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Women and the slowing global population (unimelb.edu.au)
38 points by anotherevan 5 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 93 comments

> Although fertility has stabilised at levels above two children per woman in some countries, in the countries of Central Asia, the fertility rate (which had been close to two) has risen to around three children per woman. This is linked to the fact that many women there are having the number of children they want to have.

That last fact is interesting. The average ideal family size reported by adults in the US is 2.7, with 40% believing that three or more is ideal: https://news.gallup.com/poll/236696/americans-theory-think-l.... The birth rate is quite a bit below that. In countries like Spain or Germany where the birth rate is below 1.5, the ideal number of children is 2.2+.

My pet theory is that humans are poorly adapted to modern life. More specifically, there is something about the information environment that scrambles whatever mechanism we have for determining if we are doing well enough to bring more children into the world. I mean, it has to be that, since objectively speaking families in the developed world are able to provide for children at a level higher than anywhere else in the world, both past and present, yet we are having less children than we want.

> families in the developed world are able to provide for children at a level higher than anywhere else in the world, both past and present, yet we are having less children than we want.

Answer in 3 words: Real estate prices.

If you're a couple in the developed world you probably want to give your kids living standards to match. Fat chance doing that unless you and your partner aren't high earners

Among other things. Ability to "provide for children" seems highly subjective, according to our surrounding conditions.

Having 2 goats in a town with no goats = able to provide.

Having a McMansion in a town with bigger McMansions = worried about ability to provide.

Depends if you took out a mortgage for the goats.

That's far from the only reason. Lives were very different 100 years ago, women stayed at home, kids were raised without any high expectation, just running around, doing errands and luckier going to school. How would modern urban family manage to raise 10 kids?

Young people usually jump quickly into parenthood, then are overwhelmed by the continuous drain that you can't escape from. Women are exhausted long after giving birth. How do you want to drive around with >3 kids? Organize their activities? And actually have a full-time job that pays it all?

Even if property/rental prices would be good for many-bedroom places (they usually aren't), the rest is quite an effective blocker for most.

It's not just real estate prices. It's also that grown-ups basically continue to be children; they want to just play with more expensive toys. Or chase after other things like careers. Some people still don't have children, though well past the point of being able to afford them.

That ain’t it. Until you get to the 1%, families who make more money have less kids. This holds true even if you cut upper middle class incomes in half (to simulate stay at home mom) and compare to lower class.

As a guy living in Eastern Europe: definitely not the case around here.

It's just that life is way too uncertain and everybody is fighting for scraps. Many couples either decide they don't want to bring a child in such uncertain conditions -- like me and my wife -- or they risk it and end up providing very subpar support for their kids. You should see two parents crying and hugging each other and their kid in front of a store because they cannot afford to buy it a $50 LEGO set... It can break your heart and give you a new perspective on the perceived notion of "the world, globally speaking, gets better".

We the people adapt quite well to basically everything, I'd say. But the developed world you speak of is basically the smaller part of the civilized territory on the planet. Go ask people in Nepal, my country Bulgaria, or Hungaria, or Serbia, or Brazil about the average living standard and what miracles many parents achieve just so their kids get decent education, are well-fed and have some small entertainment budget on top of that.

I mean we are most certainly both correct for the respective filter bubbles we are living in. But I still wanted to offer you another perspective.

The lego set example strikes me as odd, because lego is optional and I grew without such toys bc parents could not buy them. I am well off as parent, but 50$ toys are something that I don't buy. And I am no rare, it is just normal not to buy expensive toys. No matter how rich you are, the kid is going to cry at some point or the other due to inability to buy toy.

Where it gets bad is when you can't buy something all the other kids have. I understand that there is such a thing as poverty and it sux, but 50$ lego set is not that example.

It is when you can't afford schools supply and such.

I agree it wasn't the best example. I was aiming at something that you would buy your kid twice a year... and even though that expense is pretty rare, the parents still don't have the money.

I failed to convey the message. Sorry.

My overall point is there are quite a bit of things the kids need outside of immediate survival. For example, between ages 1 and 10 you basically have to buy them new shoes twice a year... And not having the money for that would suck a lot.

> Many couples either decide they don't want to bring a child in such uncertain conditions -- like me and my wife -- or they risk it and end up providing very subpar support for their kids.

What I'm saying is that "subpar" is not an absolute measure. Its meaning is constantly being revised according to what other people are doing. Is life in Eastern Europe today, in 2018, worse than it was 100 years ago (well, not exactly 100 years ago, since that was around WWI, but you get the idea)? And yet the birth rates are way lower. So clearly our conception about whether having children is viable is being scrambled by something in the modern environment. My hunch is that it's constant exposure to media and, with it, the constant sense that we are doing poorly (because the media primarily portrays fantasy lifestyles).

Your questions are valid but I cannot agree with their premise. Yeah, life in Eastern Europe is very definitely much better compared to, say, 1900, but it's not that simple; back then they didn't have 10 bills to pay a month nor did they have to do grocery shopping. People lived on the farm and produced food and whatever they didn't have, they bartered their extra goods for it. Pretty simple and overall easy life (although working on the farm can be quite exhausting and consume 16+ hours a day sometimes). All balanced out with bad healthcare for example: chances were much higher you could die of a disease that's trivial to cure today.

I mean, it's apples to oranges. Many things are objectively better... and many others are objectively worse.

There's nothing scrambling our concept about whether we should have children. As several people in this discussion pointed out, having children was linked to benefits down the line back in the past, and nowadays they are mostly only a cost center. And finally, whether we compare 2018 with 1900 or not, life in many places of the world is hard and many people don't want to raise a child in very uncertain conditions. You don't care if 1900 was worse; you only suffer because you cannot buy your kid a toy -- or even their favourite food.

Comparing to the past in such a situation is quite pointless.

Our concept of whether having children is viable also carries a lot more weight, since contraception is now available and effective.

You can think it's a terrible idea, but when the only way to prevent it is abstinence...

> Our concept of whether having children is viable also carries a lot more weight

I'm in total agreement. The plummeting birth rates speak to that. I'm taking a biological viewpoint. If a biologist were examining human natural history, the single most peculiar feature would be how birth rates became disconnected from material wealth in the last 100 years.

It is very much connected. Many people don't have the necessary stability to raise kids, so they don't. And no small amount of rich people don't want kids because they don't want to dedicate that much attention to something else but themselves -- egotism is not illegal after all. But I think this second example amounts to much smaller contribution to the birth rate decline.

Conventional Explanations of Changes in Fertility:

Mortality decline has meant that most children survive, so that families do not need to have large numbers of children to ensure one or two survivors. In addition, in modern, urban, industrial society, children have turned from being an asset to constituting a financial liability. Children cost more to raise and support in cities, child labour is not acceptable, and public education is common and required. As a result, the period that children need to be supported before becoming independent is long, resulting in high costs for families. As incomes improved, many families began to emphasize quality over quantity


IMO that's all bullshit. There are plenty of immigrants and highly religious people who have large families in the developed world.

> yet we are having less children than we want.

How so?

Evolution has not programmed into us any sort of drive for careful family planning to optimized the number of offspring. We simply have a drive to have sex. For the vast majority of human (pre)history, optimization of offspring number occurred the same way as with all sexually reproducing species: natural miscarriage and child mortality.

Now that we have control of our own fertility, there's still nothing that drives us to especially want to raise a somehow evolutionarily optimal number of offspring. As with almost any other human behavior it's up to societal values and norms and individual preferences.

Humans have been able to calculate the present value of children for a long time now. One could easily see the value of extra hands in a farming society, and even now if you can raise a few high earners then you have some backup if/when your retirement doesn't pan out or you need medical assistance and company when you're old.

Personally, I would optimize at 3-5 kids (depending on age of mother), assuming 1 or 2 of them don't turn out to be economically productive for whatever reason. And they also have each other as a support network. I would go for at least 2 kids since economies of scale start working for you and you can reuse all the stuff for first for subsequent ones. One child seems suboptimal as it seems like putting all your eggs in one basket.

Sure. A big cause of the recent population explosion has been reduction of child mortality due to modern medicine, while the number of births lagged behind. In a traditional agrarian society it made some amount of sense to have eight live births, as maybe three or four of those would survive to adulthood. But due to lack of contraception there's not much planning involved in that. A woman would just be continuously either pregnant or nursing. And of course there was a 5% or so chance per birth for the mother to die, which adds up!

> We simply have a drive to have sex.

People want kids, not just sex. Among the 14% of Americans over 45 who never had children, 47% would have preferred to have two or more children, and only 44% would have preferred to not have had children. Among the 86% of adults over 45 who do have children, just 7% would have preferred not to have children. Put differently 12% either didn't have kids and are happy with it, or had kids and regret it. 85% are either happy they had kids, or regret not having them.

People want to have a certain number of kids. It may be aspirational--like the weight they want to be or how often they want to go to the gym--but it's a real desire, quite independent of sex.

Yes, I oversimplified. But see my reply to a sibling post.

> We simply have a drive to have sex.

What? Take even a cursory glance at any IVF, PCOS, or infertility support group, and observe the outpouring of fundamental NEED and the grief of unfulfilling that need. Humans absolutely have a drive to have children, not simply sex.

Sure, there are some people who lack this desire. Usually men, sometimes women, almost always young. The childfree movement (of which I was once a part) definitely epitomizes this. The proportion of people who don't care for kids does appear to be slowly rising, but make no mistake, they are still very much a minority. Humans, almost universally, want children.

Granted, I oversimplified. On the other hand it’s not even exactly clear as to when early humans figured out the causation between sex and pregnancy. But my point was more about an evolutionary drive for not having children when resources are scarce. That’s group selection, something whose mere existence is rather controversial. On the other hand, kin selection has probably played a part in prehistoric human communities, so I guess it’s complicated.

No, deciding not to have children when resources are scarce is not group selection. Parents have limited resources to invest in offspring. Yet offspring need a certain minimum amount of resources to be viable. If parents are not in a position to provide that level of resources, it is better for their own genes that they wait until resources are more plentiful, otherwise they risk wasting resources on an unviable child.

> The childfree movement (of which I was once a part)

Glad to have you back from the dark side! I jest, but what changed your mind and/or how do you feel about things now?

What changed my mind was holding my (unplanned) daughter in my arms for the first time. I've posted a little about this before:


Children are a hell of a thing. We have three and will start working on a fourth soon (and hopefully continue beyond that).

> Evolution has not programmed into us any sort of drive for careful family planning to optimized the number of offspring.

Except it has, and does on a number of other species too. It is well explained in Harari's Sapiens.

I think it's the contrast between what people want for themselves and what brings status. Maintaining status while raising kids--and having status for the kid you're raising, like sports teams or good schools--is expensive. Status is how society signals you should do something, so it's a strong incentive.

The situation, at least in NYC where I live, seems reversed for the very rich, where more kids is a clear signal that you have a lot of money and yet spare time for your kids.

Fertility by socio-economic status is a U shaped curve. The poor and very wealthy (top 1%, basically) have the same number of kids. Middle to upper-middle class people have significantly fewer.

In generational terms, birth control and safe abortion are less than three generations old even in the first world and there are still places they have not penetrated. I expect that if the world as it is today in that sense froze, that eventually we'd evolve out "people who were willing to use birth control".

But that would take several generations even so, and the world is not going to stay as it is for the requisite "several generations".

In the meantime, we are certainly not adapted for those things, though I think many if not most people reading this would not particularly care for what "adapted for those things" actually looks like, since it pretty obviously amounts to "not using those things" over the long term.

> My pet theory is that humans are poorly adapted to modern life

Or modern life is not adapted to humans

I am actually in full agreement with you. It is my personal opinion that any way of life and/or system of belief that wants to survive into the future needs to start thinking about partial technological renunciation. Key word being partial, since you can't run a modern nation state with the Amish way of life.

From what I've read (mostly here), Amish still use some tech. But I agree with you on renouncing some tech might be necessary to survive.

For me the ideal is 3 kids, but I don't want to raise 3 kids.

Even though responsibility is what gives life meaning. I feel like many men are 'checking out' of society's responsibilities (which need not be related to raising children) for a number of factors.

Responsibility for the sake of responsibility is not going to suffice for most people. Why take on more responsibility than you need to? For example, having kids was a direct advantage in earlier times. More hands on the farm, or more muscle for your clan, or other advantages like receiving dowry. This is also why some cultures preferred one sex or the other.

Today, what do you get by raising a kid that you then have to support for an extended period of time, maybe until he/she is in his/her mid-twenties? If there's nothing to be gained there's no surprise more people are opting to delay it, sometimes to the point of no return.

"The higher degree of responsibility you voluntarily choose to bear, the richer your life will become. ...You have a complicated job, you try to solve problems, to aid suffering, and there's weight to that. There's deep meaning in that." https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sg7NhHJsGq0

You might be shocked to learn that many people do not consider Jordan Peterson an authority on philosophical questions like what the good life consists of.

Also, minor etiquette point, many of us block YouTube, so for people like us, providing a link that forces us to open a separate browser that doesn’t block YouTube so that we can figure out who you’re quoting isn’t the ideal way to convey your point.

Beautiful example of an ad hominem! I'd love to discuss what you disagree with in Peterson's view on responsibility.

Someone disagreed with the notion that responsibility is intrinsically useful.

In response, you posted an opaque quote from some random person without any relevance to any moral framework I’m culturally connected to who thinks responsibility is awesome in and of itself.

I don’t know or care about Jordan Peterson, so I don’t think I’ve made an ad hominem; rather, I think you’re attempting to make an argument from authority, which isn’t very convincing.

I’d feel similarly about a biblical argument, except in the case of the bible, I’d at least acknowledge that while I don’t consider it a moral authority, it has significant cultural heft and is thus worth wrestling with occasionally.

I personally am happy to have most of the responsibilities I’ve gathered in my life, with child rearing high on that list. But I don’t resonate with the idea that it’s the responsibility itself that gives meaning to my life.

> Even though responsibility is what gives life meaning.

This is only true until a certain point is reached and it plateaus and even declines after.

Personal character development -- gaining more courage, finding strength within oneself in the face of extreme adversity (example: "pay mortgage installment in the next 2 weeks or end up on the street"), managing to stay optimistic even when everything seems to go wrong, getting outside your comfort zone to find unconventional solutions to immediate problems, learning to sell yourself without humiliating yourself... all of these things are extremely valuable and end up making you a beautiful person who can handle a lot.

But this piques. From one point and on you just collapse and if you haven't invented some sort of a safety net for yourself a this point in your life, then what follows can only be described as a band of vandals kicking you and beating you up while you are down on the ground and are desperately trying to defend yourself.

Everybody has a breaking point. I found several of mine. Now I can handle almost anything life throws at me and I like myself MUCH more compared to even 2-3 short years ago. You learn your lessons and you don't make the same mistakes anymore. But if you don't get some stroke of luck or drastically change the way you make money and move to a higher economical class, then it's only gonna go downhill for you from then on.

The question arises, "ideal" for what?

Different people have different goals. Status symbol, experience of raising children, support network for old age. There are even a few cults in the US (and worldwide) that basically pump out as many kids as possible to take over all the local resources and stack elected positions with members of their own tribe.

To keep a constant population or you end up with a bubble. What people also don't realize until they think about it is that you want a higher rate as that means higher probability that there will be people funding your social security when you are older. That requires 2.2 in the USA and rates like 1.5 mean a bubble of older people and not enough paying in.

That particular study isn't talking about mathematical optimization, but the number of kids that individuals subjectively think is "best".


A few weeks ago I heard the population would peak at about 10billion and that women would get two children if they knew the children don't die early.

Posting from a throwaway account for privacy on this one.

For me personally it's never seemed worth it, even though I am well off and healthy. I've never been with a man I trusted enough to feel safe with, like he could protect me or take care of me while I was in the vulnerable state of pregnancy / early motherhood. Partly this is emotional and not rational, I'm capable of taking of myself. The men, on the other hand, have all had chronic depression.

I told each of them fairly early on in each relationship that I did not want to have children, but I never told them why. It's a harsh thing to say, right? "I don't want to have your children because you have depression and so it'd be worse than raising kids alone."

But I would rather never have children than try to raise them with someone who can't get themselves to work on a regular basis. My partner right now already needs so much from me, if we had children there'd be nothing left of my life.

He is a brilliant, loving person, but if it weren't for birth control I'd never risk a relationship at all with someone like him.

All this exposition is for my point: which is that even if you have food and shelter, there's reasons to not be willing to bear the responsibility of a(n additional) child.

You have a lot of respect from me and all men who appreciate honesty! There's a lot of us out there, trust me -- and we are able to handle ourselves and aging parents quite adequately as well.

I was also very open with my wife when we sat and discussed whether we should live together (4-5 months into a very successful and passionate relationship where absolutely nothing was ever wrong -- that was 4 years ago). I told her in very plain terms that since she is yet to invent herself -- she is still very young -- and since only I provide the money, then I am not willing to increase the stress and responsibilities on myself just because. I was very upfront and told her outright that if her plans include kids then we should just remain casual passtionate lovers and not seek a deeper relationship.

She agreed with me on the no-kids policy -- and we started living together -- because she feels that where we live (Eastern Europe) life is way too hard and economically unstable to bring a kid into. She is quite a bit younger than myself but already suffered a lot and our relationship naturally evolved into this sacred island where we both find comfort, love, passion, friendship and time for ourselves. We feel ZERO desire to have kids even 4.5 years into the relationship.

My wife, like your partner, is also a brilliant and loving person but I don't know how much more years I can provide for both of us (and my widowed mother) before I collapse. We are both well aware that the modern civilization is as unnatural and hostile to the human soul as it can get and that many people simply cannot adapt and end up being an endless drag on somebody else... but she knows that she eventually has to adapt. I take a lot of bullets for her in the hopes of her repaying the favor one day but if it doesn't happen then we could eventually part ways.

...I am way too chatty these days. Sorry.

What I am getting at is this: IMO your partner should have some direction and goal. It's a very good strategy against depression and is recommended in many therapies. Receiving a soft ultimatum from your loved one -- "I am giving you 5 years to reinvent yourself and start participating in the family's finances" -- might sound harsh but definitely lands people right back in reality. Money does not grow on trees. Depression is a b1tch but you need a strong partner standing right beside you and not always behind you. Your partner must be aware of that.

Don't take this as an unsolicited advice. I am mostly saying that I strongly relate with you and I am sharing my thoughts on the topic. Keep going!

I get the feeling this article is conflating birth rate with actual population growth. One reason why people have less children is that more of them survive. Happy to be shown I'm wrong though.

> I get the feeling this article is conflating birth rate with actual population growth.

It's not. Fertility rate for the US and the developed world is below replacement. And in the developing world, it has been dropping consistently.

> One reason why people have less children is that more of them survive.

That's a reason why women don't have 5 or 6 children, but that's not a reason why women has less than 2 on average.

In an agricultural society children are an asset. In an industrial or service based economy children are a sacrifice. This has always been my view on why birthrates are declining.

I share your view. I believe it was during the industrial revolution where the family was redefined from an economic unit to a loving unit. Kind of strange how nowadays it feels like it has always been this way.

It reminds me of the fact that despite how permanent our life patterns feel, we're never more than two or three generations from completely changing our social norms and life patterns.

I find that to be an interesting wording of this distinction and at the moment I like the phrasing.

> But - big picture - what’s important is that reproductive rights are extended to all women and men.

Reproductive rights for men as consistently ended at the point of conception, with the modern feminist movement seemingly being one of the strongest voice against men having any rights beyond that point. Did Professor Peter McDonald just mistype when he includes men in this part off the article?

I don't think this is a fair analysis of either current feminist thought or the current state of affairs. The reproductive rights of men are important and there's no suggestion any should be removed, but that doesn't mean that in a sexually dimorphic society both members of a childbearing couple (or more generally, all members of a childbearing group) have the same _options_.

Men and women both have the right of bodily autonomy. In a "traditional" childbearing couple of one straight, cisgender man and one straight, cisgender woman, this identical right expresses itself in very different ways between them, but that doesn't mean that "reproductive rights for men are ended at the point of conception" unless you really, _really_ try.

Talking about bodily autonomy to be the start and end of reproductive rights is a bit unfair to the concept at large. Planned parenthood is not "planned bodily autonomy", except given a different name. Planned parenthood, pro-choice, and similar initiatives talk about the choice to be a parent and the benefit in society where children are born from adults that want to have children. There is no physical reason why a sexually dimorphic society can not provide planned parenthood that gives both adults the same choices, rights and responsibilities regardless of gender or if its woman - man, woman - woman or man - man. In Sweden we even have a new law where the state will sponsoring single women that want to become single mothers through artificial insemination.

After the point of conception what rights do men in general have? Its not their signature on the paper that specify who the parents to the child are. They can't decide if they will become a parent or not. All rights and responsibilities are exclusively decided by the mother, as the law dictate. Bodily autonomy has nothing to do with those laws, and the human right of bodily autonomy doesn't need to end simply because men are given the choice to decide if they want to take the responsibility to be a parent and raise a child.

Making that about women vs men is missing the point entirely, which is part of why i was explicit about alternate childbearing groups. If you have two woman in a childbearing group, then the one who is pregnant has the option to terminate or continue the pregnancy, while the one who is not pregnant does not have these options. It is entirely about bodily autonomy - you cannot force anybody to either undergo an abortion or not undergo an abortion. It is a medical process with side effects, effects on one's mood and mind, deeply personal implications depending on how "human" exactly you feel a fetus is, et cetera.

Drawing that as "men have no rights" is deeply reductive, because it isn't about men vs women, it's about the childbearing person vs the non childbearing person(s), and fundamentally does come down to that the same rights have very different implications depending on a person's position.

You have the old joke, "this law isn't discriminatory, both rich and poor are banned from sleeping on the streets!", and in this case it essentially holds true. What you're seeing isn't discrimination, both the childbearing person and the non-childbearing person(s) have the same right to not be compelled into or out of an abortion, it just isn't a right which helps very much if you aren't pregnant.

It does work out that the average man in a childbearing couple doesn't have an "out", but there's no way to implement that "out" without imposing on the rights of somebody else, whether it be by compelling action, or by suddenly threatening to revoke a promise of support that a new childbearing parent desperately needs for them and their child.

> you cannot force anybody to either undergo an abortion or not undergo an abortion

No one is arguing for forcing someone to do anything. Forced abortion or non-abortion would be the opposite of having reproductive rights and bodily autonomy as human rights. Every human rights advocate are against this and rightly so.

> but there's no way to implement that "out" without imposing on the rights of somebody else

There is. It is called paper abortion, or simply the concept that naming yourself as a parent to a child should be a voluntary act by an adult. Conception is no more a promise of support than conception is the promise to give birth to a child. We don't say that women have made a promise to give birth to a child just because they had sex, so it seem strange to say men in contrast does make such promise. The only promise of support should come from society at large to give every child the same possibility in life regardless of how much money their parent or parents has.

Human rights. Human liberty. Choice and freedom. Not about forcing someone to do something against their will. The benefit of adults that want to bring a child into the world compared to adults that are forced by culture or law is very striking and as the article points out essential progress in society.

> If you have two woman in a childbearing group, then the one who is pregnant has the option to terminate or continue the pregnancy, while the one who is not pregnant does not have these options

Just a side note, but I don't think there is a legal system that I know which would force the other woman to pay child-support against her will. The child-bearing mother can't write on the paper that the other woman is the child's second parent, and instead the law forces the non-bearing woman to voluntary request to be the second parent. It is indistinguishable from the process that reproductive rights for men would be, and operates as a clear example of how it would work in practice.

It's a... difficult area, for sure. The scenario where some guy and some girl have a one night stand and then nine months later he's on the hook for a whole tonne of money is a Very Bad scenario, because obviously there's no promise of support inherent in that, and I'm not gonna pretend that scenario has never happened, and in cases where it has it's difficult to suggest that more nuance shouldn't have been taken.

I don't think it's reasonable to suggest that "paper abortion" is a workable concept in the general case, though. If a couple is a couple and they break up eight months into the pregnancy, then suddenly you have one person who is about to lose their financial support _and_ their ability to financially provide for themselves, but "Child Support" as a concept isn't there for the parent, but the child.

The main difference between actual abortion in this case and paper abortion is that paper abortion still involves a child, and you can't get away from that. That child needs supporting, and permitting the "provider" member of a traditional "provider/childbearer" childbearing couple to vanish late in the process totally screws over the child, and that's what child support laws are there to avoid. There's definitely cases where this goes wrong, but I don't think I've seen much evidence that those are anything but a tiny minority.

>Just a side note, but I don't think there is a legal system that I know which would force the other woman to pay child-support against her will.

I think that's probably true, unfortunately, and I think that's very silly and needs fixing. A two-woman pair is effectively identical to a man-woman pair (save obviously for usually requiring artificial insemination).

>The only promise of support should come from society at large to give every child the same possibility in life regardless of how much money their parent or parents has.

This, though, I can agree with wholeheartedly. I would be 100% behind abolishing child support as the current concept in order to replace it with a general child support system not dependant on the financial situation of either parent - kind of like UBI but for the child. We don't have that yet, though, so we're just kind of working with what we have, and what we have is a very imperfect system that prioritises the child above the parents, because the child has no choices in anything and is in need of far more protection.

> If a couple is a couple and they break up eight months into the pregnancy

Since a woman is not allowed to wait eight months and then decide to have an abortion there is a argument to make that men should have to follow the same time limit. This is not about giving men more rights then women, but rather equal reproductive rights.

> I would be 100% behind abolishing child support as the current concept in order to replace it with a general child support system not dependant on the financial situation of either parent - kind of like UBI but for the child.

Here in Sweden I would claim that we have such support system already but the political climate is as hostile to giving men reproductive right as it is in countries without it. Every child is guarantied housing, food, school and about 125$ per month as a form of UBI until the age of 18 that by law must exclusively go to support the individual childs needs for everyday items like clothing. There is also an addition to the UBI per child if a family has multiple children.

> a very imperfect system that prioritises the child above the parents, because the child has no choices in anything and is in need of far more protection

The concept that children is at risk or worse when they only have a single parent is not very consistent in political discussions. In the last years the support grown very large that single women should be allowed to start a family through artificial insemination (paid by the government), and I have not seen any political opposition that talks about the child must have two parents. The outcome for the child is identical to that of paper abortion, but politically it is very different.

What specific right do you want to give men after the point of conception?

In most developed countries there is no easy way for man to "opt out" of responsibility for an existing pregnancy. The argument goes that women can have an abortion or give the child up for adoption if the pregnancy is unwanted, but men have no guaranteed say in what happens. One slip up and they are on the hook for child support, etc.

Basically, some people think men should have a right to abdicate responsibility for a pregnancy at least up to a certain point.

> Basically, some people think men should have a right to abdicate responsibility for a pregnancy at least up to a certain point.

Are there any specific plans for this that are not harmful to the child or society?

Depend if society provide any social support to single parents. Here in Sweden I think there is a strong argument to say that children here are not worse off if they happen to have a single parent that get support from the state compared to a child that have single parent with support from the state and child support from a second parent. The point of the Swedish social welfare model is that all children has the same possibility in life regardless of the wealth of the parents, which mostly seems to be true for the less wealthy half of the population.

I'm not sure that's a constructive way to look at it. Arguably both adoption and abortion are harmful to the child. Arguably reducing taxes on a particular group is harmful to society at large. Both are done frequently, so I think there's probably more nuance than you imply.

Ethical question - is it unethical to contribute to a charity/foundation/whatnot that works towards people having fewer children, given that such would inevitably be most effective in third-world countries where the birth rate is highest? Or would that be western imperialism pushing our values on the less developed world?

Such a charity would possibly educate women or increase access to safe sex, how is that a problem? Speaking as a citizen of a developing country, I personally wouldn't mind at all.

To quote Idiocracy, the people seeking out contraception are the ones we want reproducing, either because of their values or their genes.

Gentle answer:

No, because there are millions of women who have an unmet need for contraception. You are simply helping them access what they already want. Additionally, having fewer children allows more resources to be concentrated into each individual child, so that they are more likely to receive education and healthcare, and escape perpetual poverty.

Harsh answer:

Africa is simply incapable of handling 4 billion people (forecast for 2100). Already the continent is a net food importer. If they are willing to accept our aid, investment and technology, why should we not expect them to moderate their total fertility in return? By having fewer children now, starvation and destitution is being prevented into the future, particularly as climate change worsens. And what is wrong with pushing our values? As we have seen with the actions of Saudi Arabia and China recently, the West, for all its imperfections, is the best culture that Humanity has available. Generally Western societies are safe, innovative, and wealthy. Why not push the values that make those things possible onto the developing world?

Depends on the methods used to promote fewer children. Education, great. Sterilization without consent, bad. The right to procreate is a fundamental human right, so we can't lose track of that.

Many women in developing countries only have kids as a side effect of unprotected sex. They didn't want the children but adapted and made it work.

Nothing unethical about supporting a cause where such women can protect themselves from unwanted pregnancy until they feel they are really ready for children.

Yes it's ethical. No it's not pushing our values on the less developed.

I think a lot of these articles miss an important consideration. The underlying economies of the world have functioned on an unseen assumption: the population (i.e. consumers & producers) always increase. This has been true for the entirety of modern history. There should be some discussion on how that changes once the population either stops increasing, or declines.

This is somewhat discussed with the aging baby boomer generation being larger than their childrens, but that dynamic will likely become the new norm in many countries. Japan in particular is experiencing this first hand with one of the lowest birth rates.

The problem is that this slowing of birth rates due to the improvement in women's status will basically destroy those societies. Those societies where women have low status shall inherit the Earth while the rest peter out. Too bad that a good thing has to be self-defeating.

That was the only one thing me and my wife were in complete agreement - 0.5 sons (either 0 or 1). Did vasectomy 2 months after kid was born, because I knew she would change her mind :D And no, I won't reverse, I am deadly afraid of needles and doctors.

Highly intelligent and conscientious people (which I presume as a HN reader you are) having fewer children leads merely to Idiocracy :-(

Look up the work of Richard Lynn, get that reversal, and do it for civilisation :-)

Yeah, I have heard that argument from many friends. This is the failure mode of current civilization - child rearing has been made too damn expensive and even a legal liability for responsible people, while irresponsible people reproduce like rats and that's ok then. I see that happening, but I won't change the tide and I won't pey the personal cost.

Agreed. Our local gypsies exchange the same babies on queues for social help and never have to be worried about not having money for food while I have to bust my health and reduce my life expectancy to not be thrown out of my rented flat and have food in the fridge. And I have to produce kids so I can help the world?


I refuse to bring kids in such an uncertainty. I don't "owe" our civilization nothing. I can die tomorrow and it never did anything for me except demand more and more bills and trying to scam me into yet another loan or an expensive buy that I don't need. That civilization is not entitled to dictate anything personal in my life.

I would argue that the exponential increase in population in the 20th century was a "bubble", explained by the discovery of antibiotics and other advances in medicine. People that were not expected to live past the life expectancy (which was 40 years or so) lived on, thus overlapping with the next generations.

If there won't be any other similar breakthroughs in medicine, I don't think the exponential growth can last much longer, people will be born and die in a more predictable pattern.

A wise person here once suggested viewing the world population as a parallel computer, with each human mind working to move us forward. With this view in mind, as soon as space travel opens the solar system Malthusian philosophy dies forever -- we are going to need as many people as possible both to colonize and to discover answers to all the new problems that will arise. What would technological growth look like with a trillion minds across the Galaxy inventing and discovering?

Even with space travel and even assuming an infinite universe there exists no growth rate R > 0 such that human population can grow at that rate or higher indefinitely, unless we get faster than light space travel, so it is not going to be as easy as you think to entirely eliminate Malthusian concerns.

Exponential growth, even with a small exponent, is astounding.

Suppose, for instance, we squeeze all of humanity into one densely populated volume. Let's give each person just one cubic meter. As population grows, we expand that volume, maintaining the density of one person per cubic meter. With all of space at our disposal, we are now set for a very long time, right?

Right, we are, but probably not as long as most people would guess. Let's say that the humans of Densopolis have a growth rate of 0.01%. Each year the population is 1.0001 times the year before.

After 900k years of that growth, the frontier of Densopolis needs to be expanding faster than the speed of light to make room.

If they grow at 0.1%, or 1.001x per year, it only takes 84k years to hit the speed of light limit. At 1%, or 1.01x per year, they hit it in under 8k years.

Another neat illustration. Instead of packing densely, let's say humanity spreads throughout the Milky Way. If they maintain a growth rate of 1.0001x per year, after 940k years all the mass of the Milky Way will have been used to make human bodies. There will be none left for stars, interstellar dust, planets, or any other life forms.

At 1.001x, we need all the mass after 94k years. 1.01x does it in under 10k years.

I wish more people held this view. It surely leads to an increased investment in education.


Please expand upon whatever you mean by this one-word comment.

the cpu would burn out

Why the assumption that a smaller global population is better?

Most of the things that make life good come from other people. People are moving to cities because, on balance, it's better to live around more other people than fewer. Prices for natural resources continue to fall in real terms, because we have more than enough - the most limited resource that modern civilization depends on is human ingenuity.

> the most limited resource that modern civilization depends on is human ingenuity

The most limited resource are ecospheres. We currently only have one of those. Overtax that one up and things go downhill.

>Imagine a world with double the amount of people living in it.

I find it mildly disturbing that the author assumes everyone reading this sentence is going to agree that it's an ominous prospect. Obviously, the implication is that it would be a world of fourteen billion people the vast majority of whom are on the brink of starvation, but we've (as a species) overcome Malthusian obstacles before. Why shouldn't having as many thriving human lives as possible be a goal worth striving for? If every human life has intrinsic (not to mention economic and cultural) value, then declining reproductive rates are a form of opportunity cost, not "one of the most important ... achievements in human history." And if we can't agree (or at least agree to act as if) every human life has intrinsic value, we're on our way to undermining the foundations of peaceful coexistence.

FWIW, this idea is what philosophers call "the repugnant conclusion", and the problem it presents is largely unsolved in normative ethics. It's one reason that I don't think formal ethical reasoning is a useful activity: in the end, we do what feels right or wrong, and we can't reason ourselves into a feeling.


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