All 10 Million Europeans: The Specter of Endless Low-Fertility

Years ago, I came across an intriguing essay. It was entitled “All 10 million Europeans”, and was about Europe’s shrinking native population.

What happens if birth rates fall permanently below death rates? …[T]here is no evidence that this [deaths exceeding births in rich countries] will ever be reversed. […]

Perhaps a shrinking population is “normal” – as growth was once considered to be “normal”. Perhaps a shrinking population is characteristic of any planets with an advanced technology. If so, then Latvia and Estonia have also answered a theoretical question of SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence). The famous question, used by those who do not believe in extra-terrestrials: if there are billions of advanced civilisations, why are they not here to visit us? Look at the table of Latvian population, project it 10,000 years into the future, and you have an answer: there are not enough aliens to build a spacecraft. All those huge galactic federations in science-fiction films, with billions of billions of alien inhabitants, may simply reflect mistaken demographic theory.

A Specter is Haunting Europe — The Specter of Low-Fertility
The author of the above essay’s speculation seems supported by current thinking in academia. Low-fertility is a “trap” from which a modern/postmodern culture cannot escape, according to the current sociological notion.

That is, once a culture nestles into having a total fertility rate (TFR, the projected number of babies borne by a woman over her lifetime based on current birthrates) that is significantly below replacement level, and it does so ‘independently’ (other than in cases of temporary shocks like war and economic depression), that society’s cultural mores and values will have become such that its TFR cannot swing up again.

I.e.: Females raised in a very-low-fertility culture, who aspire to a quasi-aristocratic life of expensive handbags, posh coffee shops, high-heeled shoes for daily wear, postgraduate degrees, and so on, have acquired a set of cultural ‘expectations’ that simply does not include having children around. Or — if there are children — certainly not more than one or two of them. They are expensive, time-consuming, and get in the way of having fun. Women raised with this set of values will simply not, one day, just start having large families with five children, as their grandmothers may have done, regardless of what the economy is doing. Maybe some women can be persuaded to have an extra child if the government promises lavish cash payouts for them (as some countries do already). But (a) Governments can only afford so much in handouts before they start seriously burdening their own economies, and (b) These policies have tended to not increase TFRs by much where they have been implemented. [Denmark may be an exception].

A good discussion of the mechanics behind this is here: The Low Fertility Trap. There is, according to the authors, a hypothetical ‘low fertility threshold’, which may be ~1.5. No culture that has nestled into a TFR below it has ever shown it can recover to replacement fertility.

It the bluntest of possible terms: A society with sustained very-low fertility is in a death spiral. Whatever it may seem to be doing at the time, however prosperous or vibrant, a population with a sustained 1.0 TFR will decline to 10% of its original size in a mere three generations, all else equal. (1.0/2.1=.476, 1*.476*.476*.476=.108), and one percent of its original population in six generations.

You say, “a sustained 1.0 TFR is impossible”. Incorrect. South Korea already has it, or nearly so. In the past decade, South-Korean TFR, according to official data, has averaged 1.18! This will really start to pinch them in a few years. Japan’s anemic TFR is also well-known by now. Examples in Europe are also easy to come by. Even White-Americans have been below replacement fertility for the past 40 years.

Incidentally, the essay linked-to above is entitled “All 10 million Europeans”. Europe has about 730 million residents today. At a sustained 1.5 TFR, Europe’s population would start to severely contract, and would hit 10 million perhaps sometime in the latter half of the 2300s AD. At a sustained 1.0 TFR, Europe would hit 10 million in the latter part of the 2100s. At 1.0 TFR, Europe in 2400 would have just a few tens of thousands of souls, probably less than the population of the continent during the Stone Age.

In reality, of course, a civilization on such a downward spiral would be replaced by something more virile, long before numbers can contract as dramatically as is outlined in the preceding paragraph.

Is it possible for a culture to pull itself out of very-low fertility? If not, then we are living in the twilight of many European and East-Asian cultures (as we have known them). If they still exist, nominally, in two centuries, they may be populated by very-different people. (“The future belongs to those who show up for it”).

Whether a mass repopulation is possible without severely negative consequences is up for debate. As the Dr. Sam Francis, a former Washington Times columnist with racialist sympathies, famously wrote:

“The civilization that we as Whites created in Europe and America could not have developed apart from the genetic endowments of the creating people, nor is there any reason to believe that the civilization can be successfully transmitted to a different people.”

Breaking Out of the Low-Fertility Trap
Is this any precedent for a modern, advanced economy breaking out of low-fertility? There is the Baby Boom, but that is nearly 70 years gone, now.

More recently, TFRs rose quite dramatically for Westerners in the late 1980s, and early 1990s, which I like to attribute to civilizational self-confidence. The Cold War was coming to an end, with the Western system victorious.

Take a look at the graph [from USA’s Fertility Rates by Race, 1980-2010]

Conventional wisdom, though, is that fertility responds to economic conditions. In a shallow sense, this is true. Looking at the graph again, though, we see that White fertility has hardly budged despite the sluggish economy of the late 2000s, and seems to have been hardly affected by the boom years of the 1990s, or by previous recent recessions. It has been within the narrow band of ~1.8 to ~1.9 for nearing a quarter century, now.

What this suggests to me is that cultural optimism promotes a higher TFR among modern people, more than anything else.

Speaking of which, we know of one other, controversial, instance in which a low-TFR was dramatically raised in a short period of time:

[From here].

A 0.4-TFR-point jump in a single year(!), 1934 over 1933. (A +1.0-TFR in seven years). Did the German economy dramatically improve the day Hitler took power? No — But, by all accounts of the period, ‘civilizational optimism’ did take hold. That is the only reasonable explanation of the Nazi Baby Boom. On the flip side: As a consequence of the fiery defeat of that regime in the 1940s, future generations of German-speakers have been far less willing to have babies.


The future belongs
to those who
show up for it

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41 Responses to All 10 Million Europeans: The Specter of Endless Low-Fertility

  1. Jehu says:

    To project the future of a given nation, you really need to know the fertility and fertility trajectory of the various subcultures within it. For instance, will the Mormons and homeschoolers rule the America of the future? I’m not sure if there are any such subcultures in Japan though—if there are they’re not geographically concentrated. Right now we’re engaged in a massive experiment of artificial selection aimed at breeding a new race that is resistant to birth control and leftist propaganda.

    • Hail says:

      Good point, Jehu.

      According to your recent post, U.S. homeschoolers’ TFR is 3.5. Mormons’ remains a respectable 3.0. Amish seems to be much higher still.

      What I wonder is, haven’t there always been pressures selecting for those who want larger families? How did we end up in the position we are now, then?

      Interestingly, and perhaps relatedly, it took only 16 years for South Korea to go from a 4.5 TFR (1971) to a 1.5 TFR (1987).

      • coldequation says:

        There wasn’t really selection for people who wanted large families – there was selection for people who followed social norms and who had sex when there was no birth control. Now that the social norms have changed (having big families is weird now) and birth control is available, that doesn’t cut it anymore, unless you’re part of a subculture that still favors big families.

        But there are people who have an inner drive to have (multiple) children, regardless of social norms, religious beliefs, etc, and no doubt they are being selected for, among other groups of people who have kept their fertility up.

        • stopbadscience says:

          I’m a Reverend of (Ben Klassen’s) Creativity religion. I had 7 children by the same husband by the age of 36. No caesarians, all healthy – separate pregnancies. I like to keep fit. Most people think I am 15 years younger and have a figure that some friends
          tell me is better than most 20 year olds. The media and our hostile elite are determined to give the impression having kids makes you fat and ugly. I don’t mean to boast, but women should stop making excuses and damned well use state handouts rather than let the race go extinct.

  2. Jehu says:

    I suspect that prior to birth control being readily available, that the explicit natalist bonus was heavily muted. But honestly there are a lot of questions regarding fertility that are a bitch to answer from ANYONE’s frame. For instance, why is it that there exists such a massive delta in the fertility and ability to easily deliver babies among women of the same approximate age and ethnicity, when we know that said qualities are at least strongly influenced by heredity?
    One would think that if animal husbandry/microevolution optimizes ANYTHING, it optimizes the actual ability to conceive and bring a child to term and survive to multiply again. But some women consistently have—want to get pregnant, pregnant by their next cycle experiences whereas others have long agonizing and sometimes not even successful efforts. It is honestly difficult to explain.

    • coldequation says:

      Jehu, here’s a hypothesis about humanity’s low fecundability rate:

      tl;dr – pregnancy is very hard on a human female’s body (more so than for other species) so it’s better not to get pregnant too often. (if you read more it provides some insight into why polyandry has traditionally been taboo, but that’s a little off topic here).

      Not sure if I believe that but at least somebody’s noticed the issue..

      • Jehu says:

        It wouldn’t be too hard to explain the low fecundability rate of human women in general if we didn’t have substantial segments of women who apparently DON’T have that issue—there’s a pretty large group of women who, even in their 30s, basically get pregnant pretty much automatically if they have sex in their fertile window. They also seem to have next to no trouble actually delivering, usually without an extraordinary measures. Logically speaking, wouldn’t that group of women conquer the gene pool?

  3. JayMan says:

    Thanks for the pingback.

    Of course, I would disagree that low-fertility is necessarily a death spiral. Evolutionary forces will not allow it. To a degree “natality” is heritable, and some women are still having children; indeed, some have many. Those genes are being selected for in the gene pool, and in time, fertility will rebound as these “fast breeders” become a larger share of the population, as is apparently already happening in Eastern Europe. See here:

    Pioneer hypothesis | JayMan’s Blog

    • Hail says:

      That makes sense. In this spirit, some have declared a Mormon America (or a Mormon/Amish America) to be on the horizon. It is not impossible.

      This graph which you post is strong support for the position argued for by Jehu, Justin, and you, Jay.

      • JayMan says:

        ” A criticism of that data occurs to me: political-ideology is not black-and-white, i.e., an American woman who grew up in the 1910s and 1920s saying that she is “a Democrat” means something very different than it does today, of course.”
        Indeed, so one has to consider both the moderate heritability of political orientation within generation (around 0.4-0.6), and the between generation environmental input, likely shaving quite a bit off that figure.

        That said, you still have a decent level of heritability in political orientation that, for lack of a better expression, breeds “true”.

        “What is certain is that ‘conservatism’ has totally won in getting all Whites who want larger families onto its side.”

        Yes, the future belongs to fecund pious conservatives, as I don’t see the trend of very low liberal fertility reversing anytime soon.

    • Hail says:

      A criticism of that data occurs to me: Political-ideology is not black-and-white, i.e., an American woman who grew up in the 1910s and 1920s saying that she is “a Democrat” means something very different than it does today, of course. An Irish-Catholic of Al Smith’s day would’ve called herself left-wing, but that group of Whites still had a sky-high TFR at the time. This may explain the lack of apparent TFR difference among the older cohorts.

      What is certain is that ‘conservatism’ had, by the 1990s, totally won in getting all Whites who want larger families onto its side, which explains why most U.S. Whites vote against their economic interest, an endless puzzle to the NPR crowd. As the Germans would say, “Die Demokraten bringen uns den ‘Volkstod’…” (In spirit: The [liberal-]democrats carry the banner of National Death).

    • Jake says:

      Low-fertility is a death spiral for those genes that correlate with it. By definition. Fertility isn’t “rebounding” here. “Evolutionary forces” are selecting for different genes and evolving a different population.

      • Hail says:

        The number of high-fertility-despite-it-all people is so low, that the White population seems destined to severely contract before this “different population” emerges, anyway.

    • Hail says:

      Incidentally, JayMan, I realize that your Pioneer Hypothesis could be “drawing water from the same well” as what I call ‘Civilizational Optimism’ here.

      Clearly, Whites in North America were generally optimistic about the future (from the 1600s through the 1800s, at least), partly or mostly because they were in the process of conquering a continent.

      What more quintessentially Pioneer-oriented song than Davey Crockett? The song beams with civilizational optimism. Listen to the words.

      • JayMan says:

        “The number of high-fertility-despite-it-all people is so low, that the White population seems destined to severely contract before this “different population” emerges”

        But keep in mind that people’s procreating behavior responds to external conditions. In a contracting population, cost of living will fall. Assuming that immigration is also controlled, wages will also eventually rise. “Affordable family formation” will become easier such that even the “slow-breeders” will reproduce more, since they will feel less resource insecure.

        Indeed, the whole reason that the Baby Boom happened was both because of the high wage-to-expense ratio of the post-War era and the “colonization” of suburbia. Should the wealth distribution again even out the way it did during that time, there will be another baby boom.

        • Ian says:

          Was about to post just that, except probably not as articulately as you did JayMan – well put.

        • Hail says:

          In a contracting population, cost of living will fall

          It seems you are describing deflation.

          Deflation has afflicted Japan for what is now approaching a generation. The TFR continued to slide during the early years of Japan’s deflation (1990s), and seem to now have stabilized within the 1.3-1.4 range. I don’t think anyone is predicting an impending major upswing in Japanese TFR.

          the Baby Boom happened…both because of the high wage-to-expense ratio of the post-War era and the “colonization” of suburbia

          While I surely don’t discount this idea of Suburb-colonization as something meaningful for the USA, it is a fact baby-booms happened in most every West-European country after 1945, few — if any — having anything resembling American suburbs. The dramatic and immediate Nazi Baby Boom cannot be attributed to suburbs either, nor to a strong economy (at first): As commenter Jake wrote below:

          [To boost TFRs in a modern setting] You don’t need a ‘strong economy,’ […] Hitler raised the status of ordinary German men and glorified the average male German soldier, worker, farmer, etc. This served to make more German men appear to be reproductively viable in the eyes of German women, who as a result started pumping out more babies.

          The authors of this paper say the West’s post-1945 baby boom’s causes are actually a bit of a mystery, but propose that it was caused by “the invention of labor-saving household capital, or other labor-saving household products and management techniques, that occurred during the middle of the last century”.

          I am still attracted to Civilizational Optimism as the most a robust explanation for fertility trends in the modern West.

          • JayMan says:

            “It seems you are describing deflation.”

            Not exactly. Effective cost of living has to become lower, either by prices going down, wages going up, or both. If prices fall but so do wages, there isn’t really going to be a net change to the average person.

            “The TFR continued to slide during the early years of Japan’s deflation (1990s), and seem to now have stabilized within the 1.3-1.4 range.”

            And Japan is still horrendously crowded. While I’m not sure if the wage-to-cost ratio is all that good, there still needs to be open land. People don’t like to have children in crowded cities. Japan is nowhere near the point where the average couple can easily land a home with roomy land, or whatever the Japanese equivalent.

            Fertility is bound to turn around in East Asia eventually. However, it may take a while as many of these countries have yet to depopulate, and population density remains very high.

            The post-War era was an era of high wages and indeed, re-population across much of the world. What was an expansion into suburbia for America could have been a reclamation of war-decimated lands in Europe. I believe that your “Civilizational Optimism” is indeed similar, if not identical to my “Pioneer hypothesis”. When prospects are good—resources are abundant (e.g. high wages) and room is plentiful—fertility ticks up. When resources and land are scarce, and individual competition is stiff, family formation becomes more difficult and fertility slips.

  4. Justin says:

    Agree with the above. We are in the mid-morning of an incredible experiment designed to weed out non-maternal females. With cheaply available birth control and abortion, only women who WANT to breed, end up breeding. The US White TFR has rebounded from its lows in the 1970s, which was peak birth control and peak abortion. Peak abortion actually occurred in 1981, more than a full generation ago.

    Culture is big, but I will critique your “civ confidence” theory again, as being too broad. The importance of sub-cultures is waaay more important. Hardcore liberal females are intentionally removing themselves from the gene pool for all kinds of weird reasons, like “humans being bad for Mother Earth” or whatever.

    Meanwhile, the hardcore religious, which is the core group of the Homeschooling sub-culture, basically live in a Perpetual Dawn of Civilizational Confidence, because of the Love of God that they personally feel, their birth rate is doing just fine.

    • Hail says:

      I am in general agreement, Justin, about high-fertility subcultures’ effect on fertility.

      RE Abortion: Interestingly, the downtrend in abortion began in 1988, says CDC data, and has fallen most years since then. In the 2000s, only 20% of US pregnancies were aborted, vs. 26% in the 1980s. More interestingly, this decline in abortion rates has been a totally White phenomenon. In 1990, the White abortion rate equaled the national rate, but today the White rate is far lower.

      %-of-Own-Babies-Aborted / Ethnic Group / [%-of-USA’s-Births]

      25.6% All Races
      20.3% Hispanics [14.7%]
      24.7% Whites
      37.4% Blacks

      2002 (excluding California — Did not report abortion totals after ’98)
      21.6% All Races
      20.2% Hispanics [17.7%]
      17.0% Whites
      34.9% Blacks

      (Note that “Whites” above is not “White non-Hispanics”. In 2002, the “White non-Hispanic” rate would be even lower.)

      Clearly most of the downward movement has come from Whites.

      Incidentally, Justin, your blog once had a lot to say about abortion. One of your best posts actually inspired me to post about abortion last year. Where has your blog gone?

      • SoCalPatriot says:

        “Justin…Where has your blog gone?” If that is the same ‘Justin’ from The Truth Shall Set You Free,then I,too,would love to hear the answer to that question.TTSSYF was a great blog and has been sorely missed;the same with Mangan’s and oneSTDV. Now,if only we could convince these gentlemen to resume blogging publicly again,and Vanishing American to start posting again,then the world will be well yet once again!

  5. Jake says:

    “Civilization optimism” seems like a deus ex machina.

    The “Nazi baby boom” is explained by a reversal or mitigation of the parasitic castration that was greatly aggravated in the Weimar Republic. Wealth centralization and lower social status for the majority of men results in large numbers of men being parasitically castrated by the minority of men who manage to centralize wealth and or achieve or maintain high status. Such men become unworthy of reproduction in the eyes of many women, and as a result many women go childless, have fewer kids, put off having kids, etc. In this situation, women are looking for the men that are castrating all the other men since those genes appear to be “successful” in this environment.

    Decreasing wealth centralization and/or raising the status of men relative to women reverses or mitigates parasitic castration and can raise fertility as more men appear viable and worthy of reproduction in the eyes of women. You don’t need a “strong economy,” you need the right political economy. Hitler raised the status of ordinary German men and glorified the average male German soldier, worker, farmer, etc. He implemented Keynesian type jobs and economic programs that made more ordinary German men economically viable. This served to make more German men appear to be reproductively viable in the eyes of German women, who as a result started pumping out more babies.

    • Hail says:

      “Civilization optimism” seems like a deus ex machina

      Fair enough. It does seem like that, from our perspective today. Who’s to say it is impossible, though? To demoralized Europeans under communist regimes,1989 probably seemed like deus ex machina. To a demoralized German patriot in the late 1920s, I’m sure the rise of the NSDAP seemed the same.

      I think that the inverse of this “Civilizational Optimism” hypothesis is observable. Who are the most politically (“civilizationally”) pessimistic people, the group most prone to ethnomasochism, in all of Europe today? Certainly German-speakers. Sure enough, their desired family size is by far lowest.

  6. Staffan says:

    As other have pointed out, there are forces that counter the deathspiral. It’s well known that extraverted and impulsive people have more children than others so rather than seeing the end of Whites and Asians this will change the make up of these groups. They will become increasingly characterized by extraversion and impulsivity or sensation seeking, or in other words they will become more like Americans in these respects.

    But the complexity of all this is so huge. Just think of what will happen to the Muslim population when oil becomes obsolete. They can’t possibly feed themselves without oil since their economies are so heavily dependent on it. Add war and pandemics and the genetics involved in that (HIV is much more dangerous for Africans than Scandinavians). It’s very hard to predict what the demographic situation will be in the future.

    • JayMan says:

      “Just think of what will happen to the Muslim population when oil becomes obsolete.”

      More and more it seems a lot less likely that that’s going to be a problem any time soon…

      • Staffan says:

        There are lots of new technologies on the way. Wind and solar power are becoming more profitable and ethanol has already replaced a lot of gasoline. Here in Sweden oil has shrunk from 73 percent of the cost of energy in 1973 down to 32 percent in 2009. And Brazil is certainly not going to buy as much oil as we have. According to Eurostat,

        “The combined share of crude oil, petroleum products and solid fuels fell from 57.5 % of total consumption in 1999 to 52.3 % in 2009,”

        In Denmark 20 percent of all electriciy is windpower, in Spain it’s 16 percent.

        So it’s already happening. I think that as far as economic growth, it’s safe to say that there is a gradual shift of importance from natural resources to ideas. And this is going to hurt the Muslim world in a really bad way sooner or later.

        But my main point was that there are so many factors that can’t be estimated in advance that will influence the demographics.

  7. JayMan says:

    “So it’s already happening. I think that as far as economic growth, it’s safe to say that there is a gradual shift of importance from natural resources to ideas.”

    Until we have Star Trek replicators, natural resources are going to remain very important. 🙂

    I agree, mid-East oil will, eventually, diminish in importance. I think we are still a long way off from that, at the rate we’re going.

    Especially since we’re not investing in these:

    LFTRs in 5 minutes – Thorium Reactors – YouTube

  8. Pingback: Randoms « Foseti

  9. Hail says:

    Staffan wrote:
    there are so many factors that can’t be estimated in advance that will influence the demographics

    Absolutely true.

    I can only speculate what could cause another Baby Boom, raising TFRs above replacement, among today’s sort of modern Western White women in Europe and the USA. It is hard to imagine.

  10. KevinNowell says:

    I would like to add to this discussion that, not only do Mormon/Amish/homeschoolers have higher feritility rates; but, religiousity in general is correlated with fertility. Even within religions, what we see happening is the more pious, more devout members out-reproducing the less devout.

    This will especially be true in the Catholic fatih as birth control is prohibited; yet, many cafeteria Catholics still use it. These will be replaced, I hope, by those more faithful to the teachings of the Church.

    Liberalism is sowing the seeds of its own desturction. (Or not sowing them as the case may be.)

  11. james wilson says:

    All things being equal, which of course they are not and never will be, a sub-replacement fertility rate would be self-correcting. Those that do not replace themselves are taken out of the gene pool, and to a lesser extent, out of the culture. Those that for whatever reason have two and more children become the norm. We shall see the result of that in ethnically homogeneous nations. Japan and Korea.

    However, a rapidly shrinking population has another effect. It greatly raises the mean age. A population of 50 mean years may have certain limited advantages, but security is the overriding virtue. It cannot advance, and a civilization which is not advancing is declining.

    • Hail says:

      James Wilson wrote:
      It cannot advance, and a civilization which is not advancing is declining.

      Given a culture with an average lifespan of over 100 (potentially attainable), with steady fertility (and thus no ‘bulges’ in population, like the Baby Boomers), the average age would be 50, true. That such an old society would be stagnant and listless seems a reasonable assumption.

      The question is, would an old society discourage fertility generally, pinning the affected society in the “Low Fertility Trap”? This is territory the human race has never been in before, so we cannot say for certain.

  12. Abelard Lindsey says:

    This is not a major problem in the near term, say, the next 30-40 years. Radical life extension through bio-engineering (SENS, genetically engineered stem-cell rejuvenation, etc.) will solve this problem in the long-term (2050 and beyond). Essentially, low fertility is not worth worrying about.

    • Hail says:

      Life extension could exacerbate the problem, could it not? See here.

      • Abelard Lindsey says:

        No, it would not because we are talking about curing aging itself. People would remain physiologically youthful and thus retain all of their abilities.

        • james wilson says:

          If a very low fertility western population were to find itself in a state of heath with a lifetime of 120 years, or more, that might end the low fertility problem–or it might only accelerate the trend. If it did solve the challenge of a shrinking population, other problems are increased–an already sterile culture, of of which the average adult age now rises to a (hale) eighty is not going to advance, for this is not in the nature of middle age. It is going to go to great lengths to remain exactly as it is, no matter how youthful it appears. There is no further contribution from youthful vigor, which is so marginalized in number it is held down, and this long-lived healthy and handsome society has none of the greatness which adversity causes. Not music, nor art, or literature, or love. The full effects cannot be calculated because they cannot even be predicted. However, I do think that the science is sound and that all this would unfold, except for the fact that this same sterile culture has placed aliens in their center that are in fact reproducing right now. There will be no experiment.

  13. social media Specialist says:

    Wow that was strange. I just wrote an vefy long comment but after I clicked submit my comment didn’t show up.

    Grrrr… well I’m nott writing all thhat over again. Anyway, juhst
    wanted to say wonderful blog!

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