. I think that the real carrying capacity of the planet is about 500 million people but that at the moment there are over 8 billion people alive. And to a large extent, I think that this was made possible by the use of fossil fuels the past two centuries. It has to be remembered too that the use of fossil fuels gave us a growth economy all that time and generations have passed knowing only a growth economy. But as our resources are depleted, we are slipping over the top of that bell curve and before we know it, we will have to get used to living under a contracting economy. It is inevitable whether our leaders and economist fight it every step of the way or not. It’s going to be a wild ride.

    1. Emma

      And if nothing else, if it all eventually ends in tears and extinction, at least a smaller population means fewer beings will suffer at the very end. The population growth in the last 80 years has been extreme. Everywhere I go, wild places are pushed or crowded with tourists. (Whatever you think of David Attenborough, his comments about how the wild places he visited as a young man have all disappeared and wildlife documentaries now rely on artful camera angles to maintain the feeling of wilderness.)

      500 million or even 100 million people a sufficient number to further human development to a point where they can be in balance with nature.

      I do think that the Chinese and the RoK/Jpn birthrates will rebound somewhat once the culture/cost changes to be more supportive of families. Singapore has a similar culture but very pro-natalist public policies and has close to replacement level birthrates. On the other extreme, DPRK also has just about replacement level birthrates so maybe in 50 years, they’ll simply move into an empty RoK and peacefully reunite.

      1. John Wright

        Where are the business leaders, world leaders and economists who are as concerned about the loss of animal/plant life?

        There has been a demographic/extinction collapse in this sphere from reports.

        For human survival, the world’s elite should also be pushing to increase the population of other non-human life forms on the planet.

        Some economists seem to believe there is no limit in the capacity of the earth to support (human) life,

        For them, it is always desirable to have more children, even to combat climate change..

        Here is one example, “free market” economist Tyler Cowen.:


        I suspect many are aware of carrying capacity concerns, but assume some human breakthrough, as suggested by Cowen, will save the day.

        1. c_heale

          Couldn’t agree more. The elites have never cared about poor people dying or about animals or plants becoming extinct. In fact they still don’t.

          Witness the response to COVID, their blatant encouragement of war in Ukraine and Gaza, their lack of concern with the train disaster in East Palestine.

          People obsessed with money and power are truly evil.

      2. ASE

        Singapore most definitely does not have “close to replacement level birthrates”. In fact, if you look it up, the 2023 TFR fell to 0.97 (source: https://www.channelnewsasia.com/singapore/singapore-total-fertility-rate-population-parents-children-4155616).

        I personally fled Singapore (despite being a Singaporean for nearly my whole life) because they pay lip service to pro-natalist policies. Speaking practically as someone with four young children, it is impossible for them to have any kind of future in Singapore. I don’t know what this means for the rest of the world, but Singapore is firmly in the “what not to do” category of examples.

        1. Emma

          Thanks for the correction! I totally misread that Wikipedia entry! Is it afflicted with the same problems as the rest of East Asia – high RE cost, overly competitive schooling and job market, challenging for working mothers…?

          I guess we should all imitate the DPRK😂

          1. ASE

            Cost of living as well as stress of modern living is prohibitive for sure, but I think ultimately motivation is the issue. The ancient Romans had none of the modern issues like educated women, industrialisation, etc. yet they also had existential crises with regards to birth rate.

            Life is very good if you don’t have children in Singapore, like most places in the world today, and you really need even stronger motivation than ever to want to have any children at all. The few people in Singapore I know with plenty of children (6 or 7) are all deeply religious. Mere cultural expectation used to be a strong factor for having plenty of children, but that has disappeared now. You should see the wistful looks I get with older folk when they see my children.

            1. Emma

              Yes, my parents and in-laws definitely fall into that grouping. My in-laws are extremely polite and never asks, but you can see it from the way my mother-in-law dwells on the goings on of their friends’ and niece/nephew’s kids. My less than polite parents nagged me for a good 15 years even though I told them before my marriage that we didn’t want kids.

              What I find interesting is how the cultural expectation plays into Shanghai, where the childrearing is typically almost entirely outsourced to two sets of grandparents (literally I know of someone who never changed a single diaper for her son) but the parents still chooses to stop at one kid. They almost seem to intentionally want to avoid having more kids that might divide attention and family wealth that would otherwise be dedicated to the eldest.

    2. Grumpy Engineer

      We will have to get used to living under a contracting economy.

      Aye. This is very important. Because an economy that is servicing the needs of a rapidly growing population differs greatly from one that services the needs of a slowly shrinking population. When population is growingly rapid, there is a continual need for new housing, new hospitals, new roads, new power stations, new farms, etc. Heck, you need more of just about everything.

      But when population is slowly shrinking, there is little need for new stuff aside from consumables like food and energy. Our housing and infrastructure can go into “maintenance mode”, where we simply maintain what we already have. Overall, there is less work to do. If managed poorly, this could cause a lot of unemployment. But if managed well, we all could have an easier life. Shorter work weeks, anyone?

      1. Louis Fyne

        a universal basic income is (almost) inevitable….but of course the devil is in the details.

        A UBI can liberate (allow more free time for childcare, elder care, personal time, etc.) or it can be a tool of oppression (see in the “Expanse” books where UBI = cat food diet) subject to you avoiding wrong-think.

        1. Albe Vado

          UBI is a scam to allow companies to get away with paying crap wages. It’s been tried before, and it was an abject failure.

          Jobs guarantee or bust. The only reason UBI is given any place in public discourse is to distract from the much better solution.

          The portrayal of the supposed smothering evil of a UBI in The Expanse, that it will induce laziness or complacency, is typical of the type of wooly brained social commentary I’ve come to expect from most science fiction. UBI sucks, but not for any of the libertarian feamongering reasons in The Expanse.

          1. Paradan

            So let’s say that on Friday, Congress and the Pres, pass a UBI bill. From now on, every adult citizen gets a check for $2000 on the first of every month. Monday afternoon, you get a letter from landlord(most likely a PE firm) raising your rent $2000. Cantillion effect on steroids.

      2. Big River Bandido

        Our housing and infrastructure can go into “maintenance mode”, where we simply maintain what we already have.

        In a functioning society, yes. But who will think of the poor real-estate developers? Whether new suburbs and new superhighways are needed or wanted, developers will push for them anyway because if they don’t they’ll be like the proverbial tits on the proverbial bull. And considering that they have political power and real people don’t, well, we all know how that works out.

    3. James

      Good news for the planet and its denizens. Very bad news for debt saturated western economies. Without growth via expanding populations and increased consumption/energy use, it will be impossible to pay back or even service the debt. Western elites are rightly concerned that this will take down the teetering financial edifice that provides them with all the advantages.

    4. Valerie in Australia

      This was my first thought as well. Environmentalists are always talking about our overconsumption of resources – and there is nothing more polluting that a First World Human. Each one of our children will grow up to want a house, a car, eat nice food, wear nice clothing, have nice kitchen appliances, etc. I think the alarm is about the fact that our ageing population plan to retire in their mid sixties yet can be expected to live twenty years longer than my grandparents did. Unless they are part of the Investment Class, they will rely heavily on Social Security and Medicare. Who is going to pay for this if the generations following are smaller in number?

      1. Jeff in upstate NY

        Social Security population forecasts presume a declining labor force and lower FICA payments into the system. As a result, without any modifications to the existing protocols, the system will be able to support payouts to its beneficiaries at approximately 75% of the level allowable under an fully funded assumption. This is not, IMHO, a crisis.

  3. ciroc

    It is outrageous that many governments see the declining birth rate as a problem to be solved. It is a totalitarian view that people should have children in order to maintain the capitalist economy and social security system. Whether or not to have children is a matter of personal lifestyle and should not be interfered with by the state.

  4. Acacia

    Re: Japan…

    Lots to say about this but I’ll stick to one anecdote, from a friend in Tokyo:

    If the Japanese government were actually serious about increasing the birth rate, they would impose strict rent control on apartments and stop giving priority to landlords. With affordable apartments, young people could move out of their parents’ house and… nature would take care of the rest.

    Not wrong, methinks. ;)

      1. Albe Vado

        Doesn’t sound like the worst thing to me. Why not marry someone you actually like on a level other than lust? I’ve long thought why don’t people marry their best friends. If and when the lust fades away, a relationship based on actually liking the other person is likely to endure. This also partially avoids the issue of friendships falling apart from resentment at someone spending all their time with their partner.

        1. c_heale

          I think many people do in fact marry people they are good friends with. Lust is more associated with one night stands and short term relationships. Most people spend a lot of time going for coffee/meals, going on walks, to the cinema, and to other social events, as a couple before they get married. None of these are necessarily concerned with sex, but are concerned with friendship and enjoying each others’ company.

  5. Feral Finster

    Think of human kittens as a bet on the future. Not to mention, the cost (in cash and time) of raising one to a acceptable middle class standard has gone up astronomically in recent decades.

    Wasn’t so long ago, it you fed your offspring, put a roof over their head and didn’t beat them so badly that they never got to be adults, you were doing a pretty good job.

    Of course, with more and more humans entering the ranks of the precariat with every passing day, the competition is tougher and tougher not to slip through the cracks. For example, a college degree isn’t enough any more to ensure a decent job. It had better be a top university, and even that is no guarantee.
    Working moderately hard isn’t not going to make it. You’d better be prepared to work like a rented mule if you want to keep your place in the cubicle farm.

    1. Emma

      Kids just can’t compete with video games and TV as entertainment. And 4 years of Columbia undergrad can buy you 5-10 years of early retirement or a pretty big boat.

    2. urdsama

      But what kind of future?

      I wouldn’t wish the currently predicted future on anyone not already born.

      While you may be right with your common response of “what are they going to do about it”, this is the outcome of such a path repeated again and again.

      1. Feral Finster

        Getting OT, I ask “so what are X going to do about it?” because we are ruled by sociopaths. This is the only question they care about – “so who is going to stop me?”

        Our cleverness, our word games, our cute memes, our tightly reasoned arguments and close readings of texts are of no interest to them. They are unmoved by facts, logic, evidence or morality, as long as they have force on their side, or at least as long as we cannot or will not force them to stop.

          1. ambrit

            This is the Panopticon Darthbobber. True “non-compliants” do not utter a single “badthought” out in the public spaces. They hide in plain sight and try to look like all the rest while they pursue their fell designs in the shadows.
            It’s not really a joke when some of us say; “If I told you, I would have to kill you.” The State has already made the “…have to kill you..” part public policy.
            So, as the Alchemists say: “Silence is golden.”

  6. tiebie66

    It seems that immigration is not only a poor solution, but might actually aggravate the problems accompanying an ageing populace.
    “A new report from the Centre for Policy Studies, written by former Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick MP, former minister Neil O’Brien MP, and CPS Research Director Karl Williams argues that the scale and composition of recent migration have failed to deliver the significant economic and fiscal benefits its advocates promised, while putting enormous pressure on housing, public services and infrastructure.”


    1. Emma

      I keep waiting for the point when the Western decline starts pushing emigration into reverse. If China and Russia and other BRI countries stay offering better opportunities, wouldn’t the diaspora and even non-diaspora start moving back in reverse? Maybe they would even be forced to leave due to unpayable student loan debts or healthcare debts.

      If the USA offered opportunities and quality of life equal to that of Mexico or Brazil, how many people would bother leaving their home country for it?

      1. lyman alpha blob

        Depends on how good Uncle Sugar’s PR is. I have an in-law from Africa and I asked her why she thought so many immigrants want to come here given the condition the US is in currently. She said she personally had no idea how bad the US was (warmongering, destabilizing countries around the globe, increasing inequality, jobs that don’t pay enough to live, everyone in debt, etc., etc.) until after she got here. She only heard the good things growing up.

        That being said, she comes from a fairly wealthy family in her own country. Her own parents are definitely not enamored with the US these days, especially after they were harassed by US authorities when trying to visit several years ago. Her parents do their shopping in China.

        1. Emma

          Hollywood and Madison avenue were very good at selling that image, but nowadays people around the world are seeing the homeless encampments and cops beating up professors via social media. And now there’s much greater awareness that Western cultural icons like Spielberg and Tarantino are ardent Zionists who have long supported the IDF and illegal settlements, so that alone may turn off a lot of otherwise receptive brainwashees.

          Interesting that her parents are shopping in China. Is that a recent change or something they’ve done for a while? China’s protectionist tariffs have previously made it an expensive place to shop for luxury goods and electronics, which is why you get all the luxury locusts shopping tours to Europe and east Asia. But I can certainly see Chinese domestic production getting to the point of lower than West prices for desirable goods. I haven’t been back to China since COVID hit, though I had people who travelled there recently tell me that everything is on sale right now.

          1. lyman alpha blob

            Don’t know the situation all that well, but I believe they’ve been shopping there for a while now. They go for bigger ticket items from what I understand, obviously not for groceries. The family has children living in Europe too, not just the US, so I’m sure they pick some things up from US/Europe too when they visit. But none of their kids are in China though, so presumably when they shop there, they’re making a special trip to do it.

            1. Emma

              Interesting. Thanks for the data point! I have family living in China so I travel there every couple years for a visit. Maybe her parents enjoy the scenery – China has some beautiful sights, and you might even get to enjoy them as long as you avoid the ‘golden weeks’ and summer vacations.

  7. PlutoniumKun

    In economic terms, the key problem with demographic collapse is not that there are less people, but the dependency ratio rises. i.e. there are fewer people at peak productivity years per X population. So over time, even a declining population isn’t necessarily a disaster – the problem is the period of a few decades when you have a lot of old people and relatively few 20-50 year olds.

    The general trend I think has mystified demographers not so much because of the overall trends, but because it seems to defy any one simple explanation. The trend is clear in countries with widely different social and political and economic set-ups. Variables that seem to hold true don’t hold up very long (for example, it did seem that countries with strong child care policies were slower to ‘dip’, but this didn’t hold up for long). The US is actually something of an outlier – its drop has been significantly slower than other equivalent countries, even allowing for the immigrant effect (first generation immigrants tend to be more fertile).

    It does seem that since the widespread availability of contraception, people opt for fewer children when they are reasonably economically comfortable – although we are now seeing the process spread to quite poor countries too.

    Another key feature is that demographic projections tend to lag – it takes time for long term trends to show through the data – most demographers tend to think current projections for population are on the high side – in other words, the worldwide drop will probably be steeper and sooner than we think.

    One nasty irony is that we may also find that even with a shortage of young people, there may still be an unemployment problem, although its not particularly clear why this should be. Japan, ROK and China all have a serious problem with youth unemployment despite what superficially look like pretty healthy job markets.

    Its clearly a good thing for the planet that there are going to be less of us around, but there is absolutely no guarantee that a falling population won’t create more problems than it will solve. Some countries – notably Japan – are ahead of the curve in trying to manage it, but it hardly needs repeating that our leaders and betters have not proven themselves particularly good at this sort of planning.

    1. tony

      The single key criterion reported in reducing BR is the level of female education.
      DR tends to falls before BR, as higher standards of medical care are introduced, so there is the time lag that maximises natural increase.

      The Demographic Transition model of the interplay of BR and DR is pretty straightforward, and the evidence supports it, I first studied it over 50 years ago, and have yet to seen any serious countervailing data.

      I think Japan will provide sensible approaches to managing the transition, but they have very low in-migration, and the Bank of Japan has already had to deal with pretty much 30 years of low growth aka stagflation, and is very good at managing both their bond market and interest rates, unlike the BoE. Can’t speak for the Fed though, bit more hit and miss probably.

      It is South Korea which has the lowest BR, way below the replacement rate, less than half that of the USA, and way below Japan and Italy.
      Interestingly a very high cost of living is cited as a key reason.
      SK youth unemployment was 6% in 2023, and that has fallen in recent years, previously being higher, and that marked down to lack of semi-professional jobs.
      I suppose that every nation will need to juggle the balance in its labour market to ensure high youth employment in future.

      1. Cervantes

        But is female education correlated with lower BR because educated women choose to have fewer kids or because the process of education conventionally requires biologically fertile women to delay/reduce childbearing for many years?

        1. Cervantes

          Or, even more puzzling, are women who otherwise don’t want children more likely to spend more time in education?

          (My point, to be clear, is that even what seems like a clear statistical correlation might be masking multiple causal vectors, some or all of which might be valid or partially valid.)

          1. tony

            Yes, of course there are multiple factors within that single metric.

            Better educated women choose to have fewer children, but are also economically more active, so there are cultural implications too.

            The health risks to women having many children are still high in the earlier phases of the Demographic transition, so women choosing to have fewer pregancies has an element of self protection.
            Falling infant death rates then also has a strong influence in the choices in family size.

            However, the level of female education, obvs including literacy, so easier dissemination of information on birth control options, is the key factor that triggers falling BR.

  8. Emma

    I keep waiting for the point when the Western decline starts pushing emigration into reverse. If China and Russia and other BRI countries stay offering better opportunities, wouldn’t the diaspora and even non-diaspora start moving back in reverse? Maybe they would even be forced to leave due to unpayable student loan debts or healthcare debts.

    If the USA offered opportunities and quality of life equal to that of Mexico or Brazil, how many people would bother leaving their home country for it?

  9. Tom Pfotzer

    I think the primary factor in the birth rate is that people have choices now that they didn’t before.

    Certainly TV and literacy and the Internet have all expanded – dramatically – the set of possible lifestyles people become aware of and can subsequently choose for themselves.

    Contraception. That is definitely a new choice.

    The lessening grip of Religions has also been a factor: the social pressure to have children has been attenuated.

    The rising level of education of women, and the corollary rejection or modulation of traditional roles for women play a big role. Getting a good job makes a lot of new and wonderful things possible, like independence.

    As others have pointed out, the rising cost of living and the costs of bearing and raising children have been on a tear. Acacia’s remarks above spell that out clearly.

    I see the birth-rate reduction as unalloyed good news.

  10. tony

    The Demographic Transition model ends with a settled trend of flatlining or slow decline, and we are in stage 4b of that transition, as are all industrialised nations.

    That is low DR but lower BR.

    This idea of growth in human population being an inexorable good, goes along with GDP growth and the idea that people have only two roles – as workers and consumers, and is mostly driven by capitalist corporatist cultural hegemony.

    The need for a permanent condition of global population growth, to feed the machine, is based in consumer capitalism, and especially free market neoliberalism. It is not necessary or even desirable.

    Nor is there is actually a real crisis, nothing like what is approaching in terms of climate change anyway.
    Increased demands for elderly care will only take 10-20 years for the population bulge to work through. Meanwhile technology is still reducing labour demands, especially in the productive economy, so aggregate labour demands will also decline in time. (That is before immigration is considered.)

    In any event what is so good about the 8bn people on the planet still breeding, and increasing the demands they are making on resources, when we already have 2.2bn people in absolute poverty, mostly because of misallocation?

    What was wrong with 5bn people, or 3bn people, why do we still need more ?
    We all know that global biodiversity has crashed in the last 50 years,

    As for too many old folks, oh dear, they will need more care, and be a drain on the state.
    Tax payers will have to ‘subsidise’, aka care for, the elderly. So what ? Wouldn’t we anyway ?
    This is only for a time limited period and is being grossly exaggerated as an issue.

    In the UK, the Old Age Pension plus extra NHS care for older demographic segments currently takes about 10% of government spending at around £160bn.
    Even at the widest point of the demographic bulge that might increase to 15%, and only possibly to 20%

    The UK OAP was 30th of 31 OECD countries last time I looked and is well under 50% of the UK minimum living wage, so is hardly generous.

    Almost all of that money then recirculates through the economy and maintains retailing and services, so it is not a burden, and the benefits are spread across all age groups, as OAP spending then generates more tax revenues, (unlike the high savings rates of the top 10% which are retained and secreted offshore)..

    Japan already has higher demographic demands than we do in the UK and western Europe, and a declining population, but is managing quite nicely, as the Bank of Japan is managing their fiat currency in a much more controlled manner.

    But… we just can’t afford old people…..
    Lucky for the UK Conservative party then that life expectancies are falling since 2010, deliberately too, since austerity cuts in NHS, benefits and social care.
    The same situation of considerably lower life expectancy also exists in poorer sectors of society in the USA
    Unfortunately only the elderly US political elite seems to live forever..
    The message to most people in the general population here can only be – don’t trust your elites, if you value your health.
    And do watch Soylent Green, a cracking dystopian film..

    Yet, in the UK, we massively subsidise the 1% most wealthy, and even more so, large corporations…..which is why PM Sunak only pays a total of 22% of his annual income in tax, as most is capital gains and rentier income, so taxed at preferential lower rates, unlike most of the working population who pay closer to 40% of their incomes in total taxation.

    Then we have the Bank of England paying interest to the commercial banks for their legal reserves lodged with the BoE to the tune of £40bn pa.
    This subsidy was first introduced in 2009, after the GFC, yet the commercial banks are making absolutely ginormous profits…..

    A recent Oxfam study found that the top 95 food and energy corporations more than doubled their profits in 2022 alone. Price gouging or what ?

    Globally, the planet is finite, and continued GDP growth is clearly unsustainable, as is indefinite population growth.
    Population is projected to level off at about 10-11 billion persons, but that does not take climate change into account.

    The most populated areas globally are the most productive agriculturally and are the low lying, and hence vulnerable, extensive river basins and deltas of south and east Asia.
    So there will be increasing crises with rising sea levels in the next hundred years, that will have an impact on population growth.
    Possibly 300m people will need resettling away from high flood risk areas by 2100, depending on actual sea level rises.

    Yet, in isolation, population dynamics are not the critical problem .
    Consumption per capita is a much more useful measure in terms or global equity and resource allocation is more valuable a consideration..

    Your average Norwegian uses over 450 times more energy a year than your average citizen of Niger.

    In this sense, it isn’t population as such that is the issue – but the levels of consumption in industrialised nations, and the unequal distribution of resources that are the real issues.

    Though continued population growth will be problematic, given its concentration, the current world population at 8 billion is capable of having its needs met from the planet sustainably, yet the actual global material footprint currently far exceeds resource capabilities.
    There is enough to meet man’s needs, just not enough for us all to satisfy man’s greed.
    Defining wealth and personal welfare by using GDP statistics has long been questioned, as the measure serves but a few.
    Such is the global economic system – and that is what is really driving the climate crisis too.

    As for the desire and intention of creating a demographic crisis by corporate capitalism, what we need to do is to revise our economic goals, and change perspectives..
    Effective resource allocation is needed for all of us, and not simply to sustain disproportionate flows to the oligarchic elite.

    In the final account we all need to reflect on whether the economy exists to meet the needs of the people, or whether people exist to serve the economy ? .. which is in effect, currently, the economic elite who are peddling this crisis agenda.

    1. DFWCom

      Well said, I agree with everything you have written.

      As to your final question, it is the fundamental question of the meaning of life.

      In nature, things grow until maturity then stop – simply to be part of their environment, to be not to grow, to experience not to strive. And to reproduce. What sense would it make for a tree to keep on growing exponentially until it fell over because internal stresses exceeded inevitable limits. Why fall over after 15 years rather than live for 100?

      Focusing on growth is essentially infantile. It means we cannot think of any other purpose.

      It is too late for our system – it will drive itself over a cliff in an imperative for the unachievable and, worse, the stupid – destroying a systemic wonder for shear, thoughtless gratification. Like a spoiled child destroying one toy after another without the intelligence or imagination to invent play.

      How prescient were those who, at the beginning of our era, wrote the story of The Garden of Eden. Maybe our role, now, is to write a warning to a dimly plausible future. Yet why will it listen when we so plainly have not.

      1. JBird4049

        Redwood trees never stop growing during their entire life, which can be over two thousand years. However, they expand outwards as well as upwards. A problem with modern civilization is the expansion of poorly planned and built areas everywhere especially in places like the United States. It is more immediately profitable for developers and municipalities to have endless overpriced, junky McMansion developments or whatever.

        But this is also just another reason for the decline in the birthrates.

        In fact, there probably really is no secret issue, or if there is it’s only one of the several clear ones; any fool can look at the problems as they are all out there for anyone to see:

        the mismatch of living costs to income,
        the increasingly poor quality of life for everyone excepting the top 1%
        the increasing incompetence, corruption, and authoritarianism of both government and business
        the increasing pollution, and climate disruption, which can affect public health
        poor quality food
        the increasing influence of a deeply unserious, even loony, upper class and their servant class.

        With all this who would want to have a family even if you were culturally inclined to have fifteen kids? It is exhausting to have a family at the best of times. It is also a leap of faith.

        The details are just that, details. Each of these problems or causes can be fixed if we had a functioning society serious about solving the problem. But we don’t.

        1. tony

          Large familiies meant that, with child mortality of up to 50% before the age of 5, there were sufficient surviving children who would reach adulthood and hence provide care for elderly parents.

          With rapidly falling infant mortality, early in the demographic transition, that requirement was removed, and so there was much more choice in the family size.

          Italy, with its catholic cultural traditions has one of the lowest BR globally, and certainly in Europe.

          The simple fact about capitalism is that there are mega profits in the property market and speculation.
          In the UK the biggest funders of the Tory party and right wing spinoffs like Reform, are all property multi-millionaires, so its regulation and control is crucial.
          That reflects the rise of finance capitalism over production capitalism too.

  11. jefemt

    I recently read Countdown by Alan Weisman. Great book on population/ overpopulation, and potentially declining population. Its going up before it retrenches, if it does. The panic is entirely self-serving pearl clutching…My 2 pennies…

    That is a GREAT read. Opening chapter covers Gaza and Israel. Fecundity as a weapon?

  12. DG

    “most aristocratic women farmed out child-rearing to servants (see the bios of Talleyrand and Churchill among many others). They regarded it as drudgery. ”

    Behavioral psychologist B. F. Skinner, who wrote Walden II, would agree with this assessment. His thesis in Walden II is that young people – teenagers – should have children. However, the young parents would be incapable of raising their children. So they would have children and then return to their schooling and careers. Society would take full responsibility for the children.

    Denmark and Israel had modified applications through free childcare, all medical and education paid for , etc. Of course, the US of A which has made childcare, education and medical care not affordable for most people cannot do this. And as long as there is money to be made, our elites will never do this.

    Ken Loach’s film, ‘I, Daniel Blake,’ shows clearly the policy of precarious existence and resulting early death in action. Any society that is actively killing its members, will naturally freak out when the new supply of proles is declining.

    1. Harold

      Historically Eastern European Jews children married at 13 or 14, lived with the in-laws, and were mercilessly browbeaten.
      Interesting book: Autobiography of Solomon Maimon (1753–1800) who escaped this fate by decamping to enlightenment Germany, where he met Moses Mendelssohn and translated Kant into Yiddish, hoping to enlighten the folks back home. Highly recommend this entertaining memoir (if you haven’t already read it). Maimon is considered an important philosopher in his own right, apparently.

  13. JustTheFacts

    This is what happens when you over-harvest a resource: it stops being as fertile. The productivity gap since the 1970s is just one indicator: those who feel squeezed in the current system stop bothering to produce more (children, things, innovations, educated youngsters, etc). Those doing the squeezing refuse to give up their advantages and just import migrants in the hopes that they will do the work thereby preserving the system that benefits the squeezers. Africa is becoming more “modern” too, and subject to the same pressures, since the traditional ways of living are no longer supported by an over-harvested environment.

  14. Sub-Boreal

    Thank you for this sensible discussion of a topic on which so much nonsense gets spewed.

    Watching from Canada, where Trudeau has amped up an already out-of-control immigration rate in order to keep the Ponzi scheme going, this is so refreshing! When the MSM does discuss this, its slant is heavily influenced by growth fetishism, as propounded by outfits like this.

    But the daily reality of impossible housing costs for ~ 90% of the population is making it harder to keep the growth charade going. What we lack are serious plans for mapping out a realistic transition to static or declining populations. And, yes, I realize that all of this is happening against a backdrop of future climate-driven population movements.

  15. Kurt

    The WSJ and NC discussion is missing the bigger picture. Male sperm counts have been plummeting for decades. The first alarm was sounded in 1996 in Our Stolen Future which detailed how endocrine disrupters are causing chronic illness and threatening fertility. In 2017 a group of researchers reviewed the fertility literature and discovered that at the current rate of decline in male sperm counts, the world would reach zero fertility in 2045. That’s not a typo! A wider review of the fertility literature in 2022 that included broader geographic coverage concluded that the decline in male sperm rates had actually been accelerating since 2000. One of the researchers has summarize the work in a book entitled Count Down. (This is a different book from the one mentioned in previous comments.)

      1. Lefty Godot

        General debilitation from environmental chemical exposure could help to take some of the “want” out of voluntary family addition sentiments. The declining economic prospects and lack of our leaders’ actions to stave off known future disasters are obviously a huge part of it, but it’s also easier to measure those things and their effects on human “psychology” (opinions, decisions, etc.). Changes to hormonal levels and the environmental factors responsible have just not been studied as fully and for as long to allow scientists to say as much about their contribution to fertility declines. When things are much worse, there will no doubt be enough data for us to portion out whose share of the responsibility is the most egregious. Too late to help matters.

  16. Froghole

    High house prices are the most effective prophylactic of all. They crowd out everything else.

    Many younger people will not have children because they have a brutal choice: (i) they can submit to a ludicrous mortgage or pay an inflated rent (in each case even for very mundane or inadequate units); and/or (ii) they can save for retirement (as defined contribution pensioners they will need to save much more than their defined benefit elders); and/or they can have children. Most will not be able to do all three. Many will struggle to manage at least one. It is the combination of house price inflation and the shift from defined benefit to defined contribution saving which has arguably had the most serious effect on child-bearing in some countries.

    Also house price inflation creates no new wealth; it merely redistributes wealth from the young and poor to the old and rich. Therefore, by failing to have children, young people are effectively telling older generations that they can have the capital gains to which they believe themselves invincibly entitled, but they must forego the joys of being grandparents. In other words, the young are giving the old the demographic finger, often out of necessity.

    1. JustTheFacts

      I don’t think it enriches the elderly. Higher house prices means higher property taxes which the elderly may not be in a position to pay. Now that the idiots in charge are discussing unrealized capital gains taxes, those too will provide an excellent mechanism to further impoverish the population. If your house’s “value” went up by 25% this year, you could easily owe $40K in unrealized capital gains. If you can’t afford it, well you could always live in an RV or a tent. If you die sooner weather exposure, that’ll just reduce social security costs.

      1. Froghole

        Fair enough, but in the UK (where I am) the only property tax is council tax, which has not been re-rated since its introduction in 1993. Higher value properties are therefore disproportionately under-taxed, and there is no CGT on the primary place of residence. However, unlike the young, the elderly can always release equity (there are many schemes available for this purpose which do not entail the disposal of the home), or they can sell and realise the untaxed equity in that way. However, the capital gain – which present owner occupiers have not earned – does have to be earned by means of an equivalent fall in the living standards/welfare of their successors in title who must not only earn an amount equal to the capital gain enjoyed by their predecessors in title but must also pay interest on it.

        This system has been in place in the UK since 1963-65 and 1971/80. Prior to then each generation did not fleece its successors.

  17. XXYY

    The graph in this post seems to have a lot more explanatory power then all the various factors discussed in the text of the article.

    It looks like something happened rather suddenly in about 1964 that tipped the world’s population into a downward trend, which it has pretty much been on ever since.

    My hunch is that there is a biochemical explanation for all the fertility drops we have been seeing simultaneously around the world. Something spread through the water supply most likely. Maybe a pesticide or herbicide or human drug introduced in the early 1960s?

    I have never seen it seriously discussed but it seems a lot more plausible than a lot of the hand waving explanations that get way more play.

      1. Bill Bedford

        Well, no. The Japanese birthrate has been falling since 1945, but the oral contraceptive pill was not made legal until 1999.

        1. DFWCom

          I thought Yves’ reply was delightful. We can be so good at not seeing the wood for the trees?

          XXYY said, ‘something’ happened around 1964. The pill seems delightfully obvious.

          And no, it does not mean there’s not a broader dynamic and it does not invalidate the article or the particular case of Japan.

        2. Yves Smith Post author

          The Japanese had the Starving Times right after World War II, through 1947. Not well publicized. Japanese women living near the sea harvested seaweed which became a major diet staple.

          Japan also had over 2.1 military deaths in WWII, presumably all men, v. a population of 71 million in 1945. That thinning of the reproductive age population would also cut birth rates.

          Despite the much-ballyhooed post-war recovery, Japan’s GDP in 1950 was at the level of 1918…with a higher population, meaning a huge decline in living standards. Again lousy economies are birth suppressive.


          Usage of the pill even now is still extremely low by rest of the world standards:


          So Japanese men must be unusually compliant condom users when asked or when they don’t want to risk being a father.

    1. c_heale

      There was a vast increase in the number of synthetic chemicals after WW2. Most of these have never been tested for adverse effects. It is probable that this has affected sperm counts.

      I think it’s highly likely that pesticides and herbicides, as well as all the estrogenic chemicals among these chemicals are the culprits.


    The average person deals with a non-stop feed of stressors that they have very little control over and do not resolve and compare themselves to celebrities and highly curated social media feeds.

    This is life on the bottom of the social hierarchy. And as a social species it switches genes to lower fertility, sexual drive and risk taking.

  19. vargas

    Young and ambitoius consumers do not like children as they are focused on themselves and their achievements.
    Educated people like things and thrills and do kot want to spend times on babies.
    And sec is interesting and safest in the form of pornography.

  20. QuantumSoma

    Lower birthrates are a pretty obvious consequence of the individualization of market logic endemic to neoliberalism. If Thatcher is right, and there is no such thing as society, than why exactly should you have children? It makes no sense at all from the perspective that humans are basically market actors.

    “All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses, his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.”

  21. River Churning Clam

    What the Population Pearl Clutchers fail to mention is the massive pollution their growth model requires could be doing as much as their dysfunctional economic policies to lower birth rates. Microplastics (ht to Lefty Godot) are just the latest widespread pollutant; endocrine disruptors and nitrogen fertilizer have been around for years doing their own forms of physiological mischief. With modern instant communication we hear about child cancer hotspots in Iowa and increasing autism everywhere. The feeble minded stenographers in the Wall Shriek Journal might wish to consider what effect such news might have on potential parents today.

  22. Es s Ce Tera

    To me it’s simple, most people in the world do not want to inflict (un)intentional harm and having children now would be condemning them (and the world) to harm and suffering. We assess the favorability of this world based on the information at our disposal and there is nothing favorable on the horizon.

    To explain this to (challenged) economists, we might pose children and families as investments, the collective human race as the investment vehicle or “the market”, and against this simply outline expected returns. Use candlestick charts with a series of red declining candles indicating diminishing return and loss. If investing a family in the human race were a stock, at this point in time it would have negative value and it has received notice of delisting, so if you were an investor it would be considered very high risk, the prospectus is bad.

    Other reasons you’d have children would be, for instance, if you felt a duty or obligation outside of the context of or expectation of return – e.g. if you’re following biblical commandment to multiply, or you felt an ideological need to feed your nationalism (e.g. Zionism), or you had fixed ideas about duty to your ancestors or a need to continue a family name.

    But even in these analytical contexts the reasons against are stacked against the reasons for.

  23. Saffa

    At the risk of sounding like a bit of a softie.. and speaking as a woman, one factor that might also play a role, and which I don’t really see explicitly mentioned in the choice of not having children — is that it’s not just the cost and intense requirements of raising a competent successful child from a skills, competitive, and socially mobile perspective, it’s also about
    1. the realisation that certain traumatic and maladaptive societal cycles keep perpetuating, and it’s not enough to raise a child or two to fit into it, but the enormous task of trying to raise children that can contribute meaningfully to a significantly better, healthier society. The demand of that is simply beyond many of our capabilities all things considered.
    2. Also, in societies where vulnerable children, orphaned, abused etc still exist, the level and layers of backup plans needed to insure that if anything goes wrong to the caregivers, that the kids would at least be ok, is reasonably beyond a lot of people’s capacity.

    It is interesting to note that out of all of our friends, even the ones who are relatively well off, have not had more than one child. The only three women I know who did have more than one child all have only high school qualification. And in all three of their cases, 2 were the absolute max. The only people anecdotally I know of who are having more than two kids, are religious conservatives who see it as their duty to populate the earth. Scary.

    1. gk

      Another factor in the past may have been the desire to have a boy. My ancestors, 3 generations back, had one, but only after 12 or 13 “failures”.

      1. ambrit

        Still a factor. I was ready to stop after the two girls were born, but Phyl wanted “her boy.” (She got him.)

      2. JohnnySacks

        My parents wanted a girl at #3 and got twin boys, then a 5th ‘surprise’ boy! Needless to say, wasn’t going to happen with our family. Came time for #2 and I got discarded in the Jack Welsh share fluffing experiment in a semi-recession. Plan unfulfilled. Hence the high level of complete agreement with the premise of the base article.

        One thing contributing is the age at which people have children. At 18 – 21 I’d have stumbled into it dum-de-dum lah-di-dah caution be damned. But at 28-32, wow, a lot more though goes into a major decision like having children!

        1. Saffa

          Haha! Five boys sheesh. My dad was one of four boys. As a tomboy that always sounds like the most fun to me! Luckily I still came from a time and place where chasing the sun with the boys from the neighbourhood on our bicycles was a thing. It’s weird watching my niece just live basically in her yard, and at school, and specific places. No wild afternoons of getting lost and not even needing to be home until sun set.

          This might sound weird but I wanted to have 7 kids like the Von Trapp family most of my early life. I was the girl who babysat all the kids, could put any baby to sleep. Big family was a dream I gave up on. Almost like it had to be relegated to a distant and now irretrievable past where people were more innocent and hopeful (ignorance is bliss?) Paradise Lost and all that. I experienced a pretty intense climate-related nervous breakdown at age 22 in 2003 and just wasn’t the same since.

          Wish I could have “gotten over it” but that just didn’t happen for me. Loving nature and children are both so profoundly intertwined with grief for me. Thankfully there is beauty and meaning to be found even in that.

    2. Emma

      In my circle, nonreligious Zionists can have fairly big families (3 or 4). Parents are well educated upper middle class, with lots of financial and childcare help from parents and a full time nanny when the kids were young. Deeply religious families can have 3 or more kids, especially if they have rich parents. One of my friends did not come from money and had three kids. She paid so much in daycare that she had less money working a $60K/yr job than she did as a SAHM.

      2 is pretty normal for people who wanted a family, 1 is the parents were fairly agnostic about kids. Then there are a many of us on the sidelines who looked at the stress and expenses of having kids and decide to settle for being cool aunts and uncles to other people’s kids.

      1. Saffa

        I guess in my mind it makes sense that strong ideological leanings (Zionism or other), overlap a lot with traditional religions in this regard.

        Also sometimes wonder if some people can be so isolated from the struggles of the ‘real world’ that the thought of their progeny coming to harm just seems unthinkable…

  24. JonnyJames

    By the time I wake up and get to a computer in my time zone, the early birds have it covered. Great topic and comments, as usual.

    Japan has had negative birth rates for many decades, and as noted, seems to be doing alright with it. Their homogeneous culture values elders, and their health indicators are among the best in the world. Contrast this with other “developed” countries, especially the good ol’ US

    As many have observed: unlimited growth is simply not possible on a finite planet. Now that survival of the species is not tied to reproduction growth, I wonder if humans collectively, on a sub-conscious biological level, are self-correcting?

    Of course, if we have another pandemic, or a large-scale nuclear war, the population may be drastically reduced in a short time. It is interesting that as world population rose dramatically, the ability to destroy seems to have risen
    proportionately. The Janus Face of Modernity?

  25. petal

    In my peer group(college educated, some with PhDs, some with MDs), it’s all about cost. That’s the only thing keeping these people from having more children, or in my case children at all. You need two salaries in NH or the rest of New England for a home, daycare here is about $2200 a month for one kid if you can even find a spot. Add in huge health insurance costs, and forget about it. A rich friend in RI has 3 kids because they can afford it(rich parents), same for another rich friend in MA(rich parents). My ex has 3 kids but it was really hard for them and they were lucky to get some support from parents. Otherwise for the rest of my friends it was a real stretch just to have 1 or 2. I desperately wanted a child but there was no way I could afford it. We would’ve been in poverty, even though I have a BS in STEM and work FT in my field. Would have had to choose between rent and daycare. Everyone in my peer group talks about the cost. That is key. People I know would have liked to have a little larger family but they simply cannot afford it.

    1. Emma

      My mom claims that a friend’s daughter emigrated to Montreal and took advantage of their generous daycare availability to have 4 kids.

    2. chris

      I am so sorry to hear that. And the heart breaking part is, the cost of decent daycare is exorbitant. The cost of good daycare is eye wateringly expensive.

      We have 3 kids. We were lucky and only one had significant challenges. My partner had a job at a research institution tied to a hospital system, so two of the births were free, but daycare was also expensive. We took on thousands of dollars of debt to afford daycare early on. It worked out but it easily could have gone the other way. At one point in time, all 3 kids were in daycare and the cost was equal to 3 mortgage payments. One per kid. Yay.

      When we discovered one of our children had a learning disability, we lived in the Midwest. The supposedly great school system we were in told us our kid had no issue and just needed to be medicated so they would behave in class. But they couldn’t read, and had a range of other strange visual processing issues. We had to move east to an area where the cost of living was triple what we had been paying to get to a school system with the supports he needed. And then, after some surgeries, and three years of very expensive interventions, we hit the pandemic shutdowns. And all the support we had vanished. But through it all… we knew we were lucky.

      We’ve made it through all that now. We have friends who are still in the midst of battling it. Some have profoundly disabled children. We have family with autistic children who receive the bare minimum of services even though they live in well to do areas on the east coast. We also have friends who have children who are varying degrees of blind. And all of us are in families where both parents work. It’s the only way to afford living in these areas where our kids will be alright, or whatever passes for that.

      For the people who ask, why aren’t people having more kids, they aren’t even from the same planet I’m from. I wanted to be a parent. I wanted to have kids with my partner. I can’t stand people who assert its a duty or an economic concern.

    3. Glen

      Our kids are gone, but among the younger people I work with that are just starting families, all you say is true. Too expensive. But even over ten years ago, I also knew some married couples who had decided bringing children into the world was the wrong thing to do.

    4. Dan

      This is a huge reason. I have 2 kids and I’m estimating about $1.2MM by the time they’re through college. Childcare thus far has been about $400k so I’m thinking my estimate might be low

    5. das monde

      So the traditional rich – the rich part being the husband – will have the as many kids as ever. So typical of primate hierarchies, isn’t it?

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        My goodness, sexist, aren’t we?

        In 16% of marriages, the woman is the primary earner, and in 29% they are about equal. https://www.pewresearch.org/social-trends/2023/04/13/in-a-growing-share-of-u-s-marriages-husbands-and-wives-earn-about-the-same/

        And as for rich, a friend was a top M&A professional on Wall Street, and way outearned her her pretty high earning husband. She also worked crazy hours. She was able to buy an 8 BR summer house on the Hudson with 40 acres and a horse barn at a pretty young age, on top of her Manhattan townhouse.

        I was a houseguest on one of her not frequent weekends off. She was extremely pregnant with her first.

        She had been on the phone with her mother in law and came back to report to her hubby and me on the conversation.

        The mother in law was grilling her as to why she was having a kid (a bit late for that now!). Her reply in her words:

        “Because it will cost more than a Chanel bag and all my friends will be jealous.”

        As far as I can tell, she was still a pretty attentive mother given the givens (and hired extremely good help) and I think her kids turned out OK by Manhattan hothouse standards.

    6. ambrit

      Sorry to hear that.
      We made a decision to remain basically poor for the initial years of our children’s lives. We lived in an exurb with few to no amenities. No cable, no organized ‘sports’ for the kids, homeschooled and no expectations of university for any of them. The antithesis of ‘helicopter’ parents.
      We only scraped through with the help of extended families. There is what I view as the major difference between today’s culture and that of two or three generations ago; the different makeup of the ‘standard’ family. The atomization of the family in the West has had the observed results: lower community cohesion, increased precarity due to excessive financial demands upon the wage earners, loss of intergenerational transmission of knowledge and “wisdom.”
      Today, the return of the “Extended Family” happens out of necessity. When a single wage earner can no longer support a family in decent circumstances, one needs must expand the family. Older members of the family relearn the tasks and obligations of caregivers and guardians of the young. “Modern” society is in the process of experiencing the collapse of the experiment in making the State the caregiver of the young.
      Love it or loathe it, an older form of social organization is reasserting itself.
      Stay safe and secure.

  26. SteveB

    It is a lot more fun practicing to have children. Than it is actually having children!!!!

    Practicing takes minutes or hours….. Having children is a 20 yr plus commitment…..

  27. chris

    Yes, cost. Cost that our neoliberal society has decided shouldn’t matter. Daycare, clothes, baby formula!, pediatric care, etc. They all cost so much money. And that’s IF your child is healthy. God help you if you got a bad spin on the genetic wheel of chance and now have a disabled child. Or a child with learning disbirthrate.

    Now you have a mountain to climb that our society doesn’t care about and even your close friends and loved ones will tire of dealing with. And good luck if you think the cause of the issue was environmental poisoning or epigenetic. No one cares. The lawsuits will be buried. You will lose time and fail to get help for your kids. And if you make it to school age with your child, expect to have the schools compete to figure out the minimum level of care they can provide without triggering a lawsuit. It is so bleak out there. I’m so sorry for the people who are trying to fight through this mess for their kids. Because we do not have an economy that supports living people. We have an economy that supports corporations as people. Until corporations start having kids, I don’t think the birth rate will pick up.

    And, since it hasn’t been said yet, there’s no reference to pregnant people in this discussion. There is no reference to chest feeding. There is no reference to making pregnancy wards more welcoming for masculine birthing people. If we can’t cut the BS and get back to what a woman is, and how babies are made, then what hope do we have to change this trend? Because IVF and artificial insemination cannot be applied at scale to reverse this problem. And why should women feel like its an additional burden they need to shoulder for our society if they can’t even be recognized as women? This isn’t anti-trans, it’s pro reality. Trans women aren’t giving birth. If we decide we have to cater to that crowd, then forget about increasing birthrates.

  28. eg

    I am increasingly persuaded that neoliberalism is so inimical to human flourishing as to act as an abortifacient.

  29. Hepativore

    One thing to consider, is that more people are taking an honest look at what having children really entails. In the past, having children was just “something you did” and people rarely considered the fact that it was a choice, particularly when the prophylactics that existed before the Pill were far from reliable.

    Now, more people are starting to look under the hood of being a parent and finding out that it is not all it is cracked up to be in many cases. On some level, it could be argued that reproduction relies on fooling us long enough to think that the personal sacrifice and risk to your health is worth creating a new individual that will often be a complete wildcard in terms of how they turn out to be despite your best efforts in being a parent.

    Perhaps it is a maladaptive trait of our species for many people to be able to critically-examine the true reality of reproduction and realize that the pros do not necessarily outweigh the cons as this degree of self-awareness is not conducive to reproduction as a whole from an evolutionary standpoint.

    However, evolution and biology are lousy sources of morality.

    1. Saffa

      Good point. Maybe the internet and our generation also peeking under the hood of global events more than any other before us did the same thing.

  30. anon

    Years ago I came upon a study that found that a major factor in how happy people were as parents was how much sleep they needed. People who needed a lot of sleep were miserable; people who could do without sleep were happy. That was the informational tipping point for me; I love sleep. I think it is also a reason why birth rates are going down now. A lot of people who have had covid are very tired all the time now. They just don’t have the energy to have kids; they may never have the energy to.

  31. Kalen

    Where babies have gone?

    Globalization destroyed future by promoting end of history I.e. stagnation. Hope for better future where babies lived was buried with unfulfilled promises of destroyed ideology of equality, equity and egalitarianism of caring and sharing (socialism) . As idea of community commons was eradicated inequality and concentrated global capital skyrocketed socioeconomic foundations of family collapsed.

    It takes not just mother and father to raise a child. It takes vibrant community. Where such communities still exist replacement rate is still over 2.

    In unequal stratified societies collapse of rich family births is not as common as polygamous informal relations dominate and one father fathers many children of different women while poor man fathers no one and in most cases have no stable economic foundations to create viable and lasting family unit.

    Globalization erased cultures that we were in fact specifically designed to match birth rates with ability to raise children. Immigration was devastating regarding issue of transplanted family to all countries of origin.

  32. Craig Dempsey

    I think Bob Dylan did a good job of summarizing our problem back in 1963 in Masters of War: “You’ve thrown the worst fear/That can ever be hurled/Fear to bring children/Into the world/For threatening my baby/Unborn and unnamed/You ain’t worth the blood/That runs in your veins.” A little later in the song he asks, “Is your money that good?”

    If you want a more up-to-date view, check out Jem Bendell’s 2023 book, Breaking Together, where he argues that societal collapse began sometime before 2016. The remaining question is whether the collapse of what he calls “Imperial Modernity” just takes down itself, or the whole human race.

  33. James P McFadden

    I thought it amusing that the WSJ title included “The Whole World Is Alarmed” — when in fact the panic is among the capitalist class. But perhaps for the WSJ, the capitalist class really is “The Whole World”.
    But for the rest of us, and our children, a declining population is a blessing — reducing the severity of ecosystem collapse — and as the article states, likely means reduced wealth inequality as wage earners gain the upper hand. This economic panic also explains why the ruling class is scrambling to cement in monopoly capitalism, a surveillance-security state to protect the wealth of the capitalist class, and a global military alliance of anglosphere to ensure continued wealth extraction from the third world.


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