"Be fruitful and multiply" – or else?
Why are birth rates plummeting all over the world?
Something very unusual is happening that is not being discussed very much. Global birth rates are plummeting. I even did a documentary about it, focusing on Germany and Italy, with interviews from a few years ago, pre-Covid. The problem became much worse since then, of course.
People are just not having many children anymore. In most European countries, the fertility rate is about 1.5 child per woman, and in some countries it’s around 1.3. In Italy it’s 1.24 and going down. In Japan it is also about that low, between 1.3 and 1.2, and the Japanese Prime Minister recently sounded the alarm about the problem. He said the country might cease functioning if things go on like that.
South Korea’s situation is even worse, an appalling 0.79. Russia has a TFR of 1.5, the U.S. 1.6, not a lot better. But even China is having trouble, and right now they also have sub-replacement levels. (A TFR has to be higher than 2 just to keep the same population.)
It’s not just the developed world. It’s happening in South America too (Brazil’s rate is 1.8), as well as in most of the Arab/Muslim world. The only exceptions are Israel (well, the Haredim there), then a few, still more rural regions of India (but India’s total average is 2), and subsaharan Africa, which still have higher rates, at least for now. But the rates will probably or hopefully get lower there too, as those countries urbanize more.
What is going on?
There is no single answer. Many factors seem to be the cause, including, as mentioned, urbanization (the more people live in cities, the less children they have), education (the more educated women are, the less children they have), leaving marriage and children until later (when the fertility is lower), economic/time issues (if both partners have to work, there is less time to take care of too many children), feminism and abortion (no need to explain that one), destruction of the family (lots of policies towards that end lately), loss of religious faith (religious people tend to have more children), massive immigration (it helps to lower the native birth rate), and a culture more based on individualism than on social bonds (although that is more true of Western countries than Asian ones, but both have a birthrate problem), and also some biological issues (processed foods and chemicals in the air/water reducing our “precious bodily fluids” — yes, that was a classic conspiracy theory, but it seems to be at least partially true now.
So, what is to be done?
Many so-called experts, not to mention the billionaires at Davos, keep complaining about the evils of overpopulation and “climate change”, so it would seem that less people would be a good thing. On the other hand, these same people keep pushing for more and more immigration, so it’s a bit confusing.
The main problem seems to be that average population is getting older, and someone needs to pay for the pensions and the health care of old people. If you have more old people than young people in a country, it can be a big problem. (In South Korea, some abandoned old people have to survive by rummaging through trash cans, because neither their families nor the state takes care of them).
However, this seems to be a type of Ponzi scheme that will one day crash. You see this happening in Canada. Because the number of older people has increased, the government has also increased the number of immigrants they are receiving, with a target of half a million new immigrants every year now. I suppose they will have to increase it to a million every year at some point. But then someone will have to pay for their retirement and healthcare, and so on.
From my point of view, low birth rates s a problem, but population replacement by foreigners is an even worse problem that will lead to potential conflicts later on. I can understand why a closed, insular nation like Japan prefers not to chose the road of immigration as a “solution”. It doesn’t really solve anything, and in some cases it makes things worse. Japan works because it’s Japanese. But I can’t see it functioning as a multicultural nation, like the nations in the West.
But what’s the solution then? Paying couples to have more children isn’t working either. Several countries, from Russia to Japan, have tried it, and the results are not very satisfactory. It seems that not everything is about money. (That makes sense, because in fact poor people tend to have more children than middle-class and richer people, at least in the modern world.)
I suppose shutting down education for women, as the Taliban are doing in Afghanistan, is another possible “solution”, but I don’t see it happening in the Western world. Europe had the first women in universities already in the Middle Ages, even if most of them did not attend.
You can’t force people to become more religious either, it has to be organic.
I think the most likely possibility is that at some point there will be some kind of catastrophe — a new world war, global economic depression, hunger, or maybe a new pandemic, only a real one this time — after which the current globalized world order will collapse, and then there will be a rebirth, and people will start having children again. Like when people started having children again after the Black Death, or after World War II. But yeah, that doesn’t sound so cheerful…
So perhaps there is another way?