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Saturday, June 09, 2012

The Curious Case of World Population

No matter what else one may argue, one thing is clear: Western culture doesn't value babies.
At one time, it did.
What changed?

Let's take a look.

Pre-Industrial Family Life

In ancient pagan Rome, average life expectancy at birth was about 25 years of age.
If the child survived to its 10th birthday, life expectancy was 51.

That average life expectancy was pretty much standard around the world for the next two millennia.

What does that mean?
It means a lot of children died before the age of ten.

Infant mortality is generally defined as the number of children per 1000 who die before their first year.

Modern estimates indicate that for pre-industrial societies between 200 and 300 infants per 1000 would die in their first year.

In the early 1600s in England, two-thirds of children died before their fourth birthday.
40% of children in colonial America didn't reach age 18.
In 1740's London, 75% died before they were five.

Maternal death was significant, but not predominant. It accounted for about 10% of deaths for women between the ages of 15 and 44, that is, four to seven women died per thousand births (tending more towards four than seven).

The more children a woman had, the more likely she was to survive into old age.
Only celibate women lived longer then those who had more than five children.

Age at First Marriage: Ancient and Medieval
For most of human history, parents chose the spouses for their children. 

In the Roman Empire, the age of first marriage for pagan girls was 12-15, pagan men 26.
Christian women were nearly 19 at first marriage, while Christian men were 27.

Medieval marriages tended to be later: females 23 and males 28, but younger marriages were not uncommon.

St. Rita married at age 12. The Blessed Virgin is assumed to have been about 12 to 14. Chrysostom said young men should marry as soon as possible (before they turn 20), to keep them out of the whore houses and theaters. Edward Longshanks married at 15 to his 13-year old second cousin, Eleanor of Castile. Only six of of the 14 children he and Eleanor had survived.

Upwards of one-quarter of the medieval population were under religious vows and therefore celibate.

Age at First Marriage: Colonial Americas
In the southern United States, the legal age of marriage for females was 14.
In colonial America, one in ten women age 16 were married. Average age of marriage for women was 19. Over the next 150 years, it would slowly rise to 23, dropping back down to 20 only briefly around 1960.

In Catholic colonial Mexico, legal age of marriage was set by canon law at 12, as it had been for centuries  In Mexico, over 50% of the females in the non-Spanish population were married by age 16, over 50% of the males married by age 18.

Marriage Didn't Last Long
Most families lost at least one parent by the time the eldest child reached 21 years of age. Marriages lasted on average less than 12 years because, about 50% of the time, one of the spouses was dead by what would have been the 12th year of marriage.

In comparison, newlyweds in 2006 had a 57% chance of being divorced before their 15th anniversary.
Think about this. It doesn't mean that modern sacramental marriages shouldn't last, but it does mean that Christ is asking modern spouses to do something today that earlier generations largely didn't have to do. Earlier generations had to watch their children and spouse die. We must help our children and spouse live. 
Up to 40% Illegitimacy
Prior to the 1700s, roughly 20% of all women in England were pregnant at the time of first marriage. By 1750, that had risen to 40%. This wasn't just the fault of the Reformation.

Catholic Spain was considered missionary territory by St. Ignatius in part because fornication was common and accepted. Catholic Mexico had a 40% rate of illegitimacy in several cities.

American women had unusually high fertility. Whereas English family had an average of three children per household (four if you were rich), Americans had seven to nine. Mothers typically hired wetnurses. Only five to seven children would survive to adulthood.

Summary of the Old Days

From Adam and Eve through Abraham, Moses, David, Jesus, Gregory the Great, the Muslim invasion of Spain, the Viking invasions, the Crusades, the Black Death, the Protestant Reformation, the Council of Trent, the Little Ice Age... all the way until 1890, this is what it meant to live in a family.

Your parents decided who you would marry.
Wealthier people tending to marry earlier since they had the means.
About half of your children would die before they reached maturity.
You or your spouse would be dead before surviving children reached maturity.
Poor people tended to have fewer children than rich people.
Most people (80% of the population) were farmers.

Forming a family, keeping the family, raising the family, was incredibly hard work.
The man sowed, raised and harvested the crops.
The woman carried, bore and raised the children.
You were as likely to lose your crop of children to famine as you were to lose your crop of wheat to insects, fungus or weather. A woman's work was just as valuable to society as a man's.

Family Life In the Last 150 Years

The germ theory of disease was not even considered reasonable until Pasteur's work in the 1860s. It did not become firmly ensconced as a science until Koch developed his postulates in 1890. That, along with industrialization and advances in transportation - and therefore advances in transport of food - changed everything. (As a point of contact, Leo XIII released his famous social justice encyclical, Rerum Novarum,  in 1891).

From 1890 to 1960, the age of marriage in the United States dropped.
From 1960 to now, it has climbed without interruption.

Infant mortality dropped in all countries around the world. In the United States, around roughly 1900, it dropped from 167 per thousand to the current 7 per thousand. This was fairly typical.

As a result of increased infant survival, life expectancy across all countries throughout the world went up. Income across all populations around the world went up at the same time.

Today, we marry later, our spouses largely don't die, our children don't die, and we are incredibly richer.

Malthus Makes An Entrance
Thomas Malthus, the first man to worry about the problem of overpopulation, lived in a society that valued women and children. He believed that the wealthier you were, the more children you would have. Between 1798 and 1826, he published several successive editions of his Essay on the Principle of Population. He saw the rising affluence of England and of the West as a positive danger precisely because he thought rich people would have more children survive to adulthood than poor people did.

He couldn't imagine a society that would actively kill children - quite the opposite.
He knew that parents would try to preserve the lives of their children.
He knew, with rising affluence, they would succeed.
Their very success would create the danger - the rich people would over-run the earth with their children.
As rich people caused the population to rise, people would become more impoverished than they had to begin with, and famine would sweep the land. That's what he saw.

So, if we judge only by Malthusian consequences, then we all have it backwards.

If a strong argument can be made that the world of 1800 was overpopulated because of its impoverished population, then we must conclude the world has grown less and less overpopulated since 1800.

After all, the world has grown from 1 billion to nearly 7 billion in population, yet instead of growing poorer, every corner of the world has become richer. Even the poorest billion people out of the current seven billion  live longer than did the richest one percent of that 1 billion alive in 1800. The remaining six billion alive today are inestimably richer than anyone was when the earth held only 1 billion.

Thus, judging by relative affluence, we are growing less overpopulated with time.

How is this possible?

As the population increases, as the number of human minds increase, technology improves. We are able to more fully use and spread the wealth of the world across the population. The tipping point was apparently 1 billion people. It just gets better from here on out.

There is, of course, one problem.
We may have become very wealthy, but we've lost our self-respect.

Earth Doesn't Need Women
When we were poor, when parents and children both died young, when family life was hard, we valued it. Now that we have grown rich, we have decided not to share our riches with the next generation.

Instead, we turned back the clock.

In the entirety of human history, century after century, millennium after millennium, there has been only one 70-year period, from about 1890 to about 1960, when the infant mortality rate fell below 100 per 1000 births anywhere in the world. It went from about 140 in 1900 to about 20 in 1960. For the first time in human history, we kept virtually all the children we conceived.

We saw what we had made, and we didn't like it. So, by pill, coil and cannula, we deliberately re-instated the pre-industrial infant death rates.

We currently abort about 230 babies per 1000 live births. This is the same infant death ratio one would see 1000 years ago in medieval Europe, before the advent of modern obstetrics, hospitals, germ theory. There's only one difference: we aren't watching them die from disease and famine - we're actively killing them. Before birth when we can, after birth if we must.

Family formation rates, fertility rates, child-bearing, is uniformly dropping, not just in rich countries but in every country in the world. And it has been doing this since the middle of the 1800s. You see, every country is getting richer. And, contrary to Malthus' expectations, rich people really don't want children.

Follow The Money
People the world over no longer want children, we want paychecks.
Just ask us.
There's no need to live for children because family is no longer a life and death proposition.

But it gets worse.

What Will The Future Bring?
Looking over the last 150 years, we can see our social values have changed enormously.

Sex selection abortion is already rampant in India and China. We can't seem to pass a law against it in the United States. Why? Because women are the bearers of children. Women are dangerous as far as Malthusians are concerned. 

Today, we've already invented IVF. We are working to perfect the artificial gametethe artificial womb, and the sex robot. Where do you think all that will lead?

Well, from the viewpoint of population control, it would be much better if we had no women at all. If women were gone, then all procreation could be regulated and controlled through industry and government. And this future is quite possible.

We could easily get to the point where most men settle for well-crafted robots, and living women are considered the peculiar pass-time of certain well-off gentlemen who like that kind of thing, in much the same way that some men keep horses or prefer golf to bowling. If you think this impossible, consider all the men in China and India who will never marry. There is a market for artificial women. As the technology improves, the market will grow.

This is what happens when we grow rich without growing holy.
This is what happens when we pursue social justice but ignore life issues.
Everyone gets rich, but our values... change.


Katy Anders said...

Population is a weird thing.

Climatologist James Lovelock says the Earth can probably permanently sustain a population of 100 million (NOT 7 billion), but it would depend on what those 100 million were doing.

Like you said, poor people used to have fewer children - in part because they could keep fewer alive to adulthood. Our philanthropy might soon lead to there being 3 billion starving people on the continent of Africa instead of the 1 billion there are now - while 1st world pops stagnate or fall.

Is that a good or bad thing?

It boggles my mind... Seems like it ought to boggle everybody else's too.

Steve "scotju" Dalton said...

Without true Christianity, mankind has a built in death wish. Instead of being fruitful and multipling, we have made ourselves barren and subtracting by rebelling against our Creators command.

Steve Kellmeyer said...


As I pointed out, the more people the earth has, the less overpopulated it is.

James Lovelock is simply wrong.

Katy Anders said...

Yeah, but I really haven't been convinced that we know enough about these topics to create a model that is worth a darn. By anyone. At all.

Folks are very much prisoners of their ideologies when it comes to making conclusions regarding population.

Therefore, it's rarely informative when people tell me that there's a right answer, we know it, and it's simple.

But I have and I will keep reading, nonetheless. I never know...

S said...

I firmly believe with all my heart;
Babies are nice to hold.
Large families are fun.
We all die in the end.

Does that mean I've a prisoner of

Find one joy filled elderly person of any culture or nationality, and ask;
"Would you have had more children if you could have?"

Anonymous said...

Katy, the only thing that is unsustainable is the materialist consumerism we indulge in. We have chosen things over people. We want more stuff, and fewer people to share them with.

If you really want to understand the overpopulation movement, look at the motives they refuse to recognize. Few of them are volunteering to consume less stuff. In fact, of the few who do consume less stuff, they are quite arrogant about it. Near where I live, they consume expensive, inefficiently produced organic food so that they can look down on us slobs eating regular food. They ride bicycles that cost as much as a used car, and the bikes always look really funky so you can tell it's an environmentally conscious person riding it. Environmentalism is advocated for purposes of raising one's social status, not for actually protecting the environment. My family likely consumes less energy per person than most environmentalists because with 10 people we have very efficient economies of scale, yet my children are considered more of a danger to the environment that Al Gore's mansion that uses more energy than an entire village in the Third World, whose members are also considered a threat to the environment.