The Death of Birth — Our Dismal Fertility Rates

Through Collapsed Fertility Rates, We Are Self-Exterminating

Archive for the 'Attempts to Fix the Problem' Category

South Korea’s Baby Boom: Does It Really Exist?

A hearty dose of caution is in order, when considering today’s so-called baby booms. Numerous governments have both introduced and increased payments to couples and, in some cases, single women for having children. Needless to say, little time passes before politicians start to trumpet their “successes.” When there is any true success, it’s generally a tiny bump in the fertility rate.

South Korea has been boosting its child subsidies, and the country’s fertility rate has risen a small amount. But what is the real cause of this improvement? Are the subsidies a partial solution to the nation’s growing crisis, or do they compound the problem by raising government expenditures without actually serving to cure anemic birth rates?

One of the greatest challenges created by collapsed fertility rates is the growth of unsustainable government deficits. On average, it costs more to support a senior citizen than a youth; as societies age, an increasing amount must go toward transfer programs to the elderly, such as (in the US) Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. In addition, labor-shortages occur, as the working-age percentage of the population shrinks. The situation could lead to a death spiral, if matters get to the point where adults in their reproductive years spend so much to support the elderly that they can’t afford to have children. Increased government expenditures, targeted to encourage childbearing, will only exacerbate the problem, if they don’t significantly augment the number of births.

South Korea faces a massive demographic crisis as a result of adults having so few children for so many years. As stated in this article, “Amid the low birthrate, South Korea’s population is projected to diminish by two-thirds in the next century, dropping to 16 million from 48 million and creating a national economic and labor-shortage disaster.” “Disaster” is the operative word. No society on earth has ever thrived with such a collapse of population. This is equivalent to a plague of biblical proportions.Unfortunately, though the fertility rate of South Korea has lifted in recent years, the rise might not be due to any social efforts. It may simply be a result of a recent, and temporary, increase in the number of women in their prime child bearing years.As the above linked article points out

experts say that it may be too soon to declare an end to the country’s “baby strike.”
“The boost might be temporary, as it occurred mainly because the children of baby boomers, born shortly after the Korean War, are now of childbearing age,” said Lee Jin-man, an official at the National Statistic Office (NSO).

The following graph from the U.S. Census Bureau, International Data Base, shows the male and female populations of South Korea in 2000 as a function of age. Note that the largest female cohort (right side of the graph) falls in the 25 through 29 age group. In 2005, this group ran from 30 through 34. A graph of this form is typical for developed countries today. With women having most of their children in their very late 20s and during their early 30s, the overall fertility of a society will swell as a relatively large number of women pass through these years. Unfortunately, fertility rate may well fall again, when these women exit their prime childbearing years.


Is the problem a lack of money in the hands of potential parents? Apparently not. As the article states:

While the country’s new president is seeking to raise per capita income to $40,000 within a decade, the current birthrate is barely over 1 child per woman. Yet back in the 1970s, when South Korea’s per capita income stood at a mere $250, the birthrate was an average of 4.5 children per woman.

Some pundits maintain that women will want more children, if more child care is provided, so the women can spend their days at work rather than with their children. But do women really want to have children, only to turn them over to others to raise them. Perhaps not.

Yoon Young-in, a 32 year old female office worker quoted in the article, states that “What we really want is a change in the social concept that childcare is no longer solely the family’s job, but that of the whole society.” It seems, however, that she wants her extended family to care for her children, while she works.

“I am worried because both my mother and mother-in-law put their foot down, saying they don’t want to take care of the grandkids… I don’t blame them since it wasn’t their job to begin with, but it has made the decision-making much harder,” Yoon added with a sigh. “I am not about to leave my baby in the hands of a stranger, but I don’t want to give up my job either.”

The solution to collapsed fertility rates certainly isn’t obvious, and the causes are many and varied. But with far higher standards of living corresponding to fewer children, it doesn’t seem that an inability to afford children is the fundamental determinant. Nor is an absence of programs to get more women out into the workforce.

More on Robotics and a Lonely, Aging Society

According to research, appearing in the March issue of the Journal of the American Medical Directors Association, robotic dogs may prove to be as effective as real dogs, when it comes to assuaging the loneliness of the elderly.

Readers of The Death of Birth may have seen this post on robotics, in which it was reported that companies in Japan are leading the way in developing robots for both service and companionship. It should come as no surprise that Japan is at the forefront of this field, partly because the nation is so advanced technologically but also because it is aging so severely as a result of its decades-long anemic fertility rates.

According to this article,

To test whether residents responded better to Sparky, a trained therapy dog, or the Sony-made robot dog, researchers divided 38 nursing home residents into three groups at a trio of long-term care facilities in St. Louis.

Though the results are not conclusive, it seems that, once they warmed up to the mechanical pooch, residents found as much comfort in its company as in the company of a real dog.

With a dearth of children in much of the developed world, the elderly may at times need to find companionship in robots. Now if we can only get the robots to pay the necessary taxes to support us in our elder years.

A Solution in the Offing? The Brave New World of Artificial Wombs I

On February 22-23, 2002, the Ethics Center at Oklahoma State University sponsored a conference entitled “The End of Natural Motherhood? The Artificial Womb and Designer Babies.” The event’s call for submissions stated, “We strongly encourage essays on the topic of ectogenesis/artificial womb technology.” A primary purpose of the conference was to examine technological developments in ectogenesis as well as their impact on relationships and social values.

In “Brave New World,” Aldous Huxley’s 1932 depiction of a dystopian future, society’s elite were genetically designed and gestated in artificial wombs, while those conceived and gestated in nature’s manner were considered savages. Fast forward to the present, in which a number of laboratories have progressed toward the creation of environments, external to the human body, where people may soon be brought from conception to the level of a healthy newborn. These labs include one headed by Dr. Yoshinori Kuwabara of Japan’s Juntendo University and another led by Dr. Hung Chiung Liu of the Centre for Reproductive Medicine and Infertility at Cornell University’s Weill Medical College. The former has constructed a bread basket sized plastic tank, containing body-temperature amniotic fluid, in which goat fetuses have survived and grown for 10 days or longer. Machines functioned as placenta, disposing of wastes as they provided blood, nutrients, and oxygen.

Using a mix of hormones and drugs, Hung Chiung Liu’s lab grew cells, from the lining of a uterus, on a biodegradable scaffold. After completion of the growth, the scaffold degraded and left an artificial uterus. Liu then placed embryos, by-products of in vitro fertilization, inside the womb. The embryos attached to the uterine walls and survived for several days, after which the study was terminated in accord with legal time constraints on human embryo experiments.

While artificial wombs may strike some as the fevered fantasies of science fiction addicts, not long ago many thought the same of cloning and the use of stem cells to create body parts and germ cells (sperm and eggs). Many countries are now extremely concerned over their anemic fertility rates and the resultant aging and collapse of their populations. A number have attempted to alleviate the problem with programs, such as paying women to have children. Thus far these efforts have met with little if any success.

The creation of the birth control pill led to a dramatically reduced average number of children per woman. So did the development and evolution of safer, less expensive, and more socially accepted abortion. The question arises: Will new breakthroughs in reproductive technology help mitigate our current fertility crisis?

Numerous changes would follow the refinement and wide scale use of artificial wombs. Many individuals and couples with fertility problems could have children. Regarding abortion, the time frame for “viable outside the womb” could extend to the full gestation period, since it may become possible to remove an embryo or fetus from a woman and complete its gestation in an artificial environment. Those men, who today are wary of becoming fathers due to concerns over losing contact with their children after divorce, could confidently have children after fertilizing donated eggs or eggs created from stem cells. Both men and women may be capable of becoming true single parents (as opposed to being one of two parents with the other, for whatever reason, out the picture). We may reach a stage where men can become mothers (having had an egg generated from stem cells cultivated from their own bodies) and for women to become fathers (sperm having been thus generated). Through the combined use of artificial wombs and stem cell creation of germ cells, women may be able to mate with women and have daughters. Men may be able to mate with men and have sons and daughters (men having both Y and X chromosomes). Women may be freed from the expectations, tribulations, and dangers of gestation and birthing. Governments would be able to increase fertility rates without paying for the services of otherwise reluctant women. Religious or other objections might delay or prevent such practices in some countries, but in a nation such as China, which faces a rapidly growing problem of population aging, protestations may have little or no impact.

These are not wild imaginings of a nearly impossible future. We are close to bringing this to fruition.


Artificial wombs may someday be used for preservation of the (human) species, but they may first be used to preserve a species of shark. Australia has launched an effort to create artificial wombs for this purpose and may work with scientists from South Africa, home of the first heart transplant. On March 27, 2006, the Washington Post reported that the gray nurse shark, seen here, “is now struggling for survival in the handful of coastal areas where it survives.” The US lists the fish (also known as the ragged-tooth shark or “raggy”, sand tiger shark, and Carcharias taurus) as “vulnerable” — just shy of “endangered.” Along Australia’s east coast, where thousands once swam, the remaining 300 or so are classified as “critically endangered.” DNA analysis indicates that this colony does not breed with Australia’s west coast group or those off the east coast of South Africa — they won’t be saved by “raggies” from those regions. Because of their small numbers, inbreeding has rendered these sharks even more vulnerable.


A team of researchers including Robert Harcourt and Adam Stow of Macquarie University in Sydney reported in the Royal Society’s Biology Letters “… extinction is imminent in east Australian waters without urgent conservation efforts.” C taurus, as a primary predator, is critical to maintaining ecological balance. Unfortunately, nature has rendered it difficult for the shark to easily rebuild its numbers.

Females possess two uteruses, each of which can carry up to 20 fertilized eggs, but young life in these environments is a challenge. By the time they are four inches long, the youths launch into sibling cannabalism. When the feeding frenzy ends, two survive — one per uterus. The hope now is to build artificial wombs that can each hold a baby measuring three feet in length, the shark’s normal size at birth. At this point, in vitro insemination is not planned. Instead, females would be inseminated by males, many from distant shores to boost genetic diversity. Embryos would then be transferred to the artificial wombs for final gestation. Nick Otway, of the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries (manager of the state’s fisheries), heads a team that is developing a prototype.

A new report shows that the effort continues abreast. Australian researchers and the Natal Sharks Board hope to use artificial wombs to breed raggies in Durban, South Africa. If successful, the project will add young sharks to the critically denuded population off Australia’s east coast.

Artificial wombs may first be considered acceptable to preserve non-human species, but they may well find a place in the effort to preserve our own. They might carry with them a multitude of social ramifications, but, with so many people having decided to have few if any children, societies may determine that they are necessary.