This is the first in a series of posts about the demographics of the coming Age of Malthusian Industrialism.
In the decades and centuries to come, technological progress will slow to a crawl, as dysgenic reproduction patterns deplete the world’s remaining smart fractions (assuming that there are no abrupt discontinuities in humanity’s capacity for collective problem solving, such as genetic IQ augmentation or machine superintelligence). In the meantime, due to fertility preferences being heritable and ultra-competitive in a post-Malthusian world, populations will explode, as the world enters an epochal baby boom not long after 2100. This renewed demographic expansion will last until the world hits the carrying capacity of the late industrial economy, which will usher in the Age of Malthusian Industrialism.
Where Do Babies Come From?
First, we need to tackle a fundamental question: Why do people have children? In particular, why do some societies and countries have more babies than others?
We know the causes of the really big differences between First World societies and Third World societies. That is, the countries with 1-2 children per woman vs. 5-7 children per woman.
In preindustrial societies, children represent working hands on the farm. Children add to family wealth. Moreover, very high infant mortality means that there is a distinct risk that all or almost all of your progeny will die before reaching adulthood. Large families are a guarantee against this in a world with no pensions and scant social welfare. Traditionalist values, such as following God’s injunction to be fruitful and multiply, or honoring the spirits of your ancestors, are strong and pervasive cultural drivers of high fertility. More banally, sheep gut condoms aren’t too enjoyable.
In modern societies, children become a cost, not a benefit. You can’t send them into the fields or mines any longer. If you are the K-selected type, you need to hire them tutors, fund their extracurricular activities, etc. Flights become twice as expensive with a couple of kids in tow. Conversely, female education and family planning make it possible to control fertility, while expanded career opportunities and entertainment options delay reproduction. Fertility plummets, even in extremely religious and overtly misogynous places such as Saudi Arabia.
Why does the average French woman have almost 50% more babies than the average German? Why is the US still pretty virile, while South Korea – now the world’s lowest fertility major country – now produces fewer babies than Best Korea, despite a more than twofold preponderance in overall population?
There are many theories as to why that’s the case.
It so happens that most of them are not credible.
“Conservatism” is often cited – but Poland, which has Europe’s most draconian laws against abortion, also had Europe’s lowest fertility rate for a large chunk of the early 2010s. Extremely atheist Czechia, which has Europe’s highest number of porn stars per capita, does significantly better. In fairness, Ireland and far west Ukraine are very high, by European standards. But so is highly liberal (and irreligious) France, the UK, Iceland (0.0% of whose youth believe God created the world), the UK, and Scandinavia generally. Restrictions on female employment, if anything, seem to be correlated with reduced fertility – see low fertility Italy or Japan, which make life hard for married women, versus Scandinavia, where free childcare, generous parental leave, and high female labor participation coexist with high fertility rates. Birth rates out of wedlock – again, no discernible effect. In Iceland, the extreme case (70%), it was semi-accepted even before modernity. But its population has almost quadrupled in the past century, despite no significant immigration. Only France and Sweden had (marginally) higher TFRs as of 2016, except that in Iceland it’s actually the natives doing all the work.
Considering that even Nazi Germany failed to match peak Weimar fertility levels – an epoch synonymous with debauchery – it’s pretty evident that little short of hardcore White Sharia will make substantive difference to national fertility rates in the developed world. Targeted “maternal capital” programs such as the ones introduced in Russia, Japan, and more recently Hungary probably raise TFRs by 0.1-0.2 children (and possibly only in the short-term, as those people who were on the edge about whether or not to have a second or third child make a decision in the affirmative). Perhaps a similar boost can be accomplished by persistently advertising large families in a positive light.
However, it doesn’t seem like any of this will create anything but marginal effects (though this doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be implemented; even a 0.2 children per woman boost in fertility adds up, over a few decades). There doesn’t seem to be any policy that one can just “adopt” to triple the TFR and automatically become a superpower a century down the line.
Having ruled out the common responses, here’s an actual answer.
In the modern, post-traditionalist world, people broadly have about as many children as they say they want to have.
Source: Jens Alber et al. (2007) – Handbook of Quality of Life in the Enlarged European Union
As we can see from the table above, in the generation of women 40-64 years old in early 2000s Europe – that is, amongst women that have completed any childbearing they might do – the correlation between ideal and actualized fertility is r=0.63. Excluding Turkey, the correlation rises to r=0.76.
One common pattern we see is that in the younger generations, actualized fertility tends to lag desired fertility by approximately 0.5 children; since there has been no European baby boom since then, we can assume this gap has remained to the present day. One assumes this gap is due to both economic factors (the age of the postwar economic miracles is long over; many people don’t think they can afford more children, especially in the European peripheries), as well as cultural factors (e.g. more affordable entertainment options make bacherlorhood relatively more attractive, while more and more women seem to be under the impression that they can delay childbearing into their late 30s and 40s).
Still, in any one country, ideal and actualized fertility can’t remain too divergent forever. The fact that Russia’s post-Soviet fertility rate (1.1-1.3 children per woman) had long been out of whack with opinion polls about desired fertility (2.3-2.5 children per woman) was one reason why I predicted that Russian fertility would soon see substantial increases back in 2008. And I was correct, with Russian TFR peaking at 1.8 children per woman a couple of years ago (though it has since declined to 1.6).
Our Biorealistic Future
People have about as many children as they want (minus half of one) is a factual and correct answer to the question posed in the title of this post, but it’s still not all that satisfactory in that it doesn’t answer why ideal family sizes differ between First World countries.
My supposition, which will be expounded upon in the next post about the Age of Malthusian Industrialism, is that the core of these differences is now (though not a century ago, and barely so 50 years ago) genetically determined.
(This is not a new theory, even in the HBD blogosphere. For instance, JayMan suggested a Pioneer Hypothesis, in which colonization of new territories (e.g. the American West; Siberia) selected for traits that promoted faster breeding.)
Moreover, I have hypothesized in Our Biorealistic Future that as the world drops socialism and adopts best institutional practices, and as the importance of smart fractions increases even further, we should see further increases in the already formidable correlations between national IQ and GDP per capita.
Much the same effect will be in play with respect to demographics.
As global culture continues to homogenize – Tinder (easy hookups), Uber (easy transportation), low cost airlines (cheap holidays), Steam/Netflix (cheap solitary entertainment) are all pretty universal now – we can expect fertility patterns will correlate more and more closely with their underlying genetic determinants.