January is plenty depressing already — all those plunging temperatures and joyless resolutions — so we hesitate to burden you with more gloom. But we have a bit of urgent news to share: Our species is dying.
Think we’re being overly dramatic? Take a peek at Latin America, where birth rates have already fallen below replacement levels. Or glance at India, which will achieve that status in 2024, or at China, which is expected to be at half its current population within 45 years. It’s the same bad news everywhere you turn: 115 countries, representing about half the world’s humans, have a birth rate below replacement levels. As soon as a country industrializes, it seems, humans lose the motivation to have kids.
What, then, might we do to save the human race from dwindling and, eventually, disappearing? Sadly, when played out on the American political stage, this question becomes garbled on both sides.
Left-wing types often insist what’s needed in America — which fell beneath its own replacement rate in 2010 — is immigration. But from where? Latin America is already struggling with its own population crisis, as is Asia and Europe, which leaves us with Africa, where birthrates are also now falling.
Things aren’t much better on the right, where nativists thunder about closing the borders. Their views might have validity, but in developed economies, your “resources” are largely defined by how many young workers you have — and immigration can provide those young workers. Take a country like Korea, which has very little diversity and some of the world’s lowest birthrates. Compare that to Israel, which boasts lots of diversity and the highest birthrate in the developed world. The data is clear: Nothing kills population stability faster than intractable homogeneity.
How, then, may we stymie this impending disaster?
The question first occurred to us during a stint doing early stage VC work in South Korea nearly a decade ago. To figure out what products deserved investment, we had to make calculations about the country’s future, and one number that particular haunted us was Korea’s fertility rate, which is currently at 0.7. This means that, for every 100 Koreans living, there will be only 4.3 grandchildren. Neither an economy nor a culture can survive with that kind of population decline. And we knew something had to be done to reverse this.
Of course, we started with ourselves. We’re in our mid-30s, have three kids so far (3, 20 months and a 3-month-old) and don’t plan to stop any time soon. Our journey has not been easy; after a bout with infertility, we opted for IVF, which proved successful. We still have over 35 embryos on ice and intend to keep on having kids at a similar cadence until this no longer proves biologically possible. IVF allows has allowed us not only to become parents, but — via polygenic risk score selection — to select the most optimal embryos possible.
Beyond boosting our happiness, growing our family has made us more efficient as CEOs. We now have no choice but to focus on what truly matters, while managing our limited resources and learning to delegate responsibilities—all qualities that are as vital in the boardroom as they are in the nursery.
While people look at us like we’re crazy, having a lot of kids isn’t “a rich person thing” or a “religious extremist thing” but rather a deeply human thing — not to mention an element of our nation’s foundational culture. Don’t forget, Benjamin Franklin was the youngest son of 17 siblings!
Much like the Franklin family, we don’t see children as witless accessories in need of pricey educations and micromanaged schedules. We don’t intend to “helicopter” our brood, but rather empower them to make waves in the professional world far earlier than today’s regrettably over-attended children.
Still, merely encouraging people to have kids — and we are — is hardly a solution to our global-scaled crisis. For that, we’re going to need more robust action. Let’s start, then, with what doesn’t work: The government. When nations with official pronatalist policies invest heavily in having more children, little happens. Both Poland and Hungary, for example, recently adopted aggressive pronatalist strategies, spending around 4% of their GDP on this cause.
In both cases, the results were lackluster: Poland and Hungary saw birth rates rise by just a handful of percentage points. Government policies that increase economic conditions also do not work, as poverty — not wealth — correlates strongly with high birth rates. And, of course, placing family creation in the hands of bureaucrats is a sure-fire way to make it a hot-button political issue.
What, then, could work? The answer is simple: Culture, as we discovered while writing our new book, “The Pragmatist’s Guide to Crafting Religion.”
If we invested in intentional communities that supported a family friendly culture and infrastructure, if we built new cultural practices, and if we created novel educational systems that are more affordable and effective, we could begin to overturn this threat to our very existence.
These may sound like ambitious, even abstract, approaches, but they’re not. We could begin, for example, by finding a better way to introduce single people to each other, reversing the damage of online platforms like Tinder that emphasized hooking up rather than settling down. We could dream up large-scale initiatives like Project Eureka — an eco-friendly, pedestrian-first planned community centered around an innovative lab school and shared childcare. Or we could build new, affordable models of schooling that offer parents choices while retaining their families’ traditional cultures.
For centuries, generations have figured out ways to keep our species alive under much more trying conditions than our own. Here’s hoping we don’t break the chain.
Simone & Malcolm Collins are the Founders of the Pronatalist Foundation, and the Collins Institute and authors of The Pragmatist’s Guide series.