Link: “The Heresy of Decline”
Thought-provoking article about the long-term fall in fertility rates. At this point, 72% of the world’s population lives in a country with sub-replacement fertility rates, and the trends suggest that’s only going to increase. Indeed, not too long ago I read a different article suggesting that the world’s already at “peak child”, as in, even though the overall population will continue to increase for a while due to rising life expectancy as that generation ages, there will never be more children on Earth than there are now. In the long term, the human population is going to decline.
The article also talks about how politics makes a lot of people not want to talk about this topic frankly. For right-wing nationalists, falling fertility rates are a big problem. For the Left, it’s either considered a neutral development or maybe even a positive step towards “degrowth”. Then there are anti-natalists, whether they claim to be environmentalists or whether they just hate people (particularly, of course, the “undesirable” kinds of people, like the disabled, the poor and POC…), for whom falling fertility rates are unequivocally a good thing. But the reality is, falling fertility rates are a long-term trend that seem destined to continue regardless of politics, so the only appropriate policy measures are to accommodate it.
It also touches on the reasons why fertility rates are falling – higher levels of education and gender equality, and the increasing acceptability of childfree lifestyles – but from my point of view it doesn’t give enough weight to the huge one, which is economic coercion. It says a large majority of young women still say their ideal family size is two (or more!) children, but a large (and increasing) proportion of those have fewer kids than that. Why? As far as I can see, because millennials are significantly poorer than our parents’ generation, and we can’t afford the kinds of family homes we think of as comfortable for raising children. Plus, middle class people have come to believe their entire lives should revolve around paid employment, making children nothing but a burden, while working class people often have little choice but to make their entire lives revolve around paid employment. Then there’s the hyperindividualism of neoliberal capitalism, according to which everyone should “pay their own way”, and “society” shouldn’t be expected to support the “lifestyle choices” (like having kids, or prioritising your kids over paid work) of individual people… it’s just fucked. Making sure everyone is supported is what society is for.