Mother’s Day just passed, so let’s talk about why we have so few of them, why that’s catastrophically bad, and what we can do about it.
I love my mother (hi, Mom! Happy Mother’s Day!
I like mothers in general, and I don’t think there are nearly enough of them.
In fact, there are so few that we’re facing a civilizational implosion.
A momageddon, if you will.
Demographic collapse might seem a strange thing to be worried about on a planet that just passed a total human population of eight billion. Surely if anything a smaller population is to be welcomed? We’ve overshot our carrying capacity, haven’t we? The collective carbon footprint of that eight hundred million US tons of human biomass is giving the planet a fever, destroying ecosystems, depleting resources, stripping the topsoil, poisoning the air, killing the oceans, filling the fields with trash, and causing traffic jams. A less crowded Terra would be in everyone’s best interests, right?
Well, no. No it wouldn’t be. It would, in fact, be very bad for all of us.
This essay is structured in three parts. Part 1 reviews the reasons demographic collapse is an existential risk to civilization, including some of the nasty consequences we’re already dealing with, such as replacement migration. In Part 2, we look at the factors that are likely contributing to reduced fertility. In Part 3, I will present some potential solutions, with an eye towards addressing structural anti-natal factors directly. Parts 1 and 2 are presented here; since this essay ended up being quite a bit longer than I’d anticipated, Part 3 will be published later.
I. The Depopulocalypse
Overpopulation is a far more elastic concept than you might suppose. It has a lot to do with the available technology, for one thing. Technological improvements can enable more utility to be obtained from a given quantity of resources, volume of earth, or area of land. The Green Revolution, for example, resulted in a dramatic increase in the caloric density obtained via agriculture. Technological advances can also render scarce resources irrelevant, such as the way in which whale oil was replaced by fossil fuels. Finally, technology can turn something into a resource that we previously didn’t even know about: aluminum, for example, wasn’t considered a resource at all until we figured out how to refine it. Overpopulation is also a function of the quality of the people, frankly. Tokyo is quite liveable despite having a population of 14 or 37 million, depending on whether you consider the formal boundaries of the prefecture or the greater metro area. Manila doesn’t even have 2 million and is by all reports an open sewer. Tokyo-jin are very clean, they don’t litter, and they don’t even need bylaws against littering to enforce that; they’re polite, quiet, cooperative, and respectful of personal space. As a result you can pack a lot of them together and still live quite comfortably. The people make all the difference. The point being, what counts as ‘overpopulated’ is, for a highly cultural species like Homo sapiens, not nearly as easily quantifiable as the Club of Rome’s models would like to pretend.
To the point. Japan is on the leading edge of this demographic collapse people are starting to talk about. Japan’s 2021 fertility rate was just 1.37 live births per woman. Meanwhile, total births fell to just shy of 800,000 in 2022, while almost 1.6 million funerals were held that same year. Japan’s population is shrinking, rapidly, and getting older a lot faster in the process. Elderly citizens are, in Japan as everywhere else in the world and every other time in history, a net burden – they don’t do much if any productive work, for the simple fact that they generally can’t, and they consume a lot of resources in the form of health care, especially towards the end of their lives.
A society top-heavy with seniors starts to have serious problems. The shrinking portion of the working-age population has to work that much harder. More resources have to be devoted to the medical system and to pensions, which means fewer people available to work in productive jobs, and an increasing fraction of whatever economic surplus the productive industries still manage to generate getting skimmed off to pay for it all. Maintaining existing infrastructure becomes increasingly difficult, because the workers aren’t there to maintain it, and the money that would pay for that maintenance is being used for nursing homes and hospitals. Then there are the more subtle sociological effects. Creativity, whether of the scientific, entrepreneurial, or artistic kind, tends to be the province of young and energetic minds. An older society is going to be a much more conservative, much more cautious society – a somnolescent Granny State that crushes the spirit of the young even as the financial burden of carrying all of those elders crushes their wallets.
The financial burden has the potential to turn demographic deflation into a doom spiral. There are only so many hours in a day, only so many resources to go around. Children require quite a lot of time and energy. Diverting vast amounts of society's available resources to caring for an ageing population will mean there is that much less left over for young people to have children – in other words, many of them simply won’t be able to afford them, because the demands of keeping all of the ageing SINKsalive a little longer will make having more kids that much more difficult.
Note that this dynamic isn’t a function of the size of the population, but of its demographic distribution. Once in place, it can stay locked in. The result could be a population distribution that stays heavily weighted towards elders, even as the total population crashes. Too many SINKs and you get a behavioural sink.
Japan’s solution to the problem appears to be robotics – using advanced automation to juice productivity so high that caring for elders won’t be such a crushing burden on reproductive-aged workers, thereby maybe staving off the total extinction of the Japanese race. Whether that will work or not remains to be seen, but it’s a better response than the one being pursued by the governments of the Post-West, which is to attempt to sustain their populations, and even grow them, using other peoples’ babies.
The fertility problem isn’t limited to Japan. It’s essentially universal. Outside of Sub-Saharan Africa, whose population continue to breed like rabbits, birth rates have fallen below the replacement rate of 2.1 live births per woman in essentially every country on the planet. Japan isn’t even the most seriously affected. That would be South Korea, with just 0.8 live births per woman, so low you’d think they’re pandas in captivity. European countries in general are abysmally low, as is Canada – which has just 1.5 births per woman, but is nevertheless managing to grow its population by about a million people a year due to one of the highest immigration rates in the world.
Mass migration is by far the most politically divisive issue throughout the Post-West. It isn’t divisive amongst the political class, of course – the only debate among their kind is over how to make the process more streamlined and efficient. So far as they’re concerned, all that matters is keeping the economic reactor humming with a continuous injection of human biomass. That such nation-states will end up driving the nations nominally served by the state to extinction is of no consequence to those currently running those states. The nations, however, are resentful. Increasingly so. They experience the flood of foreigners as an invasion, and they’re getting restless about it, leading to increasingly heavy-handed repression as the power structure scrambles to keep a lid on the explosive energies that could be unleashed by the primal instincts they’re attempting to override. The microwaved communism of Woke anti-philosophy is the PMC’s attempt at a DEIus ex Marxina, a hail Mary pass to keep the economic machine moving even as it consumes the population that it was built to serve.
Insofar as mass immigration from the third world into Europe and the Anglosphere has been intended to maintain economic viability by renewing the workforce with young blood, it has been for the most part a spectacular failure. Migrants by and large fail to assimilate, and tend to be a net drain on national economies – costing more in social services and law enforcement than they generate in revenue.
Mass migration threatens to completely displace the native populations of Western Europe. Germany is a case in point. Its fertility rate fell below replacement in 1970, and has been around 1.3 or 1.4 since, rising slightly to 1.5 in recent years. However, its population has grown through this period, from 78 million in 1970 to 83 million today. Since the native population isn’t replacing itself, this has been entirely through immigration. As a result Germany’s population is currently 26% non-German, 17% of them first-generation immigrants. However, the situation is much worse than the raw numbers would suggest. The lopsided age distribution means that the median age is 45, making Germany one of the world’s oldest countries (the oldest being Japan). The median isn’t really a great measure: the single largest birth cohort are Germans born in 1964, at 59 years old, who will all be dead in about 20 years. Immigrants are predominantly younger than the general German population – their median age is more like 32. Only 20% of the Germany population are 20 or younger, as compared to 31% above that peak at 59. In raw numbers, there are 17 million people in Germany younger than 20. Of these, about 6.4 million, or 37%, are not ethnic Germans. As Germany’s population ages, the transition of native Germans to a minority will happen quite abruptly if the country continues trying to make up the baby shortfall by importing bodies from the Middle East and Africa.
Mass replacement migration is proving to be quite dangerously destabilizing, and is morally repugnant to boot. In any case it won’t work much longer anyhow. On the current trajectory, by mid-century the only geographical region with a surplus of young humans will be Sub-Saharan Africa, and uh ... well if your plan is to try and maintain an advanced industrial civilization with Bantus, all I can say is good luck with that. Maybe wait to see if they can build their own civilization first. I’m just saying. Even assuming that European civilization can be maintained without Europeans, however, replacement migration is at best a short-term solution. Eventually, the same factors leading to demographic collapse will afflict Africa, at which point countries will be scrambling to attract a dwindling pool of young people as the lights go out all over the world.
I like the Japanese solution more, but it’s still science fiction at this point. Neither migration nor robotics, however, address the core problem of fertility. They’re bandaids that take sub-replacement fertility as axiomatically insoluble.
For a population to maintain itself, it needs a fertility rate of 2.1 live births per woman. To grow, it needs to be higher than that. What we should aim for, in my opinion, is a society in which the average woman gets married around 20, and has between 3 and 4 kids. Maybe we can’t get there, but it’s better to shoot for the stars, miss, and hit the Moon, than it is to aim at the Moon and slam into the dirt. While population stability should be the minimally acceptable social condition, a modest level of population growth is probably optimal, as it will maintain a demographically young, and therefore energetic and creative, population. We need a large population to maintain a technologically sophisticated civilization. I like electricity, and would prefer to keep it. But I also want us to settle the solar system. Doing that will take bodies and brains – lots of them, preferably youthful and vigorous.
The question is how we get from here, a rapidly ageing population of barren SINKS, to there, a fertile, young, and growing population?
To figure out how we get more mothers, first we have to understand the factors depressing motherhood.
II. Factors Reducing Fertility
Obesity reduces a woman’s fertility. It’s harder to achieve penetration through all those adipose folds, even assuming the hippo can find a willing sexual partner. Less insultingly but no less accurately, it places additional stress on the woman’s body, leading to inflammation affecting the ovaries; insulin resistance, which affects reproductive hormone release and ovulation; and an increased risk of polycystic ovary syndrome, which is a quick path to total infertility.
Obesity also affects male fertility. Fat tissue is esterogenic, meaning less testosterone, meaning lower sperm quality. Male sperm quality in general has been cratering to abysmal levels, partly no doubt due to the all the fatbodies, but almost certainly also due to other factors such as hormone-mimicking and endocrine-disrupting chemicals from all the plastic being stored in the fats of our bodies.
I find it darkly amusing that our overlords are so dead set on eliminating tobacco, which can slightly reduce birth weight doncha know, while force-feeding the plebs toxic seed oils that are almost certainly a primary reason for the obesity crisis. Seed oils, more often referred to as ‘vegetable’ oils, appear to systematically slow down metabolic function, meaning people who get a large fraction of their calories from these sources are burning less energy than they should be at a baseline level when they’re just sitting there doing nothing. The connection between metabolic slowing and the spike in obesity over recent decades should be obvious – sedentary lifestyles are doubtless a factor, but we aren’t that much physically lazier than we were in, say, the 50s. No one went to the gym back then, yet no one was fat. Odd, no?
Seed oils probably aren’t the only culprit for obesity. They’re just one component in the poisonous package of ultra-processed, hyperpalatable ‘food’ in the supermarkets – empty calories devoid of micronutrients, precisely engineered so as to be as unsatisfying and addictive as possible.
Another factor which can render wombs infertile is untreated sexually transmitted disease, due to ovarian scarring from e.g. chlamydia or gonorrhea. Thanks to antibiotics, I doubt this is a major factor, but it’s worth mentioning since the loosening of sexual mores has led to an increase in lifetime sexual partners, which implies more STDs being passed around than might have been otherwise, and this may have reduced population fertility somewhat on the margins.
There is worrying evidence that the mRNA jabs may be correlated with a substantial reduction in fertility, about 10%, in countries as widely separated as Sweden, Hungary, and Taiwan. This effect appears to have persisted since it was first reported, and it seems entirely possible that a huge fraction of the population may have been (inadvertently?) sterilized. Something to keep an eye on.
The single biggest factor affecting fertility is age. Women have a limited window of about two decades during which they can conceive, with ease of conception heavily weighted towards the beginning. While men have a longer fertility window, their sperm gets weaker they older they get. Both men and women are at their most fertile when they’re young.
Children are expensive. Hell, in the US I’ve had friends tell me that just giving birth comes with a $20,000 price tag from the maternity ward. Then you need to house them, feed them, clothe them, amuse them, and educate them, all of which costs money. Estimates for the total cost of raising one child to 18 in the US are around $300,000. That means for each kid, the household needs a spare $16,000 per annum. After tax. If you want four of them, that’s $64,000 a year – about twice the median US income. You see the problem.
Children have always required a heavy investment in resources when they’re young, but in pre-industrial, agricultural society it wasn’t nearly as bad. By the time they were 5 or so you could start using them to help out with simple tasks around the farm, and by the time they were 10 they were probably generating as many calories as it took to feed them. Even in the early industrial era, kids would start working, and therefore contributing to the household income, by the time they were 12 or so. Not so now.
Birth rates dropped quite rapidly when economies shifted from agricultural to industrial, for the simple reason that in an agricultural economy it doesn’t take very long to train up a kid to be minimally useful, whereas you can’t really have ten-year-olds running around in a steel mill. I mean, they tried that, but after a while they passed laws against it because the kids kept dying. The majority of modern workplaces, whether a factory setting, an office, a hospital, a store, what have you, are no place to have a toddler running around causing chaos and throwing tantrums.
By contrast, in an agricultural setting, much of the work women did – and they were obviously working, the fantasy of the idle, bored housewife was only really a thing in the 50s – was entirely compatible with the unpredictable demands of small children. You can sit by the window weaving mittens for sale at the county fair and keep an eye on the baby crawling on the floor quite easily, and when the infant tugs at the hem of your skirt and squalls for your attention it’s no great loss to put the mittens down for a bit and pick the sprat up. Women did work which could be performed at home, and could be set aside and returned to as needed, i.e. would not suffer due to the more immediate demands made by young children.
If mothers want to work in the current economic order – and most do, no one wants to feel useless – they’re immediately presented with a trade-off. They can either take an extended period as full-time, stay-at-home mothers, doing very little aside from caring for the baby, and suffering the economic consequences of lost income, the social consequences of isolation, and the professional consequences of falling behind in one’s chosen field ... or, they can enjoy a relatively perfunctory episode of maternity leave, before abandoning their child to the care of others (whom they have to pay), and then feeling guilt for not being around to raise their kids. Both of those options suck.
There’s a well-known inverse correlation between female education and fertility: the more educated a woman is, the longer she delays starting a family, and the fewer children she has. I suspect a large part of the reason for this is that while someone is in school, they aren’t working, and therefore don’t have very much money. As noted above, kids are expensive. Moreover, a demanding professional training program – medical school, for example – takes several years to complete, and requires more or less total focus and long hours spent studying ... none of which is remotely compatible with babies. Good luck passing the organic chemistry final with a toddler screaming for attention as you try to cram for it.
Educated women are also more likely to find themselves working in the professions, that being the entire purpose of getting an education in the first place. Working a high-stress job in a competitive industry is no more compatible with kids than grad school is, with the result that many women choose to postpone having kids until they’ve become ‘established’ in their careers ... by which time, it is frequently too late. Quite apart from the general fertility issue, this is criminally dysgenic. It is precisely the highly intelligent that we should want to be having as many children as possible; instead, they’re the least fertile subset of the population. This is one of the reasons that cities are referred to as IQ shredders.
Population density itself seems to be a factor, and not a small one. This is not a modern phenomenon. Cities have always had a lower fertility rate than the countryside, relying on migration from rural hinterlands for growth. Partly this is just because urban living is more expensive – everything has to be imported, land is in higher demand and adequate space harder to come by, and so on. If you’re living in a shoebox tenement one child seems like plenty, thank you. But it also seems like there’s a behavioural switch that gets thrown in peoples’ heads when they’re surrounded by crowds all the time, which makes them much less interested in breeding. I don’t know if there’s any research on that, but it would make sense as a natural regulatory mechanism. If you’re in a relatively fecund area with very few people, you have lots of kids to occupy that open ecological niche; if you’re in a crowded area, acquiring resources will be more difficult, so it’s better to focus whatever resources you can gather on a small number of children ... or just give up on kids entirely and focus on your own survival.
Another factor making child-rearing more difficult in cities is the absence of a social support network. In traditional societies nuclear families were part of an extended clan structure. A woman could count on the support of her sisters, her mother, her aunts, her grandmother, and close childhood friends, all of whom would work together to help care for one another’s children. A woman living in a city has usually moved a long way from her birthplace, and is surrounded by others who have done the same. She may have drinking buddies and professional colleagues, but none of these connections are much help looking after kids. Worse, after giving birth, she’s frequently abandoned by these social connections: her girlfriends continue the party without her, while her colleagues only care about her insofar as she can be productive at the office, which she can’t, so. If she wants help looking after the kids, she has to pay for it.
Cities aren’t just population centres, in other words; they’re population sinks. And there seems to be something intrinsic to this, meaning there probably isn’t much that can be done about it. With 56% of the world’s population living in cities – and a much higher proportion in developed countries, e.g. 80% in the US, 72% in Europe, 65% in China – it isn’t surprising that the fertility rate has fallen so low.
Contraception is certainly a factor in reducing fertility. Humans are wired to have lots of sex. We don’t really have a mating season the way most other animals do, for us sex is a recreational activity, with babies being something of an accidental byproduct. Our sex drives trick us into reproducing, in other words. Condoms, birth control pills, and IUDs mean that we can scratch that itch without having to suffer the consequences. If you look up the total fertility rates of a large number of countries, it drops off a cliff in the mid-60s, which is around when the Pill started getting popular.
Abortion is clearly a factor. In the US alone, something like 63 million pregnancies were terminated in the decades following Roe vs. Wade. That’s a huge number of babies that would have been born otherwise.
In order for families to form, or even for sex to happen for that matter, young people need to be able to meet one another in the first place. This is increasingly a problem. The virtualization of life has led to people being increasingly isolated, interacting with one another through screens, and trying to meet through hookup apps. Young men stay at home playing computer games and fapping; young women pursue narcissism on Instagram. Go out in public, and people aren’t talking to one another. Instead they’re on their phones. A lifetime spent in the social isolation of screenworld has left everyone socially retarded.
Part of the difficulty in meeting has been that all of the old sexual guidelines have dissolved. A few generations ago, it was fairly clear-cut. People were either married, in which case they were off the market, or they were not, in which case they were at least potentially available. Relationships began with courtship, with marriage explicitly recognized by all parties as the ultimate goal. If a girl didn’t have a ring on her finger, it was assumed she was fair game, and while she could certainly refuse an offer to take her on a date, if she accepted it was understood by both parties what the final purpose was (or at least was supposed to be).
The sexual revolution destroyed all of that. Now, just because someone doesn’t have a wedding ring, you can’t assume anything. Go up to talk to a girl, it’s going well, she seems interested, maybe even accepts an invitation for coffee – only to start talking about her boyfriend or in the modern parlance “partner”. Vaguely defined “relationships” can go on for several years now without knots being tied ... or children being produced, because so long as they haven’t taken vows both parties effectively have one foot out the door, they’re still in effect just trying things on for size, and so long as they haven’t committed, children are a step too big to take. Worsening the situation is that young people are encouraged to date around and have fun as much as possible through their 20s, and even into their 30s. Settling down with one’s high school sweetheart is seen as sad, a sort of failure to launch.
No-fault divorce is clearly also a factor. Since marriage vows can be broken for any reason and with little penalty, in effect they aren’t really a binding contract at all. A young man who gets married risks economic ruin should his blushing bride have a change of heart a few years later. Meanwhile, very few legal rights are afforded to him in the relationship. He is certainly not the paterfamilias, the head of the household whose word is final. If anything he’s often in a subordinate role, with fewer rights than his wife, and certainly fewer rights than if he stayed single. With very little in the way of benefit and quite a bit to lose, young men understandably become shy of marriage. The sexual revolution means that you don’t have to buy the cow to get the milk; no-fault divorce means that even if you buy the cow, it isn’t really yours.
Finally, there’s transgenderism. This is more of a factor in the Anglosphere – so far as I know, the plague hasn’t reached Eastern Europe, Latin America, Russia, or anywhere in Asia. It principally seems to be affecting white kids. Exactly how many of them go through with puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones, and bottom surgery, I have no idea. Grisly as it is, my impression is that it’s relatively rare, for now, and while pronoun extremists are undoubtedly sterilizing themselves, I don’t think it’s yet a major contributor to the cratering fertility rate, which after all has been depressed for much longer than catgenders have been around.
Our social order reduces fertility in multiple ways. The biological onslaught from endocrine-disrupting plastics and toxic fats make its harder to conceive, and furthermore make people ugly. The virtualization of life makes it harder for people to meet. The sexual revolution, contraception, abortion, and no-fault divorce have made child-bearing optional and marriage both unattractive and unnecessary. Extended periods of education have led women to delay child-bearing, while the necessity of working outside the household has made child-rearing burdensome. Finally, the shift to urban living has resulted in the majority of the population living in a crowded, expensive environment in which they are stripped of social capital.
These factors have combined in almost every part of the world to push fertility well below replacement levels, resulting in a rapidly greying population. This threatens to trap the species in a self-reinforcing demographic doom spiral. In the short run, staving off the depopulocalypse is the primary economic motivation for the replacement migration – really displacement migration – that European and Anglo-American countries are using to maintain population growth. In the long run, as the blight spreads and surplus youth becomes a scarce commodity, it could make industrial civilization untenable.
In the next essay, we’ll take a look at some ways that we might be able to forestall that.
Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed it, you should subscribe for more. In the meantime you can read any of the other essays on Postcards From Barsoom, all of which are available for free. What’s that, free? Yep, free. I know, right? It surprises me, too. And you – yes, you! – can help keep it that way by becoming a paid supporter. Paid supporters don’t get any additional content (it’s all free, you know), but they do get the warm feeling that comes with knowing that they have made me very happy, postponed the time when I will have to get a real job, and in addition to all of that they receive exclusive access to Deimos Station, our orbital Martian battle-castle where I gather with my confederates to plot world domination, by which I mean mostly talking about philosophy and weight-lifting and such.
And don’t forget to
It was Mother’s Day when I started writing this, at least....
Single Income No Kids
On the other hand, the Pill has never been all that popular in Japan, which has also seen sustained fertility decline. On the other other hand, the decline in Japan’s TFR has been fairly gentle, without the abrupt drop seen in e.g. Canada, the USA, or Germany, which tends to suggest that the Pill had a big effect.
Except for Thailand, of course, which everyone knows is composed entirely of ladyboys.
Man, reading this made me cry.
I remember dropping my middle son off at daycare at 2yrs old and heading to college classes. It broke my heart to leave him in the care of strangers. I cried as I drove away from his daycare, everyday for weeks. Friends and family always told me this is just the way it is...just be tough. Such bullshit. Leaving your child isn’t natural and if it doesn’t bother a woman then idk what kind of mother she is.
Working my way through college with 2 kids, then heading to work after graduation only to realize quality child care is so expensive it takes most of my paycheck so why the hell am I even doing this?!? It doesn’t make sense!!
Eventually I gave up trying to do what society demands of women: to work and raise kids at the same time. I know many women somehow do it, but splitting my focus between work and kids just felt wrong and I sucked at it. I ended up doing a half assed job at work and as a mother/wife bc I was spread too thin.
Now I work from home part time and homeschool my 2 school aged kids. It’s hard but I finally feel like I am a success, if only at being a good mom/wife, but that’s enough for me.
I lost a lot of years following societies rules. But no more. F*** work, my family is more important. Kids will be grown soon and then I can go to work. I am very grateful I have a loving and supportive husband, I know many mothers don’t. I couldn’t be a good mother without his love and support. And I strive to be a good wife to him in return ❤️
Sorry for the long rant lol, but women lacking the support needed to grow families hits close to home. Until women in western countries have some kind of support system that makes having families feasible, birth rates won’t increase.
Hmmm, a thought just popped in my mind reading this: we need to locate more of our high IQ jobs in liveable small towns. The promise of the Internet should be not for telecommuting, but making the commutes small, or even bikable.
Back when I was in high school in a very rural county, there were busses that took people on hour commutes to a government research lab. I could see setting up a high tech office in my old home town to steal some of those knowledge workers from Uncle Sam and let people live close to their roots.
There are liveable rural communities scattered all over the country in a similar situation. And with today's high speed rural Internet, a company could scatter itself to mutiple such nodes, with each having a conference room similar to Doctor Cocteau in "Demolition Man."
As for those aging boomers: let them provide childcare -- for their own grandchildren.