Having Children and Tunnel Boring Machines
Some notes & quotes from recent reads:
When future historians look back on the last half-century, I suspect they will pass over war, terror, and populism to settle on infertility as the decisive event of the age. For the first time since the bubonic plague in the 14th century, the world’s human population is about to shrink — a process that has already begun in many countries. The correlates to the decline are well known: affluence, urbanization, women’s education, abortion and easy access to contraceptives. But identifying hard causes is difficult. Gigantic trends touching on the survival of ancient cultures — and even of our species — get entangled with social pressures and moral ideals. At the same time, one must reckon with the secret dreams and expectations of solitary individuals of every class. The result is uncertainty.
But this isn’t only a question of rich societies going off on a hedonistic binge. People have also stopped having children when life is terrible. Cuba is a political and economic basket case; the birth rate there has plummeted. The same holds true for Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Moldova and Ukraine, poor nations all. The COVID-19 pandemic, despite the cozy lockdowns, led to a “baby bust.” It may seem intuitive that hard times should reduce the birth rate, but now we are also saying that the causes of infertility are too much wealth and too much poverty — which, though not really a contradiction, feels a little like having it both ways. Historically, poverty never stopped the human race from making babies. South Korea ranked among the poorest countries in 1950, when the birth rate per woman was over 5; today, with a powerhouse economy, the South Koreans are virtually going extinct.
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