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Friday, June 17, 2005

Technology and Birthrates

Eugene Volokh has some interesting thoughts on technological changes that could increase brith rates in developed countries.

Here's my candidate: A combination of (1) cheaper, less painful, and more reliable egg extraction and freezing, which would let 20-year-old women routinely bank eggs for the future, and (2) the invention of incubators that can safely grow a child from a fertilized egg to a live baby. It's of course impossible to be sure that development 2 will happen within the next 45 years, but I suspect that it will. Let's say for our purposes that it does. Why is this likely to substantially increase birth rates?
He goes on to explain how and why these changes would have the effect he imagines. His ideas are plausible, however I have some doubts about them. I think that declining birthrates in industrialized nations are more a reflection of a greater focus on individuality and self-sufficiency as opposed to a more family oriented world view than they are about technological advancements or the costs of children. Volokh's technologies would enable people to have children later in life, and with less pain and time off from work, but this influence might end up being a net negative, rather than a positive in relation to birth rates. If you CAN reliably have children later in life, there is less incentive to have children early. So it seems likely that more people would choose this option. As time goes on, and they become more set in their ways, and more focused on their own personal lives (natural, since they have nothing competing to focus upon) it seems likely that many, who intended to have kids 'someday' never will. It is a well known aphorism that New Yorkers never visit the Statue of Liberty. I think it plausible that a similar dynamic would form around child-rearing when people know that they always CAN, but never DO. Interesting things to speculate on in any event.


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