Low Fertility Trap

In 2020, the number of expected babies per South Korean woman fell to 0.84 in 2020 which is down from the previous record low of 0.92 in 2019.

The capital city Seoul has almost 20% of the population of South Korea. Seoul had the lowest birth rate of 0.64.

The TFR (total Fertility rate) represents the average number of children a woman would potentially have, were she to fast-forward through all her childbearing years in a single year, under all the age-specific fertility rates for that year. In other words, this rate is the number of children a woman would have if she was subject to prevailing fertility rates at all ages from a single given year and survives throughout all her childbearing years. TFR replacement level is 2.1.

After WW2, Japan had a baby boom from 1946 to 1948, and the total fertility rate exceeded 4.0. By the end of the 1950s, Japan’s fertility rate had dropped to a replacement level of 2.1. In 1989, Japan’s fertility rate hit a new low of 1.57, it shocked the Japanese government and people, and it was called the “1.57 crisis.” By 1995, Japan’s fertility rate was below 1.5 for the first time, and in 2005 it dropped to 1.26. Pro-childbirth policies let Japan’s fertility rise back to 1.45 in 2015. Japan’s fertility rate has again fallen to around 1.4.

Currently, Japan’s retirement age is 65. In April, 2022 a new law will let companies have employees to work until the age of 70. They are considering a policy to eliminate retirement ages and support lifetime employment. There is finally support for foreign immigration.

China’s fertility rates from 2017 to 2019 were 1.58, 1.495, and 1.47. This is with the fertility catch-up with the change from a one-child to a two-child policy.

China had less than 18 million annual births over the last decade. In 2019, China recorded 14.65 million newborns. In 2020 there were only 10.03 million. 2020 was an anomaly because of COVID.

China’s central bank is calling for the lifting the two-child limit. China’s working-age population is shrinking and the working-age population could drop by 15% by 2050.

China’s working-age population is about 800 million and could drop to about 680 million in 2050.

South Korea’s working-age population is about 36.3 million and will drop to about 30.4 million by 2050.

SOURCES- Reuters, Baidu
Written By Brian Wang, Nextbigfuture.com

46 thoughts on “Low Fertility Trap”

  1. Deferred gratification from a male standpoint, maybe. Women get a huge new project instantly, their friends all gather around, design the baby's room, tons of shopping for baby stuff, etc. Not to mention the highly approving grandparents and other relatives, maybe with financial help and baby gifts as well. Very gratifying for most if not all I would say.

    I would also say that cultural dilution is not a thing, rather enrichment by immigrants. They also adapt a great deal more to the host culture than most people realize. Look at Hockey Night in Canada: Punjabi Edition. The local tradition has been vigorously adopted by the newcomers. They add their own unique take on it and will soon be heavily populating the amatuer leagues as well. They may even take hockey back to the home country, if they can make ice rinks in 40 degree C there 😀

  2. Instead of basing something like social security on how much YOU worked, base it on

    the productivity of your own children. Raise enough, and productive enough children?

    No, I just interpreted the "productivity" as merely having more children.

  3. We shouldn't discriminate on the basis of gender, ethnicity, skin color, religious beliefs, disability, age, national origin, etc.

    But everyone on this planet discriminates on the basis of culture, and they should. Tolerance can't tolerate intolerance and there are some cultures out there (even given that NONE of them are perfect) that have huge amounts of intolerance baked into them.

    Something that really muddies the waters is that some cultures have been captured by their dominant religion, some by their form of government, and even some by their economic system, all of which, especially the first, makes it very hard to criticize them without sometimes sounding intolerant yourself.

    Slight Digression: My parents, US citizens, toured in Syria a few times before the revolution began. They had toured or lived in many, many places around the world, most especially the middle east, yet they were almost in awe of what great people the Syrians were, and how welcoming and friendly they were to Americans, while the Syrian government was composed of pure fecal matter (as later became even more evident than it already was). They said similar things about the Cambodians while they were living in Pnomh Penh, just before they had to evacuate and "The Killing Fields" began.

    And get ready. When we leave Afghanistan the Taliban will try for a repeat with their own Killing Fields, as they settle with anyone and everyone they even suspect might have colluded with the current government.

  4. I think you missed a component of the proposal, that your pension would be dependent on the aggregate productivity of your children, not simply the number.

    Have a bunch of layabouts, and you don't get squat.

  5. If you wanted to be a complete cynical evil bastard… well not you per se, but say a western government… maybe you could negotiate with Xi to grab a bunch of Uighur babies?

    Likewise, Myanmar, North Korea, Sudan and other such places probably have some subsections of the population they wouldn't actually mind being taken away?

  6. Depending on what decade we are actually talking about, there were no children starving to death (in the best of the English speaking countries), but as recently as say the 1930s there probably were enough kids where the level of nutrition they were getting was poor enough to contribute to all the childhood diseases that still killed what we would consider to be unacceptable % of children.

  7. So we actually agree. It's not a glide path to extinction as such, but a glide path to a state of disruption severe enough to push us off the glide path. WHich probably won't be at all fun to experience.

  8. They had land taxes to pay. Most everyone worked. Don't remember anyone starving to death but there were children that were painfully thin. And some of them had to stop school by grade 4 when they had to go work on the farm fulltime. Their future were limited. My mother and her sisters escape because my grandfather made sure they got an education.

  9. They worked harder but they had a lot less stress. And top of that they were in good physical shape due to physical nature of their work.

  10. Link pensions to having children

    I'm a bit surprised at such a suggestion from you.

    The poorly educated and those that allowed their minds to be infected with absurdities —those traditionally with the highest birth rates— will be the welfare queens. So, just more of the same.

    We're at the beginning of the age where the labors of the poorly educated masses start becoming unnecessary. The greatest challenge will become, how best can society use robotics to humanely deal with all these unwanted people that serve no useful function and prevent them from interfering with productive members of society.

    There are lots of problems in the world, but not every problem is everyone's problem.

  11. It's due to a simple issue most "freedom loving" people refuse to recognize. Your rights end at the point where it begins to infringe on the rights of others. You can choose to not get an experimental vaccine, but you cant choose to harm your colleagues at work. It's the individual's choice accept the consequences to remain an incubation reservoir for this virus.

    You shouldn't worry about a civil war, I expect the security services will deal with the irrational and the inept most efficiently.

  12. My concern is that, once you have a society where most people are not replacing themselves, everything that might reverse the trend becomes politically difficult.

    Children are, for most people, very much deferred gratification. Deferred gratification is difficult enough when socially encouraged. Once you've had a couple of generations where a form of deferred gratification is disvalued, or even discouraged, returning to the status quo ante is going to be VERY difficult.

    I'm not saying that actual extinction is very likely at this point; Eventually the non-reproducing population will be replaced by whatever population finds the motivation to resist the pressure not to have children. 

    But in the meanwhile, we are NOT having enough children to avoid serious distortions of the population distributions. We don't have live extension technology yet, and we are headed towards a world where the ratio of old to young is extremely high, with serious economic strains.

    And governments are trying to compensate by massive immigration from third world countries, so existing cultures are being diluted out of existence.

    Humanity will survive, but the cultural changes of the next 100 years will be utterly enormous, and not necessarily for the better; There are cultural reasons those 3rd world countries ARE 3rd world. It's not PC to say it, but some cultures actually ARE better than others. Or were, until they became suicidal.

  13. It's already dried up the overseas adoptive baby transfers (down over 72% since 2005).

    Countries that were almost pushing for their babies to be adopted by US citizens are now claiming all manner of reasons (for the baby's own good) why they cannot do that anymore (mainly hinging on what awful people we are and how cruel, uncaring, and downright abusive we are towards our adopted children.

    The real reason, of course, is that these countries leaders (most despots (Putin, Xi,etc.) can now see the demographics themselves and are starting to realize that things are going to be bad enough for them, even without losing future citizens that they don't have to lose. And, of course, most of them have zero desire to go about trumpeting their coming (actually already in progress) crisis, hence the "Don't let our babies grow up to be cowboys, er Americans" rhetoric.

    Even so, the transfer of adopted babies into the US probably never exceeded 50 thousand from the entire world, a drop in the bucket compared to current shortfalls.

  14. So confused about why this is confusing to people.

    Cities are expensive.
    Children are expensive.

    If you aren't well to do then pick one.

  15. In the next 10 years there will be therapies that will allow people to live much longer productively. This will change demographics dramatically. The need to children at the same rate that has historically been necessary will not exist. Yep you heard it here first so mark you calender's.

  16. I just thought of something. I'm sure someone else already thought of this.
    Seoul is the biggest city, with the lowest birth rate. I don't think these are unrelated.
    China especially has been driving to urbanize their country, to take advantage of the boost in creativity and efficiency this offers. But their demography has already been destroyed by the One Child Policy.

    China desperately needs to re-populate. If they urbanize further, it will drop their replacement rate further.
    I don't see how China will be able to fix this.

  17. This is why I think we need artificial uteri and caretaker AI.

    Anyone of adult age legally able who wants to have a baby, should be able to. Single women, men, gay people, anyone.

    Those who don't, well, don't.

    Start by legalizing/facilitating surrogacy and adoption.

    The fist right of a kid is to be wished by its parent(s), and there is more human desire for offspring than ability to have them.

    Also, make screening for genetic defects commonplace and cheap, so the number of genetic problems diminishes over time, but also watch over and stop fanciful editing (for the rights of the newborn and to avoid furry, 6 limbed humans and other splices). We don't want to create more chimeric species and/or pathetic monsters while we are fighting for our survival.

    These methods should be complemented with technology helping watch over and raise kids, besides of extant economic incentives for having them. Like tax deductions, or even direct incentives.

    Everything is good for stopping the drought of human lives we are starting to see.

    And of course: make people live longer and healthier lives! Life is a thing to celebrate and cherish. Make it last.

  18. There was also no federal income tax, and no massive welfare state handouts allowing a large percentage of the population to avoid work.

  19. Sufficient world population reduction would suppress immigration.

    And government grabbing resources off the common people is a problem that dates back to before the start of recorded history.

  20. But what about your story of your farming grandparents? They were tired too I guess. Probably a lot more tired than someone whose most strenuous activity is rebooting a PC once a week.

    No, the solution is clear. Electricity shuts off at 19:30 every night. Fortunately this is highly compatible with the push to 100% solar power.

  21. Yeah, but the glide path takes us to a very different world. Once world population drops below 1B or so the circumstances will be so different that our 2021 culture will be totally changed. Something as ephemeral as low birth rates (which have only existed for about 3 generations now at most) would probably disappear in all the changes that would result.

  22. Can we really separate out the effects of modern Corporatist government and modern Corporate economic actors well enough to start allocating blame at this point?

  23. After World War II, England was terribly in debt, to the point where they were selling their best coal to pay it down and keeping the bad stuff for themselves (which led to a massive polluted fog in 1952 that killed thousands over just 4 days (this book came out in 1953).

    Working overseas is considered a good way to bring money into the country. Indeed, to encourage this, US citizens working overseas are currently able to exclude the first 107k earned from being subjected to US income taxes via the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion (FEIE). Which may not be as generous as it sounds, because I've heard all other countries allow a 100% exclusion on wages earned abroad.

    In the novel, how many votes you had was a matter of great pride and conferred social status. Times have changed.

    In this case, however, I was suggesting (not necessarily endorsing) that something like it might be used to determine levels of Universal Basic Income (UBI), if a country is doing that.

    Politicians would see it as a way of keeping people targeted towards activities that help the country, and also would keep a lot of them from hanging out in pubs complaining about the size of the UBI and otherwise stirring up trouble.

    As far as gaming the system, any country forced to pay a UBI would already have all the government employees it could ever want (many of them in make-work jobs). A large number of these would probably be assigned to look for gamers.

  24. Smart tools are needed and not avoidable.
    But we need to rethink all government infrastructure and working.
    As it is, it is the main cause of problems.
    We are destroyed by the government, not by natural or economic causes.

  25. It is an illusion because, even if you save like crazy during your life, your savings are eroded continuously by inflation of the currency supply. Things become always more costly or the size shrink. And everything the government try to do is prevent you from protecting your savings and investments from his rapacious hands.

    The current hoaxdemic is the pinnacle of a system near his implosion. Every part of the machine of the government is working for its own benefit without any consideration for the future. The leaders are old cronies or young naïve and both are psychopaths.

    It will end when it crumble down and there is nothing left to loot.

    You can think I'm overblowing the problems, but my government (Italy) is threatening (with a decree) all health workers (public and private) to suspension from work and pay if we don't get "vaccinated" with these experimental vaccines. And now are discussing "pass" to move between regions. Everything is so blatantly unconstitutional it is difficult to describe. And the majority of people is comatose.

    I didn't believe a civil war could ever explode in Italy and now I'm not so sure.

  26. The biggest problem is the central banking system with fiat money.
    People, women, like to have children.
    But the capital formation needed to create a family (buying a home, etc.) is forcefully postpone by the fact saving are constantly devalued, in a way or another.
    In the West in 1880 a house would cost $1000 (10 months of work of a normal man).
    Now, it costs 10 years or 20 years.
    It could works for people living 500 years and working 400, not 80 years at most and working 40.

    This cause the women to postpone childbearing and reduce the children they feel they can raise successfully.

    In the past, at the reduction of the population, the quantity of resources per capita would raise. Today it is not so. The resources are continuously syphoned by the government and immigration compete on the job market with the local population.

  27. My grandparents had 13 kids. They were farmers and there were no appliances so both of them worked very hard. But it was sun up until a bit after sundown. My grandmother had to get her sowing in, kerosene lamp. But there was no TV so they had to find other ways to entertain themselves.

  28. Both sexes. I figure if they both have a little energy left after work then maybe they could put it to good use. Having sex when exhausted isn't much fun.

  29. No, because use of the words "good" and "right" implies an objective value system which only nazis believe in any more. You fascist.

  30. Did people work less hours 3 generations ago when they had 6 kids each?
    Well, many of the women did. The men did not.

  31. I follow most of that, but don't see the desirability of overseas work.

    I also suspect that a lot of those criteria would be subject to a lot of gaming. ie. People separate at year 6 but remain together on paper until they get the children to 14. People putting together "volunteer" groups that spend 99% of the time just drinking in the club house.

    Lastly, most people won't regard a vote as being worth the trouble. THough you could argue that only those who DO regard it as important should be voting anyway.

  32. In the age of rapidly approaching AGI/ASI, exponential advancements in reversing aging tech, I do not see falling fertility as a problem, especially for a civilization with our current level of advancement

  33. "What does it matter if you don't have many workers, when you don't *need* workers."

    Look, 1.4 fertility is a glide path to extinction, and not even a very shallow glide path. At some point, you have to get back to at least replacement, or you disappear.

    That's what it matters.

  34. For all these countries with low fertility rates, the long-term solution is "Smart Tools" (robots, automation, software, and AI), i.e. tools that can run themselves with little or no human attention.

    What does it matter if you don't have many workers, when you don't *need* workers.

    Note the low birth rates are not just in Asia. Europe and North America are both well below replacement rates. It seems to happen whenever you combine cities and high enough levels of education.

    Off-topic: Yay, comments are back. Brian, next time you do a site-redesign, test it before changing over, and keep a backup of the old site. This problem has happened about five times now over the years.

  35. "They need to shift to a 35 hrs work week and to be told go home after work."

    Who does? The women? Just the women? Heh, remind me not to be standing anywhere near you when you proclaim that in public. Actually, I work in a place with 35 hour weeks and almost zero overtime, and I don't see anyone having more kids because of it.

    The decline has several causes, at least some of which are the rapid urbanization of the population, the dramatically escalating price of having and raising children, the loss in potential income and potential (likely) career damage (or at least career slow down) caused by having and raising children, as well as the increasing expectation that most adults, male and female, are to have paying jobs outside the home.

    Along with increasing access to ever more reliable birth control (and I am NOT advocating that this be reduced), as well as a rise in single-gender couples (again, NOT advocating against this), and an increasing number of people, singles and couples, who simply decide not to ever have children, I think it would be a surprise if the rates hadn't fallen below the 2.1 sustainment rate.

    See the book, Empty Planet, on Amazon, i posted a four star review there.

  36. The government needs to see this as a problem and move to fix it. My suggestion is poll people as to why they are not having children and what can be done to encourage child bearing. Right now a lot of the decline is baked in because women are aging out of their fertility.

    I have my own opinion as to why it is happening but I could be wrong. I think they work too hard and they work too many hours. And they spend too many hours with their co-workers. They need to shift to a 35 hrs work week and to be told go home after work.

  37. Nevil Shute, in his 1953 novel, In the Wet, postulated something like that. He was referencing votes but the concept would be similar.

    A citizen can earn up to seven votes. Each gets a basic vote. Other votes are earned for education, serving in the armed forces, earning a living wage overseas for two years, raising two children to the age of 14 without divorcing, being actively involved in substantial volunteer work for the the community, or having a high earned income. The seventh vote, is awarded only by the Queen (in the US it would probably require a Congressional vote) for extreme heroism or service above and beyond.

    Needless to say, at this point, it would be "politically very hard to do this."

  38. Ya, my son-in-law met my daughter when she was working in the Republic of Korea (South Korea). He then went to med school and sometime in there they got married and he graduated, then he emigrated here, and has just became a US citizen. Now they are giving me beautiful, smart grandkids. It's not just infertility but a brain drain, too, cuz he is a pretty smart fella. My sympathies to Korea, I have lived there, but they aren't getting him back.

    As for China: The rapid economic growth of the past 30 years has been highly dependent on a large, young, and mobile population (that and state-sponsored intellectual theft). But fertility rates started crashing 30 years ago. The crisis isn't coming, only its effects are. The crisis has already happened. This is demographic destiny at this point. Each future generation will be 25 percent smaller than the one preceding it.

    They can't even open their borders and get large numbers of immigrants (no one but a North Korean would want to go to a place where minorities are being systematically eliminated).

    China has achieved in 50 years—increasing life expectancy from the 40s to over 70—what it took many European countries a century to accomplish. That sounds great and it is, but the old-age dependency ratio in China is expected to soar to 53 percent in 2060, implying that, by then, one working-age person will have to support one elderly person. This is as opposed to 7.6 workers for every elderly person in 2016.

  39. I would link this to old age pensions.

    Children were the original old-age pension; If you had enough children, and raised them property, they would support you when you were too old to work. If you didn't have children, your old age was going to be a short and ugly thing.

    Now old age pensions take the place of children, creating the illusion that you don't need children in order to have a comfortable retirement. But it IS only an illusion, because the pension systems don't work without a next generation. Even pensions that involve actual savings require a next generation, government pensions tend to not even involve savings, but instead an entitlement to some part of the taxes generated by the next generation.

    Worse, while the pension system creates this illusion, at the same time it deprives you of present day resources you might otherwise use to raise children. A double whammy.

    Essentially, pension systems have made the next generation a commons, predictably resulting in under-production of children. Basic economics, nothing mysterious at all.

    How to solve this? Link pensions to having children, and break up the commons! Instead of basing something like social security on how much YOU worked, base it on the productivity of your own children. Raise enough, and productive enough children? You get a comfortable pension. Don't have children? You'd better have saved a bunch of money, because you're getting squat.

    But it's still a trap, politically very hard to do this.

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