The Death of Birth — Our Dismal Fertility Rates

Through Collapsed Fertility Rates, We Are Self-Exterminating

Soap Operas and the Death of Birth in Brazil

As is the case in many developing countries, the fertility rate in Brazil has seen a dramatic collapse over the last several decades. According to researchers at the London-based Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR), soap operas are at least partly to blame. One of the study’s authors, Eliana La Ferrara of the CEPR and Italy’s Bocconi University, states that the influence of grade-B soaps is “sizeable but not huge.” Such television programs portray families with very few children.

Map of Brazil

Brazil’s fertility rate (FR) has fallen from 6.3 children per woman in 1960 to 2.3 in 2003. According to the CIA’s World Factbook, the nation’s FR will reach a new low of 1.86 this year. A dramatic drop in birth rates has taken place throughout much of Latin America and may portend trouble for nations like the United States that depend on immigration from developing Latin American countries to support continued growth.

The phenomenon may have a silver lining, however. The soaps, especially those from the commercial network Globo, seem to have the greatest influence on poor women, who are least able to provide for a large number of children.

United Kingdom: Breakdown of Male-Female Relationships and the Devastation of Society

“Since marriage constitutes slavery for women, it is clear that the Women’s Movement must concentrate on attacking this institution. Freedom for women cannot be won without the abolition of marriage.”
— Sheila Cronan, Radical Feminism “Marriage,” Koedt, Levine, and Rapone, eds., HarperCollins, 1973, p. 219

Recent events have addressed the breakdown of male-female relationships and the resultant impact on society in the United Kingdom.

On April 4, Justice Coleridge, a Family Division judge in Wales and England, described family breakdown as “cancerous,” and stated, “almost all of society’s ills can be traced directly to the collapse of the family life.”

Coleridge also said, “We are experiencing a period of family meltdown whose effects will be as catastrophic as the meltdown of the ice caps.” He added that the threat to society is as great as that posed by “terrorism, street crime or drugs.”

The judge lay the blame for the calamity largely at the feet of the government, asking and then answering, “What is government doing to recognize and face up to the emerging situation? The answering is ‘very little and nothing like enough.’”

Needless to say, the government quickly defended itself with the declaration that “70% of families are headed by a married couple.”

Seventy percent. That means that nearly one in three families are not headed by a married couple. For insight into the significance of this fact, consider Justice Coleridge’s statement, “I’m not saying every broken family produces dysfunctional children but I am saying that almost every dysfunctional child is the product of a broken family.”

The salient point is that a 30% rate of broken families is enough to produce most social ills. And marriage is in free fall in the UK. According to recently released statistics from the Office for National Statistics, marriage rates in England and Wales have collapsed to their lowest level since nuptial record keeping began there in 1862, nearly 150 years ago.

In terms of raw numbers, this was the fewest marriages since 1895.

The dramatic decline since 1951 can be seen in the following graph.


Note that this figure shows the number of marriages. The fall in marriage rates has been greater, because the population has grown over this period from about 50 million in 1951 to 60,587,300 in mid-2006.

An associated collapse in birth rates is reflected in the following population pyramid.


Current social systems require a pyramid with a relatively large base decreasing to a point at an age above 80. Instead of this, the United Kingdom’s population pyramid displays a dangerous roughly cylindrical structure with a falloff above the age of 60.

The UK’s aging population is the result of declines in both the mortality rate and total fertility rate. This has led to a declining proportion of the population under 16 years-old and an increasing proportion 65 and over. Very soon, a relatively small number of younger adults will have to support a large elderly cohort. This will make it more difficult to afford children, and the society could fall into a death spiral with even fewer youths to support the elderly while trying to afford children.

Marriage is disappearing in the United Kingdom. The country is rapidly aging. Social systems will soon be unsustainable at anything near their current level. And, in the words of Justice Coleridge, the government is “fiddling while Rome burns.”

Recent Reports on Male Birth Control

This last week has seen a plethora of news about male birth control (MBC). A hormonal contraceptive, composed of testosterone and progestin — a synthetic form of progesterone, was reported in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. The pill, taken once a day, reportedly has a 98% efficacy, the same as female birth control pills. In addition, the effect is easily reversed.There is little certainty regarding possible side effects, due to a lack of long term studies. Early results, however, indicate that they may be minor (weight gain, for instance). An injectable form may be available in the US next year.Regarding its reliability, the article’s lead author, Peter Y. Liu, associate professor at the University of Sydney, states “The rate of suppression is comparable to that achieved after a vasectomy.”

It should be noted that these are not the results of new research. They are a meta-analysis of 30 previous studies having an aggregate sample of 1,756 men.

Progress in this field has been slow in part because drug companies believe that little profit can be earned by pursuing MBC research. The Royal Society of Chemistry reported last June that the German pharmaceutical titan, Bayer, cancelled its research and development program for the development of such contraception.

Despite the meager interest on the part of big Pharma, research into various methods of MBC continues. Questions regarding interest on the part of men have now been answered in a number of studies and non-scientific surveys. As reported here, “According to Dr. Bill Bremner, chair and director, respectively, of the University of Washington Department of Medicine and the Male Contraception Research Center, ‘up to 80 percent of men surveyed worldwide claimed they would use a new male contraceptive.’”

For an example of the of a survey, see this poll.

It appears that, despite meager interest on the part of large pharmaceutical corporations, interest on the part of both men and women in the development of MBC is anything but lacking.

The Coming Acceleration of Population Aging

Wolfgang Lutz is a highly respected demographer specializing in the sub-field of fertility rates. With co-authors Warren Sanderson and Sergei Scherbov he has published an article in Nature magazine (vol. 451, pp. 716-719, February 7, 2008). The piece, titled “The coming acceleration of global population aging, examines the aging that will occur worldwide over the next several decades as a result of reduced fertility rates and increased life expectancies.

They conclude that the speed of aging will increase over the next several decades and then being to decrease by mid-century. This does not mean, however, that the aging will cease. In fact, their research indicates that populations will continue to get older throughout the century. They predict that globally the average human age will rise from 26.6 in 2000 to 37.3 in 2050. By 2100 they expect the average age to have reached 45.6 years-of-age “when it is not adjusted for longevity increase.” They also predict an 88% probability that the world’s population will stop growing some time during this century.

An abstract of the Nature paper can be found here, along with the opportunity to purchase the entire report.

The International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis has published an interview with Lutz that can be read here.

China: Aging Amid Population Explosion

 Map of China

 Very much a developing country, despite its recent economic advances, China faces the combined challenges of massive population and rapid aging. The nation’s one-child policy, often eased in individual cases, has led to a below-replacement fertility rate of 1.75. Nevertheless, the population continues to rise as it ages.

According to Professor Wang Feng, professor of sociology and demography at the University of California, Irvine, China’s over-60 cohort will burgeon from 140 million to 200 million by 2015, an increase of 43% in a mere 7 years. He also projects that, by 2030, the number will reach 300 million, roughly today’s population of the United States, the world’s third most populous nation. In the past, the elderly have relied on their children for support. Unfortunately, they will soon need the support of children that they never had — the Chinese government estimates that the one-child policy has reduced birth totals by 400 million.

Recent reports out of Beijing have given mixed impressions regarding the future of the one-child policy. Earlier this week, however, the head of the National Population and Family Planning Commission stated that the standing policy will remain in force for at least another decade. Estimates of the time scale vary, but it is clear that sometime during the next decade, a large number of women will enter their prime child-bearing years. Once they have aged a bit more, national fertility rates are expected to plummet. As shown in the following graph, in 2000 a large number of females were in the 10 to 14 age group. This year they range from 18 to 22 and in 2015 this group will be 25 to 29 years old — prime childbearing years. Far smaller numbers of women will follow.

China population pyramid 2000

China has wedged itself between the proverbial rock and hard place. The nation’s developing infrastructure struggles to support the country’s current numbers, yet low fertility rates have led to an old population with relatively few young workers to depend on.

The situation in China should give warning to the United States, whose population continues to grow at a high rate, largely because of immigration. The US would do well to adjust its system of transfer programs before it becomes necessary to drastically reduce immigration and fertility rates.

The elderly will continue to depend on the young, yet no piece of land can support an infinite population.

Next Page »