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Fertility And Humanity’s Failure

Total Fertility Rate for most countries has fallen below replacement rate. Why don't we want to live?
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Check out this chart. Pay attention to the column on the far right of each block, the one that says “TFR fcast”. That is the Total Fertility Rate forecast for each country. TFR is the average number of children a woman will have if she survives her childbearing years. Obviously no one has 1.5 children; the number is an average of an entire national population. For a nation’s population to hold steady, its TFR has to be 2.1 (the one-tenth of one percent is needed to account for untimely deaths). Anything below that means that a nation’s population is shrinking.

With that it mind, take a look:


These are the only nations on the list that are not shrinking: Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Egypt, and Israel. Keep in mind that sub-Saharan African nations are not on the list. Sub-Saharan African TFR is declining rapidly too, but started so high that at its current rate of 4.6, it is still far, far ahead of the rest of the world.

China is not on this list either, though its TFR is utterly catastrophic. Gordon Chang wrote about it earlier this year. Excerpt:

China this century is on track to experience history’s most dramatic demographic collapse in the absence of war or disease.

Today, the country has a population more than four times larger than America’s. By 2100, the U.S. will probably have more people than China.

India is not on the list above, but just last week, it was announced that India has fallen below population replacement for the first time ever. 

Notice on the right-hand block the jaw-dropping rates for Asian countries. Demographers consider a country that has fallen below 1.8 TFR to be in a death spiral, as we have no record of a country recovering below that threshold. Does this mean that South Korea (TFR: .82) will cease to exist? No. But it does mean that the country will be a far, far different place in the future than it is today.

The standard liberal response to this is: Good! The planet needs fewer people. And lower population means that women are more free to chart the course for their own lives. 

It might well be the case that fewer people will be better for Nature, and it is undeniable that childless women have more opportunities for self-expression and mobility.

But few people think of the down sides of depopulation. In 2100, reports Joel Kotkin, in Germany, today Europe’s economic powerhouse, the elderly will outnumber children by four to one. Similar scenarios are going to play out in every country with low TFR. Who will pay the taxes necessary to support the elderly, especially their health care needs? How will the taxed-to-death productive young people have enough money to form and support their own families, if they are having to hand over so much to support the non-productive elderly? Who will do the work in societies of the future? Technology will probably take over many jobs that require people today, but still, think about production: with fewer people around to buy things, where will the demand for products come from?

These are the material and economic aspects of depopulation. Who can foresee the spiritual and psychological consequences of growing up and living in dying societies? Ever read P.D. James’s dystopic novel The Children Of Men? You should (avoid the movie).

Religion will be far more important in this dystopia. As Eric Kaufmann and others have documented, conservative religious believers generally have higher fertility rates. I am thinking now of the famous “prophecy” that Father Joseph Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict XVI, made in 1969. Here is the conclusion:

Let us go a step farther. From the crisis of today the Church of tomorrow will emerge — a Church that has lost much. She will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning. She will no longer be able to inhabit many of the edifices she built in prosperity. As the number of her adherents diminishes, so it will lose many of her social privileges. In contrast to an earlier age, it will be seen much more as a voluntary society, entered only by free decision. As a small society, it will make much bigger demands on the initiative of her individual members. Undoubtedly it will discover new forms of ministry and will ordain to the priesthood approved Christians who pursue some profession. In many smaller congregations or in self-contained social groups, pastoral care will normally be provided in this fashion. Along-side this, the full-time ministry of the priesthood will be indispensable as formerly. But in all of the changes at which one might guess, the Church will find her essence afresh and with full conviction in that which was always at her center: faith in the triune God, in Jesus Christ, the Son of God made man, in the presence of the Spirit until the end of the world. In faith and prayer she will again recognize the sacraments as the worship of God and not as a subject for liturgical scholarship.

The Church will be a more spiritual Church, not presuming upon a political mandate, flirting as little with the Left as with the Right. It will be hard going for the Church, for the process of crystallization and clarification will cost her much valuable energy. It will make her poor and cause her to become the Church of the meek. The process will be all the more arduous, for sectarian narrow-mindedness as well as pompous self-will will have to be shed. One may predict that all of this will take time. The process will be long and wearisome as was the road from the false progressivism on the eve of the French Revolution — when a bishop might be thought smart if he made fun of dogmas and even insinuated that the existence of God was by no means certain — to the renewal of the nineteenth century. But when the trial of this sifting is past, a great power will flow from a more spiritualized and simplified Church. Men in a totally planned world will find themselves unspeakably lonely. If they have completely lost sight of God, they will feel the whole horror of their poverty. Then they will discover the little flock of believers as something wholly new. They will discover it as a hope that is meant for them, an answer for which they have always been searching in secret. [Emphasis mine — RD]

And so it seems certain to me that the Church is facing very hard times. The real crisis has scarcely begun. We will have to count on terrific upheavals. But I am equally certain about what will remain at the end: not the Church of the political cult, which is dead already, but the Church of faith. It may well no longer be the dominant social power to the extent that she was until recently; but it will enjoy a fresh blossoming and be seen as man’s home, where he will find life and hope beyond death.

We who hold on to the faith — and who have embraced a form of the faith that is resilient in the face of these powerful anti-natalist, anti-family, anti-religious forces — will be lighthouses to people who feel the whole horror of their poverty in this childless, dying world. That is my hope, anyway. We should be very aware that the spread of this insane, suicidal cult of gender fluidity will further damage the ability of our population to bear children.

There are a variety of explanations for why population is dropping. Most experts seem to agree that when female education and emancipation from male dominance occurs, TFR drops. It has been pointed out too that societies that make it more expensive for young people to form families will see fewer families form. I can imagine that, but how do you explain Europe, whose social welfare states have made it much easier for people to support families, still having among the world’s lowest TFRs?

Anecdotally, I find that when talking to non-religious Millennials and Gen Z’ers, many simply don’t have marriage and family on their minds, except as something they might do in the far future. I have noticed that they can be totally unrealistic about biology and fertility (“I have lots of time left to have children,” an unmarried 28-year-old told me), but more than that, many of them just don’t want to have families.

Last year, I wrote this blog post in which I quoted a Gen Z student at length about what he was seeing. Unfortunately his post has disappeared, but I will quote him in mine:

The Flaming Eyeball (henceforth TFE) has a lengthy response. This is from the first part:

I write this essay as a Zoomer university student. In many ways, I am one of the most successful of my generation. I got a near-perfect SAT score, and earned a BS in a STEM degree from a major university in only 3 years. Although I am not an incel, I have had to give a lot of thought to the question of my generation’s sexuality in the past several years, because a large fraction of the guys I have met in high school and college seldom or never went on dates, had sex, or had girlfriends. Many of them still hung out with girls, but a lot of them never connected romantically or sexually. All of it seemed very ominous to me: if one guy can’t get laid, people can write him off as a loser, but if a large percentage of young men are sexually frustrated to the extent that they rarely get any attention from women, there is something very odd going on. So I found myself forced to theorize about what exactly has befallen us, and what are the roots and implications of mass sexlessness in America.

Why, overall, do men and women desire one another less?

What follows is a long, heavily linked analysis in which TFE talks about the effects of being acculturated by social media, the large, measurable decline in testosterone, neuroticism, learned helplessness, and the collapse of religion. I find the last one the most interesting, because it’s in my wheelhouse. TFE discusses how his generation is filling the God-shaped hole in their souls with politics — but it’s not a positive politics, but rather a politics of negation. They are fanatically against what they hate, not in favor of what they love. And because they are hysterically intolerant, few who disagree will say anything about it, because as socially isolated as they already are, they don’t want to get even moreso by outing themselves as thought criminals.

I hope you’ll read the whole thing, and weight TFE’s argument. He concludes:

To sum this up, the relationship problems of my generation illustrate two far greater trends, which will intertwine and play out in various ways over the course of the next few decades. The first, which played out in the Mouse Utopia, is that Generation Z on balance is the weakest generation, having been raised by a micromanaging and decadent society to be soft and utterly dependent on the system. The second is that they are thoroughly spiritually bankrupt, atomized, and lonely, leading to corresponding longings, confusion, and rage which will at minimum unbalance the system. Rod Dreher is one of the few mainstream thinkers to ever touch on these issues, and for this is met with consistent mockery and denial by his commenters that these constitute problems at all. I have witnessed, in both statistics and personal experience, the widespread destructive trends of poor mental and physical health, inability to socialize or pair-bond, and loss of faith and spiritual values. They are very real, and they have caused and will continue to cause such tremendous suffering and destruction that unchecked, they threaten the US’s ability to continue as a nation.

… I hope you’ll consider his argument seriously. It seemed plausible to me, but I am a Gen Xer who has little interaction with Gen Z. What I thought about when I finished it is how I felt when I finished archaeologist Bryan Ward-Perkins’s 2005 book The Fall Of Rome. In it, Ward-Perkins, who teaches at Oxford, discusses the material collapse of Roman civilization when the state fell. He documents that the knowledge of how to do basic things required for the continuation of civilization disappeared; some of these things (like, say, how to build a roof) did not return for centuries. The things Ward-Perkins talks about are skills you wouldn’t think people would forget. But that’s not how it works, shockingly. I think it’s entirely possible that we are losing the skills for how to reproduce. I’m not talking about “how to have sex,” but I’m talking about the human skills needed to form families and perform the basic task of every human generation: produce the next one.

So, Gen Z readers: Is TFE’s post an accurate description of life as you know it among your generation? I put the question to my son Matt, who is a 21-year-old college student. He responded skeptically:

I fail to understand why these people have to blame some amorphous evil Marxist soyboy ray for all this when the explanation is simple: most peoples’ lives consist of being plugged into a screen, driving, and sleeping. Like my roommate last year — desperately trying to work out why no girls are interested in him when he has no life outside his computer. This is what it means to be alienated from the world by the horrible suburbanized existence we’ve made for ourselves. Amateur endocrinology doesn’t enter into it. We could all be chiseled muscle hunks and just as miserable as we were before.

Hmm. I think that he and TFE are actually closer than he realizes.

Wait, I just found TFE’s original post archived elsewhere, so you can read the whole thing. 

Between climate change and mass depopulation, the twenty-first century may turn out to be as eventful (and not in a good way) as the calamitous fourteenth century was for Europe. The future belongs to those who show up for it. Find a religious congregation that believes children are a blessing from God, and commit yourself to it. Build a Benedict Option. Pray. Be fruitful and multiply.

UPDATE: Here’s a really interesting podcast in which Benjamin Boyce interviews two self-described “reactionary feminists,” Mary Harrington and Alex Kaschuta. The whole thing is great, but if you can go to the 9:00 mark, you will hear Mary — who is on the political Left — talk about how having a baby destroyed her belief in liberalism, which valorizes individual autonomy and freedom. She believes that contemporary feminism is bad for women, and only actually helps economic elites. Mary will join Kale Zelden and me for our next podcast, by the way. Mary says in this podcast that evolutionarily speaking, if you don’t care for the next generation, you die. I will ask her tomorrow if the global birth dearth is a death wish, and what classical liberalism and modernity have to do with it.