April 04, 2007
Denmark Fertility Boosted By Reproductive Technologies
In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) and other artificial reproductive technologies (ART) have helped keep Denmark's fertility rate (1.9 babies per woman) higher than most Western countries. IVF usage in Denmark is heavily subsidized and much more heavily used.
The secret of Denmark's success seems to be a strikingly high use of artificial reproductive technologies (ART), according to an analysis presented at a meeting of the Population Association of America in New York last week. The proportion of babies born in Denmark through ART was 4.2 per cent in 2002, compared with 1.4 per cent in the UK that year and 1.2 per cent in the US in 2004. The finding lends support to calls for increased government funding of IVF in other countries with flagging birth rates. In Denmark, IVF is widely accepted, heavily subsidised and waiting times are short.
For Danish women born in 1978 6 percent of their babies are getting born with the help of IVF and other reproductive technologies.
This provides evidence for an argument I've made here previously: fertility rates in developed countries will eventually rebound. Part of the rebound will be due to selective pressures. Those women who are having more kids have genes which give them cognitive characteristics that make them more fertile. So their kids will be more inclined to make choices that cause them to make babies. But another part of the rebound will come from technological advances.
As this story above illustrates, biotechnologies will provide an additional source of increase in fertility. IVF and other reproductive technologies keep getting better too. For example, see my posts Embryo Tests More Than Double IVF Pregnancy Rate, IVF Experts Call For Lower Fertility Drug Doses, Biopsy Doubles Success Rate For IVF Babies, and Lower Fertility Drug Doses Just As Effective For IVF. Stem cell research will eventually lead to ways for women to make fresh healthy eggs in their 40s and 50s. The effective period during which women can reproduce will get extended by decades.
I am also expecting a rebound in fertility due to effective declines in the cost of child raising. Computerized learning, computerized child-minding (picture an AI notifying mom when junior is about to wander out of the yard), and a huge rise in living standards as a result of the development of nanotech replicators.
Expect a far larger boost in fertility to come from rejuvenation therapies that make bodies young again. Women in their 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, and beyond will gain the ability to make their bodies young again and fertile once more. Population growth will only be controllable by strict legal restrictions on reproduction. One of my open questions about the future: will humanity restrict population growth or will we fall back down into a Malthusian trap and wipe out most of the remaining wild natural areas in the process?
Population growth will only be controllable by strict legal restrictions on reproduction.
Properly internalized costs are an alternative. Efficient markets (if achievable) are always preferable to government regulation. Is there some reason you believe that child-bearing is somehow immune to the laws of supply and demand? This very post suggests such is not the case.
Right now child-rearing must be subsidized. This will probably always be the case, since it is never a profitable endeavor. The rational parents (regardless of their youth or fertility) are always better off not having kids and keeping all that money for themselves.
Brock -- you are correct. Child-rearing is not immune from supply and demand. In fact, just as taxation dampens all productive activity that is taxed, so too does it dampen child-birth. I strongly believe three factors have conspired to cause the current fertility disaster in Western Civilization.
1) Oral contraceptives -- This crushed fertility and contrary to popular belief actually dampened female sexual activity in maybe one-half of all females. (Yes, it is harder to get laid. You haven't been imagining it!) Before we were guaranteed that the monthly heat of females would invariably lead to "accidents of closeness", placing an ultimate floor underneath fertility drops.
2) Feminism - What should have been a recognition of female equality translated into absurd have-it-all scenario's that are not possible within the universally wrecked economies of Western Civ (what you think 3% growth is good? Think again! It should be 10% or more!) that require two incomes. It takes energy to raise children -- you can have a career and 0-1 children or no career for 20 years and 3-4 children (then a career). Feminism told women that they could safely ignore their second essence -- procreation. The feminists were wrong. They threw away the future.
3) Taxation -- Taxation presently removes free energy from the system and redeploys it poorly and inefficiently. In this context, it removes money from productive couples -- money that would be available to offset the burden of child rearing. We presently suffer under tax levels two orders of magnitude or more than a medieval surf. Is it any wonder that we keep postponing "optional" activities like child bearing?
Just my 2cents
The rational decision for couples is not always to avoid childbearing and keep the money and time for other uses; they could care about the future.
What's needed to avoid even global dysgenesis, is to reverse the feedback mechanism in which more years of female education equals fewer children for each increment thereof.
Since the net taxpayers presently destroy their future by paying for additional years of college and graduate school, especially through the women's privilege policies, why not reverse this?
Those seeking any public support, which comes from taxes, to attend college and further education, must be married and have one child conceived to finish their first year, and another one born for every year of additional post-secondary education thereafter.
This applies to males, whether they are fertile or not, and to females even if they're infertile, so that they cannot receive tax-supported funds for any such education, if they can't or won't do what's required to retain the continuity of the advancement of civilization.
Further, after some years of such a policy, the PhD-holders will become conservative in unprecedented degree, on account of their large families, and the commitment to the continuity of responsible culture which this would almost always evoke.
"What's needed to avoid even global dysgenesis, is to reverse the feedback mechanism in which more years of female education equals fewer children for each increment thereof."
Part of this problem is that smarter women have a harder time finding husbands; to there's already a strong correlation between education and few children. Also, more education = more income (usually), so it's natural that as the opportunity cost of child-rearing rises, fewer people choose to do it. Neither of these problems can be "fixed", although advances in IVF may take some sting out of the first one.
"Those seeking any public support, which comes from taxes, to attend college and further education, must be married and have one child conceived to finish their first year, and another one born for every year of additional post-secondary education thereafter."
Won't work the way you intend. This will (at the margin) cause education-seeking women to have kids they don't want, and baby-seeking women to consume education resources they don't want. Both of these are wastes. Also, colleges are free to lower their standards to attract more federal grant money, so the federal grant money would be buying less education each year, and the education for all other students might degrade. Just a bad, bad idea.
Not that present day society would ever do such a thing, but if you want to encourage intelligent women to have kids, pay out child support based on IQ or mean-salary over a 5-year period. Neither of those can be faked too easily, and both are "good enough" indicators of what in modern society counts for Darwinian fitness.
But like I said, that would never happen (unless Randall becomes a billionaire and establishes a private foundation to that effect).
Besides, as Randall has said, this "dysgenesis" (is that a real word?) will fix itself as breeders beget breeders.
Regarding a future population explosion, the articles on this site seem to imply that we will know which genes are associated with desiring children before or at about the same time that a population takeoff becomes likely. People are not automatons, and they can make choices for their children that they wouldn't make for themselves. If it looks like the world is starting to become too crowded, people will be able to engineer their children so that they don't desire large families. There will be social and governmental pressure to do so.
Furthermore, have you considered the number of people that can be supported with some of the technologies that are coming on line? The earth isn't actually physically crowded; it is things like farmland and fresh water that are in short supply. If we get advanced biotechnology, nanotechnology, solar energy, nuclear energy, and so on, agricultural technology will become several times more productive, and fresh water will be easy to get. Heck, everyone might have his own meat machine on the kitchen counter.
Given something like advanced nanotechnology, the United States alone could supply living space for two billion people without overcrowding. That would still be over an acre of living space apiece. The trick would be finding enough resources for that many people, and advanced technology should be able to do that.
I just can't make myself believe that a resurgent population bomb is high on our list of worries. My major worry remains a hell germ designed not as a military weapon but simply to wipe us all out.
You are correct about the resource limits to population growth. However, there is more to the desired population than just material resources. A U.S. with 2 billion people would not be desirable, no matter what level of nanotechnology we have. Competition over non-material resources (like climbing El Capitan in Yosemite, rafting down the snake river, holidaying on the beaches of the Carribean) would be intense. There is more to life than just having a huge mansion and fancy cars and planes (all nanotech manufactured, of course!). It is the intangibles that matter to me.
I believe in economic growth and prosperity. But I also believe in preserving the intangible things that make life enjoyable as well. I like outdoor sports. I like to go to wilderness areas with out having to stand (yes, stand, not sit) on a crowded train for 3 hours like I used to in Japan.
I would much rather have a world of 6 billion or less people (all rejuvenated, of course) having lots of opportunities to enjoy life, rather than a world of 15-20 billion, even if all of the materials limits and environmental problems are cured with nanotechnology.
There are real limits to population growth, just not based on raw material resources.
I think market forces might lead us to use (in the following order)
1) Settlement of inhospitable regions of the Earth (Canada, Australian outback, US Rockies, etc.)
2) Undersea cities or manmade islands.
3) Space settlemen ts (the only long-term solution, due to the desire to not have all our eggs in one basket that could be hit by an asteroid, etc.)
These steps will prevent us from getting into a Malthusian trap.
I'l tell you what will kill the birthrate: expensive real estate. As the population on the Earth increases, compounded by economic growth, the value of real estate in any given area will increase even more. This will make it more expensive to have kids, relative to buying all kinds of consummer goods and vacation travel. Thus, fewer and fewer people will bother to have kids.
If we really get a high population (10-15 billion or more) by, say, 2020 or so, many of our major cities are going to look like that imperial capital in Star Wars, with people living in huge skyscrapers all over the place. Tokyo, Hong Kong, and Shanghai already look like this. People living in skyscrapers generally do not have kids. The physical environment (no outdoor places for the kids to play, etc.) just are not conducive to having kids. Also, cities (especially imperial capital-like ones with huge skyscrapers) offer lots of party life (nightlife). That's why people live in such places. Nightlife is addicive, especially when all you have to do is ride the life down out of your huge skyscraper to visit all of the bars and danceclubs on the street level (just like that imperial capital). People who like this kind of life generally don't want kids anyways (gets in the way of their party-lifestyle).
Kurt9, I'm not endorsing such a population as a good idea, I'm just pointing out that with the technology that FuturePundit is predicting, we are a long way from a Malthusian disaster. The birthrate hasn't even quit falling yet. For a population catastrophe to happen it first has to start going back up. Then people have to decide not to do something about it. Then we have to run out of resources despite increasing technological abilities.
Population Bomb? That is so 1970's.
If the Danish birthrate is 1.9 then that makes it the highest in Europe, but it's still below replacement rate (2.1) which just means the Danes can hold off collapse a little longer. And Randall, I have to disagree with all the points you make about a rebeound because the problem in Europe is not medical or financial, it's cultural. People aren't having babies because they are choosing not to. The value of children/families has changed dramitically there over the last 60 years and unless *that* changes, they're going to go over the cliff. And the idea of selective pressure taking a hand is unworkable because this situation will come to a head long before evolution (which takes many, many generations) can come into play.
But Europe won't empty out, or anything. Plenty of people with higher birthrates will fill the vacuum. It's true that breeders begat breeders, but those breeders won't be culturally European and they won't share our common values of freedom and liberal democracy.
When we find out which genes control our desire to have kids many future parents will make sure their kids get those genes so that the parents can be assured of becoming grandparents.
As for not being overcrowded at 2 billion people: Forget about ocean front living. Forget about living on a creek or lake. It all depends on how you define "overcrowded". If you are willing to give up desirable places to live and watch them become way more crowded and expensive to live in then I guess you won't mind the 2 billion people. But I will mind and in a big way.
If I have to go live in Alaska or underwater I'm not going to think to myself "Oh great, I've missed the Malthusian Trap by moving to this god forsaken place".
Also, moving into the wilds only delay the day when high density civilization catches up with you. If population growth does not stop then there's no refuge. If you think you know a place to escape to when there are 20 billion people will that place still work for you when populations hit 40 or 60 or 80 billion?
You do not address my argument that natural selection will produce humans who will have kids no matter how poor that makes them. We can see countries in this work where that is true right now.
I know of a family which is really poor and is mom is pregnant with her 9th kid. How come high costs aren't restraining her from reproducing?
The people who are discouraged from having kids by today's conditions in industrial countries are genetically different on average than those who have lots of kids. Higher fertility is getting selected for.
Unless we stop natural selection it will produce human populations which have much stronger urges to have children.
A lot of the people who like to have a lot of babies are moving from the third world to the first world, where the costs of having a lot of babies are mostly borne by the collective. Their descendants, perhaps influenced by their imams and mullahs, will make these important decisions you discuss. A lot of the futuristic advances discussed here just won't happen, because the average IQ and the political priorities, of the new majorities will change.
I'll write this from a white America perspective.
The world birthrate is not a problem. Total population is rising. The birthrate is falling but there will be plenty of people for a century. More than may be comfortable.
The change is in demographics. European stock both in the EU and in nations around the world has a low birthrate. The Chinese and Japanese are said to be aging.
And the vast, emptying area of Russia is going to be up for grabs in a few decades. It sure isn't going to be retained by Russians who aren't being born.
Simple projection indicates Europe, Northern Asia, and North America will be much different very soon. That isn't big news to most of the world. They already are.
Tinkering with fertility rates, be they 1.9 or 2.1, won't alter this picture in our lifetimes. Nor will medical techniques. Since 1970 there have been roughly a hundred million abortions in Europe and the US. Birth control certainly prevented just as many pregnancies.
Kelly Parks said it right. The problem is cultural. People aren't having babies because they are choosing not to.
From a Darwinian perspective the problem is that abortion and contraceptives didn't exist before. Now natural selection is working with this new environment and genes that increase fertility in spite of these new elements are getting selected for.
As for 1.9 or 2.1 fertility rates: These are average rates. Underneath the averages there are the women having 0 children and those having 4 or 5 or 6. The latter are the ones who are determining the genetic endowment of the next generation.
A whole lot of Americans live in the great suburban wasteland, so they aren't exactly living in wonderland as it is.
Be that as it may, I think you are thinking a bit small about desirable places to live when one posits that kind of wealth that biotech and nanotech might make possible. Heck, if we get good solar electricity, deserts might become sought-after real estate.
Given enough wealth, if you and your friends want lakefront homes, you can get together and have a lake built.
If you like the city lifestyle, how about something like Todos Santos and the other huge arcologies Niven and Pournelle write about in Oath of Fealty?
Want your own island? Pick a chunk of the Pacific and build it.
Put up a crystal dome, and you can live year round in your own tropical paradise in Alaska.
Now if the technology doesn't pan out, the above can't happen. But if the technology doesn't pan out, we are all going to be dead before we have to worry about a gigantic population anyway.
Yeah Randall, I read about a family in Britain with 10 children and hoping for another, what was slightly unusual is they were not 'trailer trash' who just didn't have the brains or motivation to control the situation, it was intentional and they weren't living off the welfare-state either. I think the husband was a policeman.
Will this situation actually give the West reversal of fortune compared to the rest of the world ? We had abortion and birth control first and therefore natural selection has been working in that environment longer in the West.
The Todos Santos arcology ("Think of it as evolution in action") in Oath of Fealty was built to protect people from an increasingly savage LA. The people living in it were not living in their ideal environment. They were forced by circumstances to live in the arcology.
But you are missing my larger point: The ability to turn more of the Earth's surface into livable area only delays the big squeeze. If natural selection really does shift industrial country humans back toward high fertility every place - old or recently created - will get worse eventually.
There are two questions:
1) Do genetic alleles exist that boost the desire to have children or otherwise cause people to behave in ways that they'll have more children?
2) If the answer to #1 is YES then what will stop natural selection from boosting the frequency of those alleles and therefore boosting human fertlity higher and higher?
Telling me what we can do to reshape Alaska or create artificial islands (as if all this isn't terribly obvious to someone like myself who sees technology making huge strides) does not address the issue I'm raising about natural selections and instincts to reproduce.
Telling me that many people will decide that, faced with a huge population, they'll just choose to reproduce does again not address the issue I'm raising here. The the set called "many" and the set called "most" and the set called "almost everyone" are subsets of the set called "all". As long as a small subset has alleles that compel them to have kids and as long as that small subset is allowed to reproduce that small subset will gradually grow to become a majority and beyond that point they'll produce billions and tens of billions of humans.
What's to stop them from producing tens of billions of humans? After all, we'll have enough technology to produce food for tens of billions of humans. So why won't those with a huge instinct to reproduce keep making babies so that we fall back into the Malthusian Trap?
Also, long before calorie malnutrition becomes a problem our lives will become living hells.
If we have the tech to simply travel into and live in space. (the solar system). We do not just kick the ball a little bit forward. We can support one million times the amount of people. With a doubing rate of 50 years ( a little less than 2% growth) that would mean 1000 years. A lot of problems can be created and fixed over 1000 years.
Civilization needs to spread out from earth if it wants to sustain itself for the long term anyway. Various risks can take out a planet.
So a high level plan would be
1. Get molecular nanotechnology 2015-2030
2. Move about the solar system easily, mini-mag orion, mirror reflected laser photonic propulsion, space elevators, space piers
3. Get clean thorium liquid flouride reactors and/or nuclear fusion and hyper efficient solar power
4. Identify and fix problems, poverty, disease, aging
5. Keep improving and fixing
In the 1970s, Gerard O'Neill suggested building space habitats that could support 30,000 times the carrying capacity of Earth using just the asteroid belt and that the solar system as a whole could sustain current population growth rates for a thousand years. Marshall Savage (1992, 1994) has projected a population of five quintillion throughout the solar system by 3000, with the majority in the asteroid belt. Inhabitants of the asteroid belt may risk disaster caused by their home world colliding with other asteroids. Arthur C. Clarke, a fervent supporter of Savage, now argues that by 2057 there will be humans on the Moon, Mars, Europa, Ganymede, Titan and in orbit around Venus, Neptune and Pluto. Freeman Dyson (1999) favours the Kuiper belt as the future home of humanity, suggesting this could happen within a few centuries. In Mining the Sky, John S. Lewis suggests that the staggering resources of the solar system could support 10 quadrillion (10^15) people.
K. Eric Drexler, famous inventor of the futuristic concept of Molecular Nanotechnology, has suggested in Engines of Creation that colonizing space will mean breaking the Malthusian limits to growth forever for the human species.
Many authors (eg. Carl Sagan, Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov) have argued that shipping the excess population into space is no solution to human overpopulation, saying that (Clarke, 1999) "the population battle must be fought or won here on Earth." It is not the lack of resources in space that they see as the problem (as books such as Mining the sky demonstrate); it is the sheer physical impracticality of shipping vast numbers of people into space to "solve" overpopulation on Earth that these authors and others regard as absurd. However, Gerard O'Neill's calculations show that the Earth could offload all new population growth with a launch services industry about the same size as the current airline industry in O'Neill, Gerard K. (1981). 2081: A Hopeful View of the Human Future. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 0-671-44751-3.
Shipping huge numbers of people into space only can work if we can do with with a nanotech bean pole into high orbit. Use of rockets would requires too much energy and cause too much pollution. But the nanotech bean pole is better suited for moving material than people. The slow movement of elevators up the nanotech cable will expose riders to too much radiation. Can we find a solution to that problem? (assuming we can find a way to make cables strong enough to make a cable strong enough to reach into high orbit)
Also, in effect people would need to get exiled and banished from Earth. Who would get to stay? Who would be required to leave?
People who argue for a huge increase in human population should explain why we should see this as a good thing in the first place.
I'm not arguing with your basic logic. If genes influence the desire and ability to reproduce, those that make people ready and willing to have children will be selected for. That's natural selection 101. I have no argument with that.
But consider: if we know which genes bias people toward having large families--and I have no reason to doubt that we will begin finding out within the next ten years or so--and if people having large families begin to make the Earth a living hell--the prospect of which I have trouble imagining happening any time within the next several centuries, at least--what makes you think that everyone else will allow the breeders to keep having too many kids? They will know the genes responsible, and they will be able to screen for them and stop them from being passed on, if necessary.
They aren't going to just sit there and let the breeders ruin the Earth. The only way that could happen is if the breeders somehow manage to become more powerful than the non-breeders without anyone noticing what is happening. You, however, are positing conditions becoming dire. If they are becoming dire, people will be looking for the causes, and the breeders will certainly be noticed.
Anyway, you seem to worry about this issue a lot. I don't know if this reasoning helps, but please consider: you are talking about a natural process. Natural selection can't be repealed. (At least in no way that I can see.) If we get the huge increase in technology that appears to be coming along fast, we or our successor species will have lots of ways to at least channel natural selection and perhaps slow it or move it in less harmful directions.
If we don't get the huge technology take off, you and I and everyone else living today is going to be dead. At the moment, we have no way to do anything about the selection for genes that promote large families. (I suppose we could round up and murder every large family, but I doubt that we are evil enough to implement such a plan.) It's not like air pollution, for instance, where we actually can do something now for the benefit of future generations.
Stopping the advance of technology won't help, because natural selection is a law of nature. High tech, low tech it's going to happen.
Future overpopulation is not our problem, at least not today. We can't do anything about it now. If it starts to happen, the people of the future--who if we are lucky might be us--will have far better tools at their disposal.
>>Also, in effect people would need to get exiled and banished from Earth. Who would get to stay? Who would be required to leave?
You didn't direct the question at me, but I personally would recommend that those who want to have kids at a rate that leads to long-term population increase, if population is a problem, ought to be the ones to leave. In other words, you can have ten kids if you want, but you will be doing it as Martian colonists.
I think eventually offworld will be where the action is. Business wise etc...
So it would not be who is forced to go. Just as when the US had its huge increase from colonization.
It was because it was and is the land of greater opportunity.
They are not banished. People can vacation in Europe all the time and move back at will as well.
The US, Canada and Australia have more people than UK, France, Spain, Italy and the other primary European source nations.
Radiation shielding (electrostatic and/or magnetic)
Graphite nanofibers doped with hydrogen
BTW: superthread (carbon nanotubes fibers) could be the material that enables the space elevator.
It is already ramping up for production.
You have been talking about post 2050, since the demographic rebound seems unlikely to occur before then. Now we are looking at slowing birth rates and aging populations. So we should look at what is likely post-2050 tech. In the next 15-25 years we are not going to move more than a dozen or so people offworld for any length of time. If we are lucky develop a good orbital adventure tourist business. Partially taking some of the Everest type trips.
There are plenty of non-polluting launchers possible with likely 2050+ tech.
I write about future problems for a few reasons:
1) The future is my beat.
2) I want to draw attention to the continuing power of natural selection and the fact that humanity continues to get shaped by natural selection. We haven't escaped natural selection contrary to the claims of some commentators.
3) I want to underscore to the more libertarian-minded that advances in technology by themselves to not magically solve future problems. The problems that necessitate politics will not go away just because we develop machines that'll produce orders of magnitude more goods and energy tech that'll increase energy production by orders of magnitude.
I agree that at least in theory we will be able to stop from getting passed along genes that make people want to have children. But I question whether this will be politically possible in practice. Why? Because those who have those genes (to differing extents) are probably the majority. Under majority rule in a society where alleles for the desire for children are on the rise it might become politically impossible to prevent fertility-enhancing genes from getting put into offspring.
If those with strong instinctive desires to have children are not already the majority then when will they become the majority? The answer to that question will depend on nation and region. We do not have yet have access to the genetic data we'd need to know.
Dictatorships might be able to stop run-away population growth - but only in their borders. Absent a world government I do not see offspring genetic engineering legal requirements as a reliable way to control human population growth.
The demographic rebound will start when we start getting tech that allows women in their 40s and 50s to safely have children in large nmbers. That could start much sooner than 2050. Stem cell therapies to make young eggs and to rejuvenate wombs could kick off a big baby boom.
When will we get rejuvenation therapies? I'm thinking we'll have grown replacement organs by the 2020s.
Also, we do not know how fast the selective pressures are acting to raise fertility in industrialized countries. We might start seeing a fertility rebound in another 20 or 30 years if the selective pressures are acting fast enough.
I can see the demographic rebound stopping the decline in developed country populations.
If people are enabled to routinely have children in their 40-50's and then 60+ (say with significantly extended lifespans). If those were the dominant demographic factors then the doubling rate would be the average age when people would have two children. It would no longer be 2 to replace if lifespans are extended indefinitely. It would be 2 to double.
I think some rebound could start in 2020s but that it will take time for those factors to become the dominant demographic drivers. Plus if we remove all time pressures in regards to reproduction, where women knew that they could safely have a kid whenever they wanted then it would further push out the time between children.
Some kind of eventual pay as you go system could be sustainable. Where someone would have to earn and establish some sort of perpetual funds to create the offsets to support bringing a new consumer into existence.