March 04, 2007
Public Child Care Services Boost Fertility?

An article in the New York Times examines the question of which European social policies are most pro-natalist.

Curiously, Europe’s lowest birthrates are seen in countries, mostly Catholic, where the old idea that the man is the breadwinner and the woman is the child-raiser holds strong. Portugal, Spain, Italy and Greece have among the lowest fertility rates in Western Europe. Meanwhile, countries that support high numbers of working women, like Finland, Norway and Denmark, have among the highest birthrates. How did what’s been called “the fertility paradox” come about?

One explanation is that the more traditional countries face particular challenges when their women do start to work. In these countries, the welfare of the family is still typically seen as the responsibility of individuals rather than of the government, according to Peter McDonald and Francis Castles, who are demographic theorists. And with little public support for working mothers forthcoming, women are likely to think they must choose work or motherhood. At least for now, it seems, many are choosing neither. Statistics show that women in these countries are both less likely to work and less likely to bear children than their counterparts in, say, Scandinavia.

Welfare states need high income taxpayers to fund all the social programs. So the Europeans (and the United States and other Western countries) need demographic profiles that'll generate tax revenue. But aging populations are reducing the proportion of populations that are of working age. Plus, immigration in many countries is increasing the proportion that are low skilled and low earning. So the welfare states face tough times ahead.

Pro-natalist policies getting adopted by some European countries will only deliver a net benefit if they generate more babies that'll grow up to become highly skilled and hard working.

Once genetic testing becomes cheap countries that need more high tax revenue workers would score big on future tax revenues if they provided financial incentives for women to make babies who have genes that boost intelligence and other traits that boost salaries. For example, my guess is there are genetically controlled traits that affect the compulsion to work. Once those traits are identified it would make sense for a welfare state or a socialist state to provide incentives for women to genetically engineer offspring to be smart, curious (so they'll like learning), and with a compulsion to get things done.

What I wonder: Will robots so automate child care that child care will become cheap and women will have many more babies?

Some are skeptical that government policies can boost fertility by much. Yet the French government's pro-natalist policies are working.

in 2006, France pushed past Ireland to become the most fecund nation in the European Union, with an average of two babies per woman.


The number of babies born per woman is higher among the immigrant population than among those born in France, but even the latter bear an average of 1.8 babies, far beyond the rate in neighboring Germany and Spain .

But what is the fertility rate of Muslims in France? Also, of those who are born in France who have babies not all are ethnically French. Some are Muslims too. So what is the non-Muslim ethnically French fertility rate?

Some countries are saddled with too much fertility. Sub-Saharan Africa appears stuck in a Malthusian trap where they have so many babies that their living standards stay low. The babies overwhelm the benefits of imported technologies (e.g. high yield grain crop seeds, fertilizers, electric power plants, computers, fiber optics. cars, vaccines, etc) that boost living standards in much of the world. Also, the imported technologies allow more babies to survive and since their fertility rates do not drop the tech imports just raise populations. You might ask why is that?

In industrialized countries fertility rates have dropped. But I consider this a temporary phase. Selective pressures will increase the frequency of alleles that boost fertility. Much like Elvis, Darwin is everywhere. An Australian twins study (see here and here) found evidence that alleles that boost fertility are getting selected for in Western populations. Here are the reasons I expect to see rises in fertility in industrialized countries:

  • Selective pressures will increase the frequency of alleles that cause women to have more babies.
  • Continued advances in reproductive technology will allow infertile women to have babies and for older women to have babies.
  • The development of rejuvenation therapies will eventually allow women to remain young and fertile for centuries. The reproductive potential of each woman will skyrocket.
  • Some parents will genetically engineer their offspring to want to have kids and the parents will do that to ensure they'll get desired grandchildren.
  • Some religious cults will arise that are very pro-fertility.

What could prevent all this from coming to pass? A number of possibilities come to mind:

  • When huge population growth looks likely governments (mostly non-democratic ones) will regulate fertility and even require offspring to be genetically engineered to lack instincts to reproduce.
  • War or terrorism with bioweapons could kill a large fraction of humanity.
  • Humans might live increasingly in simulated reality and satisfy their desires for offspring by raising simulated offspring with artificial intelligence.
  • Robots or nanobots might take over and wipe out humanity.

I do not expect democratically elected governments to effectively regulate fertility because I expect the majority to vote according to their instincts and to therefore oppose fertility restrictions. One wild card there: Genetically engineered IQ boosts might so raise intelligence of humans that they can understand and appreciate the damaging effects of overpopulation to an extent that they will support restrictions on reproduction.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2007 March 04 01:22 PM  Trends Demographic

Dave said at March 5, 2007 1:12 PM:

French demographics and fertility:

I don't agree with the European socialists boasts that they have increased fertility with government programmes, they have a vested interest in saying that, mostly the increase has just come from massive levels of immigrants who have more children.
TFR in France:
Ethnic French: 1.74
Total Immigrants: 2.16

And those figures don't tell the full story because ethnic Europeans tend to have children much later in life , 30's even 35+, in Britain we recently had a record number of 40+ women having babies.
But the Muslims tend to have babies much younger, early 20's. Over a period of time even with the same number of babies per woman the group who have them younger will produce more. Obviously a group whos women for example produced 2 babies by the time they were 20 would produce 4 in 40 years.

aa2 said at March 6, 2007 3:05 AM:

One factor is the northwest europeans are much better educated and productive.. so can afford generous welfare for their mothers. Which btw I agree wtih.. regardless of the nation it is rational to help young couples of the type you want your future nation to be.. to reproduce. Even though they haven't had much time to developed their career or to accumulate wealth. Some nations and peoples just don't care if they exist 100 years from now, so whether their people reproduce or not doesn't matter to them. Probably chidlren cost them money to educate, and tons of time and energy to raise them.. its easier and probably a lot cheaper at that point just to bring in migrant workers to care for said people in their elder years.

One of the issues with catholicism I believe is its clinging on enough it can influence the psychology of a nation.. yet too weak to enforce the faults. For example catholicism is a universalist ideology.. Italians, or phillipinos or Polish are interchangeable.. There is no pride for one group, we are all mankind and all the same. So with the advent of birth control.. and catholic women willing and able to use birth control against Rome's commandments.. yet still believing in the general catholic ideology.. Why even bother reproducing, if you are just making another indiscernable human? Remember the catholics don't even believe in genetics really. They controlled this biological nihilism in the past by having very strict rules on things like divorce or adultery and birth control.

undergroundman said at March 6, 2007 3:55 PM:

"What I wonder: Will robots so automate child care that child care will become cheap and women will have many more babies?"

If you're seriously wondering that, you need to stop getting swept up in futuristic mania. Robots caring for children is not likely to come for a long, long time, nor will it likely be a good thing if it does.

James Bowery said at March 6, 2007 6:24 PM:

Europeans needn't worry about their fertility since with support of the mothers in the absence of a father, the mothers will choose sires for their adaptation to polygyny. Europe will become Africanized within a few generations and cease having fertility problems because it will return to the Malthusian Trap of Mother Africa (or in this case, Father Africa).

Randall Parker said at March 6, 2007 7:46 PM:


My question is based on an underlying question: How soon will we create artificial intelligence? I'm expecting we'll have enough computer power within a couple of decades. Will the algorithms prove too difficult to develop? I do not think so. The various subsystems are coming along for various industrial purposes. Image processing, language translation, and other applications that perform tasks done by human brains are maturing.

James Bowery,

The disconnect between reproduction and a father actually can speed up evolution of higher intelligence. Add in cheap and fast DNA testing for IQ genes and it becomes advantageous for women to use donor sperm. Most women can get smarter donors than they can get husbands. Once DNA testing makes selection of higher IQ sperm easy and reliable then the advantages for lower IQ women to use donor sperm will also be advantages for the larger society.

Fund women to have babies as single moms. But only if they use high IQ donor sperm homozygous for alleles that boost IQ and that will guarantee smart babies.

Kelly Parks said at March 8, 2007 3:33 PM:

Since France has outlawed citizens reporting bad news I find it hard to trust anything they say. But even if the reported birthrate of 1.8 is true it's nothing to be proud of. You need 2.1 live births per women just to maintain a stable poulation. A birthrate of 1.8 is well below replacement level and still represents a population in decline.

Your "encourage high IQ parents" plan has merit but is impossible, of course. Can you imagine the howls of "elitism!" that would come from...well, I was going to say "the Left" but really that's all of Europe. Never in a million years would they admit in public that it'd be better if some people reproduced and others didn't.

What Europe is doing to itself is both sad and amazing. Here in the U.S. we often worry about the deficit in terms of "the bill our grandchildren will have to pay". But the Europeans debt situtaion is much worse and they won't have any grandchildren to pay their bills. An economic reckoning is near.

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