2009 June 20 Saturday
Fertility, Living Standards, Freedom, And IQ

Libertarian writer Ron Bailey thinks freedom lowers fertility. But I find that conclusion highly suspect.

There is no prosperous population in the world today that has, and has had for some time, a growth rate of zero,” Hardin declared. That’s no longer true. Japan is now experiencing a fall in its population due to reduced fertility, as are Germany, Russia, Italy, Poland and 25 other countries and territories. And there are many societies in which total fertility rates are rapidly decelerating.

Let's take a look at two intriguing lists. The first is a list of countries ranked on the 2009 Index of Economic Freedom issued by the Heritage Foundation and The Wall Street Journal. Then compare the economic freedom index rankings with a list of countries ranked by their total fertility rates. Of the 30 countries that are ranked as being free or mostly free, only three have fertility rates above 2.1, e.g., New Zealand at 2.11, the Bahamas at 2.13, and Bahrain at 2.53. If one adds the next 53 countries that are ranked as moderately free, one finds that only 8 out of 83 countries have fertility rates above 3. It should be noted that low fertility rates can also be found in more repressive countries as well, e.g., China at 1.77, Cuba at 1.6, Iran at 1.71, and Russia at 1.4.

In 2002, Seth Norton, a business economics professor at Wheaton College in Illinois, published a remarkably interesting study on the inverse relationship between prosperity and fertility. Norton compared fertility rates of over 100 countries with their index rankings for economic freedom and another index for the rule of law. "Fertility rate is highest for those countries that have little economic freedom and little respect for the rule of law," wrote Norton. "The relationship is a powerful one. Fertility rates are more than twice as high in countries with low levels of economic freedom and the rule of law compared to countries with high levels of those measures."

Okay number crunchers, should we take seriously this idea of freedom as the main driver of declining fertility? I can certainly see how industrialization changed the division of labor between men and women (as well as making it easier for women to raise children on their own) and how it created incentives for smaller families. But how does freedom figure in? Regular readers of human biodiversity realism blogs (see here and here and here and here and here) are probably all thinking that IQ has something to do with differences in fertility rates. But Ron Bailey's naturally not going to mention that possibility. IQ doesn't fit the libertarian script for why countries differ so much in affluence and freedom. Yet IQ plays a powerful role in determining differences between political systems and economic systems.

So how to tease out the influences of IQ, affluence, and political freedom on fertility? To the extent that political freedom enables rising living standards I can see a role for it in reducing fertility. But I see a few reasons for dismissing freedom's role. First off, the US has higher overall (2.1) and white (a href="http://www.nctimes.com/articles/2008/01/16/news/nation/11_50_091_15_08.txt">1.9) fertility than almost all European countries (Faroe Islands at 2.45 excepted). Yet we have more political freedom. Why doesn't our political freedom lower our fertility below that of European countries? Also, America's high degree of freedom does not prevent blacks and Hispanics from having higher fertility than whites. Plus, I do not see how America's higher freedom should cause East Asian Americans to have lower fertility than American whites - yet I'm pretty sure (but too lazy to check) that they do.

We also see incredibly low fertility in (high IQ) East Asia. Orderly and not especially liberal Japan at 1.22, South Korea at 1.2, socially engineered and highly controlled Singapore at 1.08 do not fit the freedom explanation. Nor does Cuba at 1.6.

Any reader have the later Richard Lynn data on IQ and wealth plus some freedom and fertility data in electronic form? Want to do some regressions and report on the correlations?

The future of freedom looks bleak to me. Countries with low respect for the rule of law, low IQ, low freedom, and lower living standards are making the babies. The free and well behaved portion of the world's population is shrinking as a fraction of the whole and probably even in absolute numbers. That does not bode well for the future.

Update: I think education reduces fertility in a few ways:

  • Less total time available in which to have children.
  • The number of suitable mates goes down as a woman's education and earning power rises. Fewer men have sufficient status to make suitable makes and those men have lots of lower status women to choose among.
  • Intellectual development opens up a wider range of choices for how to spend your time other than raising children.

High IQ then lowers fertility a few ways:

  • Higher IQ women get a higher return on time invested in education than lower IQ women. So higher IQ women have a bigger incentive to stay in school and delay child-rearing.
  • Once educated higher IQ women have money and career to compete with their desire to have children.
  • Smarter women can picture the whole child-raising process in greater detail. This makes them less willing to make babies. They see all the problems and downsides. They see the risks. They see the resource needs. They want to do more preparation and wait for better circumstances.

Unfortunately lower IQ people and their progeny are among the factors that make higher IQ women reluctant to reproduce. The higher IQ women want a neighborhood and the school that will insulate their children from the dumber, more impulsive, more criminal, less studious, and otherwise "bad influences". The result is a birth dearth among smarties.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2009 June 20 01:28 PM  Human Nature

Aki_Izayoi said at June 20, 2009 1:47 PM:

So Cuba has a low IQ (85 according to Lynn; maybe he might be slightly underestimating its IQ)... so what is Cuba is doing that we could import to other countries?

Randall, this wikipedia article shows the correlation of national IQ (as taken from Lynn and Vanhanen's estimates) vs. other variables of country welfare. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IQ_and_Global_Inequality

Regarding economic freedom, IQ has a correlation of .4 to that variable. I wonder what would the correlation be if you restrict the data set to countries with a high Human Development Index.

Stopped Clock said at June 20, 2009 1:50 PM:

I think if youre looking for *economic* freedom, youll find more of it in those East Asian countries than in the USA. In fact Hong Kong is the freest country in the world on the Heritage Foundation list, and it has also the lowest fertility rate (or pretty close). But I dont think there's much of a correlation either.

The Undiscovered Jew said at June 20, 2009 2:03 PM:

Okay number crunchers, should we take seriously this idea of freedom as the main driver of declining fertility?

Anything which causes women to delay fertility will push it below 2.07 level of replacement. Whether the cause of delay is education, increased female labor force participation, hedonism, or whatever; anything delaying fertility always reduces fertility.

If you look at the CDC data for white fertility going from 1989 to 2006, you will see that the primary cause in the decline of fertility among white women (and a similar trend can be noted for declines in black fertility) was caused by a decline in the birth rates for white women ages 20-24. Birth rates for white women age 25-29 were stable at about 109 per 1000 white women over the past 17 years. Meanwhile, birth rates have been increasing among white women ages 30 and over.

However, the increase in births in women over 30 was not enough to compensate for the decline among the very fertile 20-24 age group. A woman's fertility falls off a cliff after she reaches her early 30's because the quality of her eggs declines.

In order to increase the white birthrate you need to either extend the fertility of white women's fertility from the late 30's to the late 40's using Artificial Reproductive Technologies, or, somehow get white women to have more babies at an earlier age.

Frankly, being a scientific minded type person, I think the best bet would be to invest in technologies which extend women's fertility such as ovarian tissue cyrobanking, or freezing human eggs for later use, or improved and cheaper ways for women in the late 30's or 40's to get egg donations from young white women.

(Note: See page 44 of the below PDF from the CDC for white feritility rates going back to 1989):

Births: Final Data for 2006

Aki_Izayoi said at June 20, 2009 2:14 PM:

I didn't say economic freedom = freedom, but I would also add that the Scandinavian economies are very free if you do leave out their high taxes. I wonder what the correlation to economic freedom and the Gini coefficent. And I would also try to do that same again but restricting the data set the countries with a HDI in the 75% percentile.

At least Randall could get optimistic about Cuba. A low IQ does not necessarily cause a country to have high fertility. Maybe some aspects of socialism restrict fertility. It also has a higher HDI than Mexico, Brazil, China, India, and Russia.

"Anything which causes women to delay fertility will push it below 2.07 level of replacement. Whether the cause of delay is education, increased female labor force participation, hedonism, or whatever; anything delaying fertility always reduces fertility."

Of course, those who are interested in HBD would point out that education doesn't influence socioeconomic outcomes in developed countries (macroeconomic trends, in my opinion, have a greater effects on socioeconomic outcomes such as intranational (e.g immigration) and international labor competition (e.g. trade agreements)), but if it does reduce fertility in Cuba, then it should be adopted as policy around the world.

The Undiscovered Jew said at June 20, 2009 2:21 PM:


Education does correlate with decreased fertility, both in the first world and the third world.

Birthrates are actually trending down across Latin America and parts of the Middle East and Southeast Asia.

The only area of the third world which is not seeing falling birthrates is Africa, probably because the people have such poor future time orientation due to genetics and so African women do not bother delaying births.

Grim said at June 20, 2009 3:23 PM:

The long and short of it: Female empowerment lowers fertility rates. Hell even the Spartans collapsed from it:

Women simply have fewer kids when you give them power, wealth, and education.

Even extending the length of fertility will not help. It's hard enough to keep up with kids in your early 20s let alone in your middle 30s. Women are not going to want much more than one kid when they they hit 30 just due to the energy issues.

Solution: Women marry at 16-18, then go back for schooling and a career once their 3 or 4 kids get past that constant attention need period. I work with someone who did exactly that and I sounds like it worked out well.

The Undiscovered Jew said at June 20, 2009 3:55 PM:

Even extending the length of fertility will not help.

Extending fertility even slightly would make an enormous difference.

If white women ages 40-44 became as fertile as women age 35-39 and if white women age 35-39 became as fertile as women age 30-34, the white fertility rate (I'm using 2005 figures for white women from the CDC) would be a little over 2.3.

From a technology perspective, this should be doable in the coming years.

James Bowery said at June 20, 2009 4:43 PM:

To understand the rule look at the exceptions.

In particular, if you want to see the future of the "demographic transition" look at male fertility -- not female fertility.

If there is one thing civilization empowers, it is de facto polygyny.

It is a mistake to think that "female empowerment" is the cause. If a guy working for a corporate concubine can't walk upstairs, through the glass ceiling, and challenge the executive, banging his abusive female manager, to single combat to the death, then there is more going on here than "female empowerment".

Kudzu Bob said at June 20, 2009 6:27 PM:

At some point, I suppose, there won't be enough smart people around to keep the lights on, like in South Africa or Zimbabwe, but on a global scale.

Will that cause the going to get so tough that the human population crashes to some fraction of its current level?

Will natural selection for high IQ then resume with a Darwinian vengeance?

miles said at June 20, 2009 6:52 PM:


There are several reasons for the birth dearth. We ought to list as many as we can come up with so proposals for countermeasures can be considered.

(BTW-----I think the left loves the white birth dearth and is elated about it. The left is attempting through laws to build a matriarchy, because matriarchies are inherently left wing).

1)Women work, and dont financially need to get married to get out of mom&dad's hair. These women can be patient and chase their "dream guys", who usually are willing to have sex with them, but nothing more than that.

2)Education takes up more years of people's lives, so they aren't even ready to begin to think about marriage until they are almost in their mid-twenties.

3)Soft Polygamy. The top 20% of men are sleeping with the top 50% of women in the 20's demographic. These men are all to happy to service 2-3 women each, and these women are all too happy to delude themselves until their 30th birthday.

4)Obesity in the lower 30% of women. So many of the lower third of women in attractiveness are morbidly overweight, and only sexually attractive to very few men. Obesity is an epidemic in some places.

5)Men are struggling financially. All the outsourced jobs, all the insourced competition and tech help. Lots of guys just aren't doing very well even in their late 20's, certainly nowhere near marriage.

6)The top 20% of men are getting laid so much and by so many women, they end up delaying settling down. Why buy the cow(s) when your getting a jug of milk every day.

7)Sex toys, entertainment fantasies (women), and porn (men) give both sexes so much sexual release, they aren't as desperate for sex as they once were. They can relieve their own tensions constantly now.

8)A few women putting career first, counting on being able to find a man within months of looking sometime in their 30's . There are men who do the same thing.

9) The ubiquity of pre-marital sex. Milking cows through fences again

10) Our INSANE child support and child custody laws scaring once-married men from ever getting married again and possibly having another child. These laws also influence many men to delay marriage until they are financially ready and think that SHE has sewn HER wild oats because the prospect of a divorce is so financially threatening.

11) Women not wanting to give up their "freedom". They want kids, but can't bring themselves to be married to any one man. Some men do the same thing.

12) ____Probably shoud be first_______: People actually dont know about the "birth dearth". Many people suffer under the delusion that too many kids are born now and that the population is always growing. Thats just because of immigration. Ive spoken to multiple people who wanted to argue with men when I told them the white birthrate was below replacemnt. They literally wouldn't believe it.

13) Affordable family formation (men doing badly economically again-really). Housing prices are absurdly high in many places. Young couples have to delay having kids.

averros said at June 21, 2009 2:08 PM:

The standard libertarian argument is that _socialism_, not freedom, causes lowered fertility by replacing traditional family-based social support networks with goverment-provided welfare.

200 years ago you had children - and made sure they are educated enough to earn good living - if you wanted somebody to take care of you when you're old. So people had incentives to spend a significant portion of their lives raising children. The more, the better.

Today having children provides no such advantage - you are forced to "save" for the retirement instead of spending the resources on your own children. So if you do both - raise children and pay taxes (which will go towards supporting those who didn't produce much) - you're screwed.

This theory fits the available data about fertility in different societies pretty well. The countries with comparable cultures (religion, etc also affect the fertility) which had the most socialism are shrinking faster. Among Christian nations, Russia is worse off than Eastern Europe and "thrid way" socialist havens like Sweden. These are worse off than Western EU. EU is worse off than US.

Randall Parker said at June 21, 2009 2:35 PM:


But the standard libertarian argument does not fit the facts. How does this argument explain Japan or South Korea or Taiwan or Singapore or Hong Kong? It doesn't.

Sweden has a total fertility rate of 1.6 which is half way between the US at white 1.9 and Italy at 1.3. East Asian countries are way way below socialist Sweden in fertility. Waiting for your rationalization...

averros said at June 21, 2009 9:40 PM:

East Asian countries are way way below socialist Sweden in fertility. Waiting for your rationalization..

Compare apples to apples, please. Religion and national mentality *are* major factors. Like, Amish is one of the fastest growing segments of population in US. Guess why. Comparing Asians with their Confucian outlook to Christians is, well, just as silly as comparing pagan negroes in Africa to Europeans.

Also, do not forget that all these countries have policies explicitly punishing having children. China's "one child" is just the most known, but not the only one, by far.

Randall Parker said at June 21, 2009 10:27 PM:


The Swedes aren't very religious. Neither are the Japanese. Sure, the Amish and Mormons have beliefs that boost their fertility. But are you going to argue that the Swedes have a higher fertility than the Japanese, Italians, and South Koreans due to religious belief?

The Japanese do not have policies punishing multi-child families. Neither do the South Koreans. Their governments do not want shrinking populations.

But you've already conceded my point: factors other than degree of freedom have substantial impacts on fertility rates.

miles said at June 22, 2009 5:50 AM:

I think both of you guys are focusing on large sociological factors above brass tack reasons of why there is a percipitous drop in fertility.

Most girls (and it IS girls who have the babies guys), start out at 20 "wanting to have a family someday". Babies are just as cute as they ever were. What is happening between 20 and 35 so often that is making this NOT so? Bar life is. People look for mates in bars and clubs these days. Women meet their dream guys out there (guys in the top twenty percentile in attractiveness) and find these better looking men are willing to "hook up" with them for sex or even take them out (and have sex), but cannot get these men to commit to them for marriage, because these same men are busy fooling around with two or even three other women. When average(ish) women can obtain sex from the best looking men, they will delude themselves and chase them in their youth as the years just keep ticking by. They are angry by their late twenties and early thirties and feel like they are having to "settle" (with a guy who is every bit their equal) in their thirties. The fact that we have casual sex now, and can do so so inordinately (by historical standards) anonymously, lends itself to this arrangenment. Men would be the exact same way if the top twenty percent of females liked to have sex with 2-3 different men every week during those "hookup" years. Why settle for a 6 if you are a 6 when you are hooking up with a 9 once-a-week? And the years just keep flying by, as you wait for the 9 "to finally come to her senses" (in your mind anyway). As Ive written, the bottom 30% are so often extremely overweight that few ever want them, so if you crunch the numbers, this situation is what you get.

Ive seen some authors suggest we will never have a replacement fertility again, and the west will simply be immigrating in its population from now on, draining the third world before our culture (the global corporate uni-culture) becomes predominant there over the next century (I have my doubts about that personally, they are going to have to get MUCH wealthier for that to even have the slightest chance of being so).

I will say this: If I have a caustic *hatred* for a particular country, and wanted to rid the world of its people forever, I would not attempt to outright make war on it (genocides are very unpopular, actions by NATO and the international community, CNN, etc). What I would do however, is endlessly criticize how there is a pay gap, and that women should have the "opportunity" to be in the work force just as much as men, and how that country desperately needs diversity because as we all know (repeat after me goddammit!), "diversity is our strength" TM, and agitate for them to allow much more immigration. If I could get endless officegirl jobs created that paid just enough for the gals in that nation to have fashionable apartments during their twenties and early thirties, and I could create a hookup & barlife culture for the twenty-something set, I can confidently predict I'd lower that nation's fertility below replacement, while pouring in immigrants from somewhere else. The end result in 100 years is that this nation I despise will be a different nation. Just think of what America *was* in 1965 vs. what it will be in 2065................ya' thinking? Uh huh. Me too.

Dragon Horse said at June 22, 2009 8:14 AM:


Education does correlate with decreased fertility, both in the first world and the third world.

Birthrates are actually trending down across Latin America and parts of the Middle East and Southeast Asia.

The only area of the third world which is not seeing falling birthrates is Africa, probably because the people have such poor future time orientation due to genetics and so African women do not bother delaying births."

Ridiculous. The main problem, as outlined by in Potts and Hayden (2009) "Sex and War" is access to affordable birth control. Most African women express a desire to control family size, it is the men who do not.

Potts and Hayden's argument is also "Freedom" but not the libertarian kind. Pretty much, they found that the less free a woman is in society, the more a male controlled societal (or religious) structure control their fertility the higher the birth rate tends to be. In societies where women have a higher education level, more legal rights, more say inside their marriage, etc, they have less children.

One can say Japan is a patriarchal society, so is Korea, so is Saudi, so is Iran.

The difference is women in Japan and Korea have more rights and power in their sexual relationships. Persian women do as compared to Arab women in more fundamentalist societies. We often look at Iran as a lunacy religious state, but since the revolution, women have actually gained more power in society and are more educated per capita than they were before. The Islamic clerics are also "pro-birth control" unlike most Muslim dominated states.

Rick Darby said at June 22, 2009 9:28 AM:

Excuse me, folks, but instead of debating causal factors and extrapolating statistics about the white birth dearth, and then conjuring up fantasies about how to reverse it, what if we all just put our energy into stopping Third World immigration? I know immigration restriction doesn't provide the same degree of cognitive whoopee power for Mensa types, but the simplest solution is often the best.

kurt9 said at June 22, 2009 9:37 AM:

I will say this: If I have a caustic *hatred* for a particular country, and wanted to rid the world of its people forever, I would not attempt to outright make war on it...

Wonderful comment. I've always said that our cultural weapons of mass destruction are a far more lethal against Islam than any military weapons of mass destruction. You guys do know that Iran has below replacement birth rate, don't you? You should also know that the Islamic Republic has far higher rates of drug addiction and prostitution than any Westerner can even imagine. Apparently, the drug addiction rate is comparable to that of China at the time of the Opium Wars. I guess the Islamic Republic has done a real bang up job at keeping "Western decadence" out of the Islamic Republic.

The Undiscovered Jew said at June 22, 2009 10:46 AM:

Ridiculous. The main problem, as outlined by in Potts and Hayden (2009) "Sex and War" is access to affordable birth control. Most African women express a desire to control family size, it is the men who do not.


That explanation also makes sense.

Excuse me, folks, but instead of debating causal factors and extrapolating statistics about the white birth dearth, and then conjuring up fantasies about how to reverse it, what if we all just put our energy into stopping Third World immigration?

Why can't we do both?

mike said at June 23, 2009 10:13 PM:

"Maybe some aspects of socialism restrict fertility" - yes, in particular housing shortages.

Eastern Europe's low fertility rate is partly due to a housing shortage from the communist era. People in Eastern Europe didn't just have to queue for bread, but also for housing. Houses were also build in the wrong areas, too many in desolate towns in the frozen north and too few in the cities where people actually want to live.

Housing is also very expensive in other low fertility countries like Japan and Italy, where there is little cheap land available on which to build new housing estates.

Conversely, areas of western countries which have relatively cheap housing - mid western US, rural France, rural Australia, Canada and New Zealand also have relatively high fertility rates.

Making housing more affordable - by restricting immigration, losening planning restrictions, providing tax incentives and, if necessary building more state housing, is arguably the easiest way to boost fertility rates.

Audacious Epigone said at June 24, 2009 6:49 PM:

Dragon Horse,

Is data presented in Sex and War that men in sub-Sahara Africa want more children than women there do, or is that assertion coming from somewhere else? Looking at the World Values Survey, I don't see any evidence for it.

The point regarding gender parity can be refined to focus specifically on educational equality. The gender gap in education is a strong predictor of national fertility rates. As measured by the World Economic Forum's 2007 report entitled "The Global Gender Gap", the correlation between fertility and educational parity is an inverse .75 (p=0), far stronger than it is among the other measures of gender equality, including economic participation and opportunity (.22), political empowerment (.22), and health and survival (.01).

bgc said at June 25, 2009 2:43 AM:

The basic evolutionary psychology interpretation is that men seek youth and health in partners, while women seek status (all else being equal).

On this basis, a major contribution to low fertility among high status women is that there is a shortage of men who are higher status than themselves, and who attract them.

Plus, getting to high status entails delaying reproduction (in order to accumulate education and work experience) which itself makes women older and less attractive as marriage partners (among the high status men to whom these women are attracted).

So, the higher status a woman is, the less likely she is to get married, and the later she gets married; the less likely she is to have babies or if she does the fewer she will have. .

If this is true, one main driver of low fertility is that women are achieving higher and higher status at the cost of delaying reproduction longer and long - they are finding ever fewer men who attract them as marriage partners, and the men who attract them are finding these women less and less attractive (because they are getting older before seeking a partner - by the time they seek a marriage partner they are less attractive than younger women).

On this analysis it is the destruction of 'patriarchy' which leads to the modern pattern of low fertility and 'dysgenic' fertility. When patriarchy is destroyed men are, en masse, made unattractive to ever more women.

The surprising thing about all this is that women should be so driven to seek high status; becuase there wasn't much reason for this in evolutionary history, I don't think.

In The Woman Racket Steve Moxon suggests that in seeking high status for themselves women are (unconsciously) seeking the company of high status men; and this may be a partial explanation. I'm not sure whether this is a strong enough factor to explain the whole thing, though. It certainly looks as if women are less well adapted to modern conditions than men. Look at Figure 1 and Figure 2 here:


not too late said at June 26, 2009 9:42 AM:

Miles is right

not too late said at June 26, 2009 10:07 AM:

Another thing that men don't realize is that women don't mean what they say. They are more likely to say they want careers even though, really, they don't because society demands that women say they want careers, and women tend to be more compliant. Girls in college would much rather have an engagement ring from an older gainfully employed guy than some career and certainly more status then dating or banging cute guys. This is especially true for women from more traditional homes. Generally these women would much rather be moms and are far less likely to be man haters. If they had good dads, they are looking for normal good men. An engagement ring is a far bigger status symbol for a woman than any degree. None will admit it. All of them know it. Likewise plenty of normal well adjusted 30 year old men who are ready to marry, would be very happy to marry an attractive and family oriented 20 year old.

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