Why are so many adults in rich countries refusing to have kids?
I don't have the answer, but I plan to keep coming back to the question. The sudden demographic collapse of advanced societies is the defining issue of our time.
(First in an occasional series.)
Humanity has never had it better.
Especially the couple of billion lucky folks who live in the United States and Canada, Western Europe, and East Asia (including, now, much of China).
The details of the miracle that is modern life are worth repeating, since they are the water we swim in and easy to forget.
Deaths in childbirth and childhood are nearly nonexistent. People live longer than ever and can expect to be (physically) healthy into their seventies, not stooped by hard farm, industrial, or household labor. War and conscription have largely ended. In Europe and East Asia, all deaths of violence are stunningly rare.
Formerly unthinkable material luxuries are not merely common but expected. Inexpensive, nutritious food is available everywhere. After facing the prospect of famine for all of human existence, we suddenly must deal with obesity.
(And don’t forget Unreported Truths among the joys of modern life. Yours, for 20 cents a day!)
Cars and airplanes have made movement easy. Once exhausting and risky, travel is now so cheap the biggest problem is the crowds it creates - of tourists and migrants.
Free schooling through adolescence has turned literacy from a luxury of the rich into a basic right. More recently information technology has opened the deepest banks of knowledge to anyone with an Internet connection, which is everyone.
In the face of this unprecedented bounty of knowledge, health, and abundance, more and more humans have responded by —
Refusing our most basic biological drive and failing to have children.
This depressing reality hit me again recently, after the wedding of a couple I know. Husband and wife are in their early thirties, stable, employed, apparently happy and in love - and insisting they will not have children.
Of course, they could change their minds. But they have been together for several years and have always agreed they want to be childless. I find that choice even more depressing and confounding than people who are childless because they cannot find a partner. These are heterosexuals who have decided to pair for life (theoretically, anyway), yet they do not believe having children is their natural next step.
They are far from alone.
The “replacement rate” - the number of children a woman must have on average to keep population stable - is about 2.1. Birthrates have been below that level in many wealthy countries for decades.
(With 23 million people, Taiwan will have about 130,000 babies this year - not even half as many as it needs to keep its population steady. The country is erasing itself.)
You are probably aware of the baby bust. But you may not know how bad it has gotten. Since Covid, birth rates have fallen off a cliff.
Women in Asian countries like South Korea and Taiwan are now expected to have fewer than 1 child on average. Men do not have children (despite what the LGBTQIABCDEFGH+-* crew sometimes pretend), so you don’t need a degree in statistics to figure out that birthrate translates into demographic catastrophe.
Fertility disruption from mRNA Covid jabs may be contributing, but it is not the primary factor. The baby bust is occurring in countries that did not use the shots, too.
This choice represents individual tragedy and societal failure on an unprecedented scale.
(Hey, I’m looking at you. Yes, you!)
The American left pretends the baby bust is economically driven, blaming a lack of subsidized child care for young kids and the overall expense of raising children in the United States. As one feminist author said in September:
I had really been talking about a lot of these issues like paid leave, lack of childcare, and how they affected parents, primarily in the United States… People are not having their ideal number of children, even when they become parents, because they just can't make it work.
The only problem with this theory is that births are lower across Europe and Asia than the United States. And Northern European countries, which have much less income inequality than the United States, as well as the parental leave policies, heavily subsidized childcare, and national health insurance that the left demands, have seen some of the biggest recent declines.
No, whatever is happening cannot reasonably be viewed as economically driven. It is a cultural trend. And it is phenomenally powerful, because it is happening all over the world, across ethnicities, in countries and societies that are otherwise vastly different.
And it is overcoming basic human biology.
So what is it?
I don’t know if that question has an obvious answer, but I intend to explore it in the months to come. And I hope you will contribute your own views on the subject in the comments.
I’m not exaggerating when I write that nothing less than the future of humanity is at stake.