Thursday, June 01, 2006
The BBC announced today Link that fertility rates in Japan have dropped to their lowest levels since record-keeping began more than 60 years ago, weighing in at 1.25 per couple in 2005, vs. 1.29 in 2004. This is versus a steady-state replacement fertility rate of 2.1. While a number of western European nations (most notably Italy, Spain and Eastern Europe) face similar issues, Japan's issue is particularly acute since, by my calcualtions, in but a mere 40 generations, the Japanese will follow the path of the Dodo, and be no more.
So why is this advanced mature nation, with far less sexual hang-ups than Western Europe and that are so adept at producing consumer electronics and automobiles having such a difficult time producing babies? Cost? Environmental stress & degradation? Health? Male impotence? Competition? Urbanization? Nintendo? Manga? Ego-centric hedonism? Pathological disorders? Maybe none. Or maybe a bit of all of the above.
My own guess is that following the industrial revolution and the technological revolution of the 20th century, mortality rates fell dramatically, as hygiene improved, diseases were treated, food security and wealth increased with global trade and the division of labour. But there was a several generation lag in the off-setting fall in fertility rates that exponentially mushroomed the human pestilence across the planet, to levels that, one might speculate, are beyond the stress-free carrying capacity of the land. Urbanization and modernity followed, but perhaps this has been not without consequence. Perhaps we are witnessing an unconcious natural reaction in humanity to the stress and pressure of excess population, driven by living costs, health, etc. that will ultimately see human population numbers move away from forecast Malthusian heights returning towards more sustainable numbers. That is, of course, if we can convince the various religions, particularly evangelical christians, and muslims that "going forth and multiplying" is, while historically useful when mortality was high, is rather passe, unhelpful and terribly uincivic-minded for the planet when mortality rates are low.