June 7, 2023

Pronatalism continues to intrigue the media

The notion of pronatalism – encouraging, not discouraging, population growth– hasn’t had a good press in recent decades, especially with fears of over-population and global warming. But in recent months a young American couple, Simone and Malcolm Collins, who are pro-natalist evangelists, is appearing everywhere in the media.

Last year, Business Insider ran a long profile; followed by the New York Post in January, and The London Telegraph in April.

Perhaps “evangelism” is the wrong metaphor, because the hipster Collins couple are by no means religious. Their motto is not “be fruitful and multiply” but “multiplication or extinction”. They look at greying and shrinking populations around the world and argue that the world needs creative solutions to global fertility collapse. Their website, pronatalist.org, explains their main concerns about falling population: “… declining populations will cause the following problems despite immigration, automation, and life extension technology”:

  • The collapse of many cities (devolution into Detroit-like status)
  • The decline of prosocial behavior (including gender equality, tolerance for diversity, climate activism, etc.)
  • The potential collapse of financial markets (an end to expectations of continual average increase in value)
  • A cultural mass extinction event with many cultures disappearing (e.g. Koreans, Japanese, Jains, Parsi, Emirates, Tanka, Macanese, Taiwanese, Italians, etc.)

They have been criticised as eugenicists because they want to use reproductive technology to create the “best” embryos.

There is lots to like or lots to hate about their vision of the future. And now, unsurprisingly, they are getting some pushback. A recent blog post in the Journal of Medical Ethics argues that the Collinses and the whole pronatalist movement is madness. A doctor from Texas, Richard B. Gibson, focuses on what he regards as “a fundamental problem with pronatalism … it is an individualistic solution to a supposed ‘problem’ that requires systemic, global action.”

His point is that people are not having children because climate change makes the future dismal and financial insecurity makes parenting almost impossible. “So it seems understandable that raising a child seems pointless in the face of all that and much more.”

He concludes that “What is needed is not so-called ‘elites’ telling us we need to start getting busy but radical action to make having children financially viable and ethically responsible in the environmental context. Without those fundamental adjustments, no amount of cajoling to take on the responsibility of population decline will effectively achieve the outcome pronatalist want.”

What’s interesting about Dr Gibson’s refutation of pronatalism is that he doesn’t deny that declining fertility and shrinking populations are real problems. Fifty years ago, they were ridiculed.