The Underpopulation Bomb

Kevin Kelly:

The shocking news is that the developing world is not far behind. This is not the stereotypical image. While developing countries are above replacement level, their birthrates are dropping fast. Much of Africa, South America, the Mid-East and Iran have fertility rates that are dropping fast. The drop in fertility in has recently stalled in some sub-Saharan African nations but that is because development there has stalled. When development resumes, fertility will drop again — because fertility rates are linked to urbanity. There is a deep feedback cycle: the more technologically developed a society becomes, the fewer offspring couples will have, the easier it is for them to raise their living standards, the more that progress lowers their desire for large families. The result is the spiral of modern technological population decline — a new but now universal pattern.

All that it would take to break this downward spiral is that many women living in cities all around the world decide to have more than 2 children in order to raise the average fertility level to 2.1 children. That means substantial numbers of couples would have to have 3 or 4 children in urban areas to make up for those with none or only one. It is possible it could become fashionable to have 4 kids in the city. The problem is that these larger families are not happening anywhere where the population has become urban, and urbanity is now the majority mode of the population and becoming moreso. Every developed country on the planet is experiencing falling birth rates. The one exception has been the US because of its heavy immigration, primarily because of catholic Hispanic immigrants, but even that is changing. The most recent report shows that the birth rates of hispanic immigrants in the US is dropping faster than ever. Soon the US will be on par with the rest of the world with plunging birth rates.

To counter this scary population implosion Japan, Russia, Australia pay bonuses for newborns. Singapore (with the lowest fertility rate in the world) will pay couples $5,000 for a first child and up to $18,000 for a third child — but to no avail; Singapore’s rate is less than 1 child per woman. In the past drastic remedies for reducing fertility rates were hard, but they worked. Drastic remedies for increasing fertility don’t seem to work so far.