What Would Happen If Young People Stopped Having Babies?

The whole human race would come to an end, obviously, but we asked some experts about what else we could expect.

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25 September 2016, 8:27am

Don't need these anymore... Photo via Flickr user Brett L.

This article originally appeared on VICE Canada

Young people have caught on to the fact that babies are one of the worst things that can happen to you. And due to an ongoing recession, and the mega-costs associated with having kids, this generation has hit the record for lowest reproduction rates of any before it.

It makes little sense to add costs to a generation already willing to donate an organ to get rid of student debt, and no chance of entering the housing market.

So what happens if we all decide to forgo the cost and forget the next generation?

It's not completely unrealistic. Forty per cent of Japanese women say they will not have babies. In Denmark the baby shortage has politicians shutting down nurseries and schools in some areas. In Canada, low birth rates have been a megatrend for over 40 years.

But a stable or growing population is key to a number of societal functions, like the economy and whatever. We asked two experts what would break if we all opted out of producing new copies.

Dr. Amy Kaler is a professor of social structure at the University of Alberta. And Dr. Susan McDaniel is a sociologist at the University of Lethbridge and the chair of the Prentice Institute for global population and economics.

VICE: What happens if we all stop having babies?
Dr. Amy Kaler: The whole world, the human race, would come to an end, within about a hundred years.

A hundred years is a lot of time... What happens to society as we tumble toward our end?
Kaler: There would be economic and demographic consequences, but there'd also be huge psychological consequences. If people became incapable of having sex or incapable of giving birth then you'd probably see a lot of strife, chaos and collective grief and unhappiness. Infertility or sterility on an individual level can be very stressful and if you multiply that by the population there would be a lot of people having a hard time. If by stopping reproducing it means we all collectively agree to stop engaging in sexual activity, we'd probably all kill each other long before we died off naturally.

What do you see happening to the economy and labour force?
Kaler: We'd first notice the collapse of economic activity that requires young children and parents, stores for babies, nannies, daycares. Then an upward ripple in elementary schools, kids sports. We might also see an upward ripple with people having more disposable income. If they don't have kids, no child care costs or RESPs, means more money for luxury items.

We'd also become completely dependent on immigration to continue to exist, as a country. See more efforts to attract immigrants, young immigrants, to bring more people in. But then again, we might just give in to chaos. A society that knows there is no generation after this one, might be a society saying 'I give up.' There's no point in me working hard, or trying to improve the world because there's nothing for the future.

McDaniel: Children are costly to the public purse too—schools, sports activities, facilities. So public savings would be large too and those public funds could be re-allocated to other issues. Children are a very costly factor to health care spending. That fact is often overlooked, although the data are clear, that children from before birth to adulthood, consume a substantial part of the health care budget in Canada and elsewhere. So, there would be savings there.

Is there an upside for women? How would an end to being stuck at home with kids change gender dynamics?
McDaniel: Mothers of young children are disadvantaged economically now, and that carries through their lives. The concept still is inequality and the notion that women are primarily responsible for children and housework. So, it might be that men and women would become more equal.

Kaler: If women were no longer people who have babies, that could lead to a delinking of gender from procreation. You'd ask the question what is the difference between men and women if our reproductive organs became kind of pointless.

Don't we also need a younger generation to take care of us when we're old?
Kaler: There would be a care gap. Caregiving needs of young children would cease to exist. But the caregiving of older adults would increase quite a bit. Currently we deal with the care deficit by privatizing within families, where it most often falls to women, mothers, wives or adult daughters, to care for those who need it. As a result women are financially disadvantaged relative to men, because they're more likely to provide their time to people in need of care like pre-school children or elderly parents.

In the world without children, fewer young people would need care, so potentially rebalancing the gendered earning discrepancies, but ultimately our public means of caring for older people, CPP and private pension plans, would collapse without new workers coming into the labour force. So we'd have a big care deficit on the elderly end—just before everybody dies.

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