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Another Reason for Decreased Fertility Rates in Developed Countries

June 25, 2021 19 comments

As regular readers know, I have written more than a few posts (link 1, link 2 and link 3) about low fertility rates in developed countries. This post highlights another explanation for those rates which works irrespective of culture or race. To be clear, I am not saying that it is the only one- but it is certainly one of the major, if not the most important, reason. As you will see, it is also the least obvious to anyone who grew up in the West within the past century.

To understand what I am getting at, let me ask you a simple question- around what principle have human societies been organized for over 99.9% of our history as a species. Is it money, land or domesticated animals? Or was it around religion, a secular legal code or some sort of ideology? Here is a clue.. most of mankind did not use money regularly as late as a couple hundred years ago and the oldest conventional religion still around is about 2500 years old. Modern human beings, in contrast, have been around for at least 100k years.

To make a long story short, human society has evolved and been primarily organized around long-term (but non-monetary) human relationships. As late as 18th century, most people in the west did not use money to perform most of the exchanges necessary for daily life. But what does any of this have to do with rapidly decreasing fertility among developed countries since the 1970s. To understand that, let me ask you another question- what motivates people to have to raise children? You might think the answer is simple, but it is not.

See, many of you might think that people in past used to have kids because effective birth control was not available. Even that is only partially true, but it brings up an even bigger question which most people ignore. Let me put it this way.. if the lack of birth control caused a large number of births, what motivation did parents have to care for and raise children? Willful or less than willful neglect can easily kill young children, yet even in the poorest and materially deprived populations, that is seldom the case. Some might say that such behavior is instinctual- but if that was the case shouldn’t more people in developed countries having kids? Clearly they don’t lack the resources for raising them.

Some sophists might say that having kids has become very expensive in the West. But is that really the case? In most developed countries outside USA, having kids is no more financially onerous than having a half-decent car. And this brings me to another question- given the chance, why will more people in West buy and maintain a semi-luxury car with extra money than have a child, let alone another one. Are you starting to see what I am driving at? Still confused? Let me ask you the same question even more bluntly- why do people see having children as a net negative drain on their perceived happiness?

To understand why people in West see children as costly inconveniences, we have to first talk about why humans throughout history saw having and raising children as a source of great joy and life-cycle fulfillment. See.. in the era before monetization of everything (past century) the vast majority of people lived a life defined by long-term relationships with others around them. You can now see why having and raising children was a source of joy and fulfillment to people throughout history. Children are the ultimate in new long-term relationships and the only way of leaving a legacy.

So what changed? It started with monetization of society in West. There is a reason why 18th century lords in UK used to have a dozen children while their late-19th century counterparts often had only a few, or sometimes none. But why does monetization of society make it less worthwhile to have children? Well.. because heavily monetized societies are impersonal and atomized. Conversely societies that are not heavily monetized still take joy in having and raising children. This is also why working class people in UK kept having large families into the 1930s. The same applies for societies all over the world- from Ireland and Italy to India and Japan. But is the increasing amount of social atomization the only reason?

As it turns out, there are other related reasons. See.. in pre-industrial or early-industrial societies, the children you had and raised also lived and worked around you for the rest of your life. In other words, you spent a lot of time with your children and vice-versa. However in a society where both parents work 9-to-5 jobs, kids go to schools, then move away for university and jobs- there just isn’t time and space to form strong bonds with them. Most people in the West see their kids for perhaps 2-4 hours a day until they move away for university and jobs- often forever. The socio-economic system in West and other developed countries forces perpetual loneliness on its inhabitants.

Now tell me why would a sane person put in the effort and sacrifice to have and raise kids if they could not even provide them basic human company in their lives. It is therefore my opinion that Western social systems based on the current model of removing all potential to form meaningful human interactions and relationships fully deserve to die. The only hope for a better world comes from the demise of this dystopic status quo- hopefully sooner than later.

What do you think? Comments?