338. The Epidemic That Dare Not Speak Its Name | Stephen J Shaw - Transcripts

March 09, 2023

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Dr Jordan B Peterson and Stephen J Shaw discuss the Birthgap, a term recently coined by Shaw– and the subject of his new documentary by the same name. In this interview, they examine the long building but invisible causes of what may be the most pressing issue facing the western world in the next few decades. Worst case scenario: total societal collapse due to a lack of new children being born, and a rise in senior citizens living longer. Stephen is a British national who has studied and lived on three continents. He trained as a computer engineer and then as a data scientist before starting his first film project, “Birthgap,” at age 49. He is president and co-founder of the data analytics company, Autometrics Analytics LLC. Stephen holds an MBA graduate business degree from ISG in Paris, France, and is continuing his studies at Harvard Extension School.


Hello everyone, I'm here today talking to Mr. Stephen Jay Shaw. Stephen is a British national who has studied and lived on three continents. He trained as a computer engineer and then as a data scientist before starting his first film project, Birth Gap, at age 49. He maintains the position of president of the data analytics company he co-founded, Autometrics Analytics LLC. Stephen holds an MBA graduate business degree from ISG in Paris, France and is continuing his studies at the Harvard Extension School. Looking very much forward today to delving into the issue of declining birth rates and population collapse, something that's not particularly on everyone's radar and the issue of the invisible epidemic of unplanned childlessness. Good to see you. Thank you for inviting me. Hey, thanks for agreeing to talk so let's start with your background. We could walk through what you've been up to biographically first of all to situate it and then you can expand on that to the degree that you're willing and able.

So historically for the last 20 years I've been involved in data analytics, what we now call data science. I'm a part statistician, part coder, worked with some great academics and PhDs that we have on staff in coming up with academic models, forecasting models for industries, mainly in the automotive sector. We try and do short term forecasting. What might people purchase? What should car companies build? What should they market? What should they give for incentives? Down to a very minute level.

This is a private venture? It is. And so it's a corporation that offers these services?

Yeah, it's just a small niche corporation that's been offering services to the world's largest corporations for 20 years. And how did you get involved in that? It was a startup in London 20 years ago. I personally moved to the US to, we got a contract with NISA North America, took me to LA, and following that, I spent like 15 years following that company hands on, until around 2015, bizarrely, and I should explain that my lifelong learner had gone, I got accepted into Harvard Extension School to become a degree candidate to keep my data science skills up to date. And I was presented with some data that I just couldn't believe on following birth rates. So as someone who is involved in forecasting, albeit short-term forecasting, realizing that we've got this fundamental problem, birth rates, that's ultimately going to affect, well, not just the number of potential car buyers, I mean, that's the smallest problem in this overall, but that was, you know, something I felt almost ashamed of, why do I know this? And then you expand that to what is this going to mean for the planet? And as a father of three, my three children were just about still teenagers then, I felt a sense of failure that I hadn't been preparing my children for the world they were about to enter into. You know, we all, I think, are led into the belief that sure, that the world's population is growing, perhaps exponentially still, that's what I would have said at that time, based on what I was learning. And I had no idea that the actual dynamics of everything from how work is going to be like to how society is going to be like to how pension systems are going to be like is fundamentally flawed. And at that moment, I realized something's wrong because, you know what, the same trend was showing up for Germany and Italy and Japan, South Korea, South Korea was just a little bit later, just a little bit later, which is interesting, but something triggered the early 1970s in Japan, Germany, Italy, and you can add Spain, Portugal, Switzerland, Austria, to cause a series of parallel trends. And yet, what I was reading from experts was that these are localized problems, but Japan is work-life balance, that in Germany, it's something called Ravenmother, which is the idea that in parts of Germany, even today, for a woman to have a child and go straight back to work is really something that culturally shouldn't be done.

So that might cause some peoples to delay parenthood. In Spain and Italy, it was down to high unemployment among the youth. Other areas, it was gender balance, et cetera. So all these localized reasons were being proposed. For me, as a data scientist, you can see clearly, and if I can give you an analogy, it's one of your own. You were talking to Lex Friedman, you talked about the dragon, I think, in terms of the environment context. If someone finds a dragon and they scream, there's a dragon, and I love the analogy, and I since saw that you use dragons quite a lot, so I thought I might too. It's like you found this little dragon in Japan and the same kind of dragon in Germany and Italy at the same time, and they're starting to get bigger. They're lizards to begin with. The size of a kitten, I think is an analogy, and they're getting bigger, and suddenly they're appearing in other neighboring countries and it's growing, growing, growing from there.

So the idea that these are localized issues to me just did not make sense. Why do you think you were struck to begin with by the fact that birth rates were plateauing or declining. I mean, because the typical response to that would be either so what, there's too many people on the planet anyways, or actually it's a net good. So now you said you're in a private company now, I should let everybody watching listening know that one of the markers for the trustworthiness of a data analytic company is that people will actually pay for their information. And so, you know, it doesn't necessarily mean that a private data analytic company is credible, but it does mean at least that they've been able to demonstrate their credibility enough so that they have paying customers. And that's not an easy thing to manage. And so you were doing short term forecasting that was integrated into the capitalist economy, let's say, and so forth. But you came across this data at a much broader level, indicating a plateauing birth rate or population growth. Why did that disturb you?

Why did you think that was a problem? Because birth rates less than replacement level spiral downwards. They never stop. If you have fewer children that are required to replace the parents generation, once that generation grows up, they will if unless birth rates change, which they don't historically they stay low once they're low, you're going to have fewer people again. So you see it as a positive feedback loop. It is. And when you then look up, well, what do you want to find examples of societies coming from low birth rates going back to replacement level? And you realize there are no examples. In fact, there's no known historical examples anywhere.

And some do we do we have enough until you see it as a positive.

Do we have enough of a historical track to consider that a concern? In modern times, if you look at the number of countries who fall into birth rates of 1.6, 1.5, when you have no single example of a country going back to replacement level, we should be concerned. In fact, we should be very concerned.

I know places like I know places like Quebec, for example, in Canada with very, very low birth rate have tried to institute government policies that, for example, make daycare in principle more accessible to to young women and young families, although that's had pretty much zero impact on the outcome. I know that Hungary has put forward a series of policy transformations on the family support front. And my my belief is from what I've read is that they've at least stopped the birth rate decrease and increased it slightly. So that's the only I mean, Quebec didn't work at all. Hungary, it looks like there's some minor they're still way below replacement.

So it hasn't rectified the problem in any sense. What's fascinating about Hungary? What I wanted to do was look at something much deeper than the typical birth rate numbers that we see today. I'm trying to change that. If you look deeper, you can find data that if you merge together, which I don't believe anyone had ever done before, that gives you two measures. One is of societal childlessness, and the other is family structure. So the traditional way to measures childlessness is to wait to women are 45 usually, and have some surveys, maybe a census. So you're waiting to the to the end of the fertility window and counting them then. What I wanted to see was what a societal challenges today, if there's reduction in number of women starting their families, compared to what you would expect, we should be able to track that now. So looking at Hungary, which I've just been doing recently, was fascinating. I mean, they're giving huge incentives for people to have three and four children. But the family structure in Hungary is not changing at all at all.

What is changing, which may or may not be linked, it's associative in some way. But cause what we don't know is the childlessness rate in Hungary does seem to be going down. More people look like they're starting to have families. And what happens then is when people start to have families, they go on because family structure is locked in globally. That's another finding. You know, it's about family structure. Well, family structure basically is the percentage of women. We say women because we've got so much data on women, but really we should think of men and women. The proportion of women couples who have one child or two or three or four or five or more. And if you take data for Japan and you look at 1973, right before the fall in birth rates, the percentages of women having one, two, three, four are identical to having four or more children. Today, it's the exact same number, six percent. So our focus has been completely, we've been in a fog looking at overall birth rates.

What you find is in Japan in 1974, interesting year, an explosion in childless percent to 15 to 21 to 30 plus percent in a space of like four years, the same in Italy, the same in German. Four years. In four years. It's a shock. It was what I call a baby shock. And then if you look at Korea, South Korea, which you mentioned earlier, if we take South Korea mid-90s right in the midst of a currency shock, you see childless rates were already maybe 15 percent there.

Suddenly it goes up to, I believe, 30 percent and now it's over 40 percent. And this is childless at what age?

Well, when I estimate childlessness, I'm taking the, for the given population of women, the number of births you would expect to have at any age and say, how many first-time mothers were there? And when you count up the number of first-time mothers of any age group and look at the overall population structure, you can see, well, wait a minute, there's a gap opening up here compared to the number you would expect. So this is like age agnostic in a sense. And as a measure of the, you know, people say, well, some of those women might, you know, there might be a boom in future, people might be just delaying, but that doesn't happen. So it seems to be we've got this cycle going on that people are pulled quite quickly into this what I call unplanned childlessness, if I can, I've had to coin quite a few phrases and explain, I should explain what it might mean by unplanned childlessness. If you look at surveys, look at research, the vast majority of people want children.

It's innate and some don't, that's clear. What percentage do approximately?

I'm estimating around 5% don't, there have been Gallup polls in the U.S. done. Is that different between men and women? I don't have that data.

Okay, so are out of the game by voluntary choice? Yes. Right.

And what percentage are our childhood by voluntary choice? Yes. Right. Well, right now we're looking at 30 to 40% the most developed nation.

So the vast majority, 80% is estimated in studies. And I think. So that's that involuntarily, involuntary childlessness. I've been thinking about that lately. We have this notion for men of involuntary celibacy in cells. We don't have a term that's as at hand for involuntary childlessness among women. And it hasn't been recognized as a, like what would you call it, a universal social problem. But you just said 5% of women don't want children, but 30% don't have them.

And so there's a huge gap there between desire and reality. Frankly, I believe it's the biggest society's hiding because we haven't recognized it. And if you find people, as I did making the documentary, people who are struggling, 30s, late 30s, women particularly, but men too who have given up in their 40s, and they're opening their heart to you with a level of what they call grief. And in English language, grief is used for one particular context. It's not necessarily used normally for something you never had. I think in other languages there are terms that encompass that, but it's the same emotion. And I've been pulled into conversations where from these people who thought they were going through life, getting the education probably, starting the career path probably, thinking that, well, you know what, I'm not 30 yet, I've got time to meet a partner.

And then getting to the point of often there is no partner or that biology gets in the way. Yeah, well, it turns out that life is shorter than people think, you know, I've had clinical clients who followed that path. And some of them were women who had initially decided that they didn't want to have children and then changed their minds quite dramatically in their late 20s, which is a very common pattern and then couldn't have children. And it was just absolutely disastrous for them. They were often on the artificial fertility route for 10 years with multiple miscarriages and failures on that front. And it's a bloody dismal outcome. Okay, so you're making a case here, you're making a psychological case in some sense at the moment in that this is a phenomenon worth attending to because the vast majority of people who end up childless, which is a more serious immediate problem for women because of the biological restrictions on their reproductive capacity. The reason that's a problem is because so many women end up in that situation despite wanting children. So that's a real psychological problem. But you could take a sociological stance and say, well, as we've been, as has been insisted upon for 60 years, there's too many people on the planet. And it's just not a bad thing at all if we stop reproducing in this manner. And if the price we have to pay for reduction in the number of excess amounts to feed is that there are some unhappy women, so be it.

What do you think about this at a sociological or political?

I think it's a terribly sad thing to contemplate that we have to somehow enforce perhaps life-long grief and sadness on a subset of society who were mostly unlucky enough not to have the children they wanted to have for the sake of the planet when there are the hypothetical sea, the hypothetical sea, the hypothetical planet at some future time. To me, the first thing, my reaction, stronger action, isn't there another way, if that's right? And then you look at data as a report in Nature last year on the overall footprint by each group. Quite a number of scientists put their name to it and it states very clearly that 8% of our footprint occurs when we're aged under 30. Then it rises quite significantly between 30 and around 65, I believe, and then it falls off sharply. Well, that means that if the world's births were to magically, well, it wouldn't be magic, drop by, say, half, I love taking extreme situations. So let's imagine that from tomorrow only half of the births happen for some crazy reason. That 8% of total emissions or footprint would go down to 4% in 30 years' time. It's going to happen for decades, at a time when I think we have to find other solutions as much as they're needed to solve problems that are out there. So the idea that we're going to inflict this pain, deep personal suffering pain in people and perhaps be pleased about it, as I know some people are, I think is terribly sad. I think it might be that, to come back, I would like to clarify that for those people who don't have the desire, I consider myself a pan-needlist. If you don't want children, I would be your biggest supporter to say that's fine.

And I think there might be a misunderstanding in society for some people who perhaps don't share that desire, who perhaps can't quite understand how fundamental this desire is.

Yeah, well, most people who are in that boat are being willfully blind in my experience. And so the idea that there are reasons to not want to have children, one reason is an overwhelming self-centered narcissism. That's not the only reason, but it's definitely one reason. And people talk about the interference with their personal freedom and their desire to pursue their career. In that, I read something like the absolute inability to ever sacrifice your own narrow self-interest. And I do mean narrow to the, what would you say, concerns and needs of other people. So it's interesting to me that it's 5% that don't want children and that the rate of that kind of self-centered narcissism is about 4% to 5% too. Now I am not saying that everyone who decides not to have children falls into that category, but I am saying that a fair number of people who don't want children fall into that category. I mean, if you think about it biologically, every single one of your maternal ancestors for three and a half billion years reproduce successfully and it might be that you should think long and hard about why. You also might want to think long and hard about why, given that it's likely to have a pretty detrimental effect on your life. It's all fine to be fancy free and footloose when you're 30 and 35, but it's a lot less amusing when you're 50 and it might be downright dreadful by the time you're, let's say, 65. All right, so on the population front now, we talked a little bit about the psychological catastrophe of involuntary childlessness.

I'm curious too about the social and economic consequences. So as you get a demographic bulge more and more older people and fewer and fewer younger people, obviously you have fewer people to take care of the older people, but I also have never really read anything pertaining to models of like real estate value collapse because it doesn't take very long if there are more houses than there are people for the value of real estate to fall to, well, to what? To nothing? I mean, that's what happened in Detroit. It basically fell to nothing. I mean, Detroit has recovered to some degree, but we don't know at all what the world would look like if real estate values fell to virtually nothing, especially because that's where most people put their retirement value. So what do you foresee happening on the political and economic front given the shift towards the elderly demographically?

We're going to see it in China first, right? Clearly. Clearly. Well, Japan too. And one of the reasons I moved to live in Japan is to be close to, I wanted to feel this problem. I wanted to be able to see it and almost touch it, and you can there. But you mentioned Detroit. I spent many, many years living in the suburbs of Detroit, and right around the time I was looking to start this project, I was able to drive around the streets of Detroit and and see street after street after street of tens and tens of thousands of decaying houses. I remember one day driving along and there was a house, and these were nice houses back in the day, still spacious. And there was a young family having a picnic outside one of these houses. And it was the perfect setting, you might say, in every context except the lapidated. Around that time, listening to local Detroit news every night, it was crime, it was utilities, it was infrastructure and bridges that the city couldn't afford.

And of course, in 2013, it went bankrupt. So I had this backdrop to knowing what was happening to Detroit as a city. And you're right about property value, around that time, you could buy a significant property in Detroit for $10,000. You probably couldn't go there to ever see it because it wasn't safe at that time. And you were right, Detroit has come back. So in some ways, it is a town. Well, they demolished huge tracts of houses. But how do you do that when half the houses are still occupied? You go through this period of time, unless you're going to say to people, everybody move three streets over now, and you do that every few years. You can't easily go into neighborhoods and start moving things back to still have these scars of the empty spaces that were there. And I show some of this in the documentary. So the idea, I mean, people, I was on a podcast, Chris Williamson's recently, and it was the first time I got a sense of the comments that people make, and many people were sharing these deep personal stories about their life to do with unplanned child losses.

Others were sharing concerns about whether they'd ever become grandparents. Right. But a lot of people were saying, this is just about economics, who cares? This is just about big corporations suffering, who cares? I think people need to understand this is going to impact everybody, everybody's life. If you're living in an area, your city or your municipality aren't covering the basic infrastructure, no one's going to escape from this. I think people don't understand that. So in my case, understanding life in Detroit, and again, I really love the city, and it's great. I love the people. I love the way it is starting to come back. But that experience, I think, really spoke to me that we really need economic. I mean, the economics go beyond the city and the property values.

It's the pension funds, it's the social welfare funds that people think, I think I did too the time, you know, the retirement, the cost to maintain each of us in a retirement is basically what the government or someone's been saving for when we get to that age. It's not what we're paying right now. That's a bargain with the future. That's a bargain.

Yeah, you're covering the people who retired now. Yeah, right. It's not paying right. What the government has put a way for us is debt. Debt.

Yeah, yeah, there's no savings. And then there's a promise. Right. And then the debt's a problem, because- Yes, that's for sure. If you have a shrinking number of taxpayers, the debt's not shrinking.

So the repayment on the debt actually becomes worse and worse and worse. Yeah, well, hypothetically, you can remediate that with immigration, but then that opens up another can of worms, which is no one really knows what the maximal rate of incorporation a society can manage without imploding, right? I mean, obviously, Canada, the US, US in particular, is an immigrant society, and that's worked out extremely well for the immigrants and for the society. But the idea that there's no upper limit to our capacity to digest and integrate, let's say, is absolutely preposterous, and we don't know. But the notion that we can replenish at the rate that we're losing on the birth rate front

strikes me as, it's at least a debatable claim. Is a subject that I think we actually only look at one side of it, and I certainly did until I went to Nepal, and I went and I sat down with a professor, the head of the Department of Population, Professor Patak, in one of the largest universities in Asia. And I wanted to talk about falling birth rates in Nepal, which were just about replacement level at that time. And all he seemed to want to talk about was the pains of migration on Nepal. I never, for one second, had thought about this dark side of immigration. Oh, that your brain drain, for example. Community drain. Yeah. You're actually taking away, you're leaving the old parents there, and you're sending remittances back, and that, see, is positive. But those parents aren't really looking for remittances. They're looking for people, community, their children to be there, into their older age. And we went to film some of these olders in their face.

No one thinks about that. And then you have another situation, which is often it's men who are the immigrants, at least first. And well, okay, so maybe that seems, to some, a good way for it to start. But there's another dark side to that, is the women behind are either not married yet, or they are married, and there are men who have gone off, and they're not having children. Or their husband's coming back for three weeks a year. And you've got three weeks a year to try and get pregnant, and of course most are not. So you're actually propelling countries into low birth rates, the same factor that the rest of us are going through right now. So the immigration debate, and I'm an immigrant myself, I've been an immigrant to the US, to Japan now, so I'm absolutely not against immigration at all, as you say, it's done a great service to US, Canada, and many other countries too. But the idea that...

But yeah, but that doesn't mean it's a solution to population by replacement.

It's not the same. It's not the same.

Right, right, right. Now, you talked about Japan, let's talk about Japan a little bit, how long did you live in Japan? I still do, so I've been there for five years. And you said you can, well, so what do you experience there in relationship to your concerns about population decline?

Let me tell you about a community in rural Tokyo, so this is the world's biggest city based on some measures. You go to the northwestern part of Tokyo, and there's an area called Takashi Medaira that's featured in the documentary.

1973, the 10,000 homes in this apartment were filled with young families.

You went back with someone who was a child in those days, and you can hear the voices of the past. And today, it's a ghost town, but it's not unoccupied. 98% of the apartments are still occupied, but they're old people, and they're mostly old women.

Right, right. Living alone. Yes, and they're old women because men die early. Men die early. Right, so this is another... That's exactly right. So one of the things that you see as young people disappear and as the population ages is that the landscape is made up of isolated old women who no one cares about. Right. A dismal destiny for all concerned.

I'd love people, frankly, to watch the documentary to really sense this because there's one scene there, and it is harrowing, but to put it in simple terms, there's an 80-year-old woman who has no family, who's contemplating suicide because she's nothing to live for,

no one to live for, and no one to communicate. Now she should move to Canada. We have a nice medically-assisted death program here that's, I think, accounting for something like 3% to 5% of all deaths now, so, you know, there's a solution for everyone to contemplate.

Yeah, yeah, well, I just worry about it.

In fact, there was a Japanese professor who came out the other day a week ago. He was suggesting that it would be morally appropriate for the older people in Japan

to consider suicide as a root-out because they're a burden to society. And now he's backtracking saying he didn't really mean that, but it's dangerous once you start to put that out there because there are people, you know, I remember a conversation with a young woman in Japan and talking about her future, and I did that with a lot of people, or 230 people, I interviewed, in 24 countries, and she mentioned that her—and she came out with a point that I guess many might be thinking, when you're that age, why is she still here? And when you hear that, you know, and then you meet people who are that age, who I think have still so much to give to society. They're just excluded from it. They're not.

Well, it's hard if they're not integrated in people—well, it's sometimes hard if they are integrated into a family, but it's definitely harder if they're not. It's also the case that a lot of people who contemplate suicide do that not so much because they're specifically suffering, although that can certainly be a contributing factor, but because they do believe that they are fundamentally best construed as a burden and that the world, including the people around them, would be better off if they disappeared. So that's a very sad, what would you say, realm to inhabit in your misery and isolation? So can we can we walk through the structure of the documentary? Yes, of course. Yeah, so it's just so everyone listening is reminded it's called the name of the documentary is Birth Gap,

and so let's walk through the structure of it. First of all, the title Birth Gap, I've got to just explain why is it called Birth Gap? What is a birth gap? To me, it's what they defined as the gap between the number of old people to support in society and births. So it's an indication of frankly a measure that we're not taking account of today. What is that ratio? So to me, to be very honest with you, whether we hit 9 billion or maybe 10, it's trivial. It's going to happen. It's going to be in that ballpark. Whether we like it or not, that's going to happen. And what actually matters is the age structure. So Birth Gap, the title of the movie, that's where it comes from.

Before I went on this journey, chapter one is me literally going with an iPad, showing people data. We started in Italy, Switzerland, we went to Japan and just started talk to people about what's happening in their own societies. So how did you move into the realm of documentary filmmaking? Well, I have to thank my second son Adam for that because my idea at this point, I mean I'm not a filmmaker. It certainly wasn't then. My thought was this is a big problem. I can write a book about this. I thought just about I have the ability to write, to explain this. And what I wanted to do, because there's other books out there, was come up with a new way to help visualize this problem and to use the book to kind of communicate. And I felt, well maps, no one's really come up with the structure of a map. And in doing this, I was explained to my son Adam and he said that no one our age reads books anymore. We all watch documentaries.

Or listen to them. Or listen to them. And for me, well that's not me. There's no way I could possibly do that. And then by chance, a friend of a friend, was a former videographer news anchor for a Washington DC news network but was going out on her own. And long story short, we thought, well okay, let's see if we can make this work. And it brought her along for two weeks to film the first interviews thinking, if nothing else, this is going to be an archive for my own research. Or listen. Save me note taking while I'm listening to all of these people. And as we got into it, the personal stories opened up of people who you could see them contemplating the future of their lives. Like one springs to mind, a young elementary school teacher in Switzerland, 30 years old, a young man. And when we walk through with him the future of elementary schools in Switzerland, you could see the process in his mind realizing we're not going to need anywhere near the number of elementary school teachers that we have now and what that might mean for him.

So the documentary starts literally with me asking people in countries, why is this happening? And frankly, I was hoping, in this entire project, I was expecting at some point to sit down and do some form of regressive model to find a correlation between something that would link these small dragons, these falling birth rates in Japan, Germany, and Italy, because they were happening at the same time and they were spreading. I never got to that point and I'm very grateful I didn't because I probably would have found something like ice cream sales happened at the same time.

It's very hard to identify. Well, it seems obvious that I mean one of the causes, the distal causes of the birth control pill, but even that is a somewhat shallow answer because there's a very specific set of social and economic realities, zeitgeist, that even made the invention and distribution and acceptance of the birth control possible. You had to have the psychological stage set for the acceptance of that technology, the demand for that technology before it could be developed or implemented. You started the documentary, you're in chapter one, you're starting to ask people what's going on. What are they telling you?

Yeah, well no one had a clear answer and that, you know, maybe that was overly simplistic, but what I was trying to do was find some common thread. But let me just, if I can, talk about contraceptives because there's a wonderful counter example. The contraceptive pill was not legalized in Japan until 1990 and it was only legalized because Viagra was legalized and at that point women said, wait, you've been blocking the contraceptive pill and now you're allowing Viagra and at that point. So you had the precipitous decline in birth rate from 73. You had an increase

in mass abortions. So this was a societal issue. Okay, so that shows that it's something deeper than this?

Something deeper and also if you look at other countries, particularly the UK at the time, France too, to the contraceptive pill, you are not seeing falling birth rates. And a lot of people would say, well, it's obvious it was industrialization. It was something to do with urbanization. But the correlations aren't there if you look at, well, why did this only happen in those three countries? And the answer comes back to that. I'd love people to see it unfold in a documentary, but it's a sudden increase in this unplanned involuntary childlessness happened in Germany, Italy, those countries

at the same time. Well, it's definitely the case that as women become more educated, they have fewer children. And that's now the precise causal pathway there is obvious. One simple suggestion would be that it is a matter of accidental delay. I mean, I've seen this in my daughter, you know, my daughter, although she had terrible health problems and that complicated your life a lot. She had initially thought that she might want to go be a physician, but that's like 12 years. And she was also very oriented towards having children. And she's managed to have one child despite her health problems. But that desire to pursue an intense educational pathway does exist in conflict certainly with an early start to family development. If you presume that that doesn't matter because you've got time, you're not going to find out that isn't true for 10 years in your own life. And maybe the culture won't find out that's true for like 30 years. You know, I mean, we still tell young women who are 19.

I made a comment that was clipped on an Instagram reel by someone about the fact that we always lie to young women about what's going to be important in their lives. We tell them it's going to be all career. Said, you know, I've worked in female dominated industries my whole life. And what I've observed is among men and women alike that it's a very rare person for whom career is the most important thing in their life. Even if they're men, although it's true for more men, it's true for virtually no women by the time they hit 30. And the amount of vitriol that comment generated was unparalleled. And that's something because I've had plenty of vitriol generated from things I said. But that was, and it was all young women, you know, talking about how some old white guy like me had no right to tell young women what to do with their bodies, which I most certainly was not. But it is, you can see a simple pathway there, right? It's like, well, we have this avenue where we can pursue our career and our education and everything else we want. And then we'll be able to solve the problem of having a family. The problem with that is, well, it's hard enough to find a mate when you're 23, 24.

By the time you're 30, it's even more difficult. And by the time you're 35, it's starting to become well nigh impossible to find a mate and get pregnant and have a family, especially if you're going to have more than one kid. And so, well, so there's a direct conflict there between the avenues that are open to women and the need to strike while the iron's hot on the reproductive front. Nobody really knows how to reconcile that. I mean, it's odd because women will live about seven years longer than men. So it could be the case that the societal norm could be that women have their children when they're quite young and then go back to school in their 30s. That would actually work out. In principle, that could work out quite nicely, but we don't have the norms in

place to make that a possibility. But we have to start addressing exactly this, because if we don't, you know, to me, I can't, I mean, there's so many ideas today about reproductive technology that are over-freeze your eggs and it's 40. You know, if you have a partner and if you still have energy that you might then. Yes, and everything goes well. And you have the money. Yeah. And the emotional stamina. All of that. So part of what I'm hoping to do through the documentary in my work after this is to just increase awareness, particularly to women, but you need a man as well. So it's both that the fertility window is much shorter and the ability of children gets harder and harder and harder. It's not just about getting pregnant. It's about being able to deliver, you know, being able to see the pregnancy through to which gets exponentially harder very, very quickly.

I should mention I interviewed five fertility doctors for the documentary itself. And, you know, each one of them wanted to open up about the challenges, because normally they have to sell their services. Right. Normally they have to tell people, think possibly, here's what we've done for other people, here's what we can do for you. Yeah. What they were telling to me openly, I'm frankly getting quite emotional about it on a couple of occasions, was it's terrible because so often it doesn't work out.

Yes. And everything goes well. If everything goes well. And you have the money. Well, one in three couples by the age of 30 have pronounced fertility problems defined as inability to conceive within a year of embarking on the endeavor consciously. Right. So that's one in three. And of course, it just gets worse and worse as age creeps up. And 30 is not that old. And it does mean that women have a damn tight window. It's 13 years, let's say, by the time you're 17, by some standards, you're mature enough to consider reproduction 17 or 18 and on the extreme end. And then, well, 35 is the other end of that distribution.

And you're playing with fire by the time you're delaying, especially if you don't have a partner, by the time you're delaying till 35. And if you want three children. Yeah, well, right. I'm thinking just one. And it's also the case, I think if you're a reasonable observer of human nature, you see that people have three sources of fundamental gratification in their lives. One is the pursuit of their own interests, including career and job. One is their intimate relationship and the other is their family. And obviously the intimate relationship and the family are very integrally associated. And if you miss out on one of those, you may be able to fill it by exceptional ability in the remaining domains. But for most people, not only is that highly unlikely, it's

also highly undesirable. Because to take the point as well, here am I, an older male talking about things that are very sensitive to women, but there are a lot of women out there saying the exact same thing. And there was one this morning, I got an email from Melanie Notkin, who's written a book called Otherhood, who herself has no children. And she put it succinctly that in her words, women are going through the education path, the career path, to try to ultimately fall in love and have a family.

Yeah, right. It's all linked. Yeah, well, I think it's the same for men. I think so. Half the reason, half, it's more than that, half the reason that men strive for career success is to impress women and

attract them. In fact, it's higher than that. But maybe that point is the heart of the problem we have today, because today, if you look at who's at college and who's actually earning more right now, I read this morning, women in cities in the U.S. are earning more than men. I don't know if that's right or wrong, but you have this situation right under 30. Yeah. So in U.S. colleges right now, I believe it's 9.5 million women and

around 6.57 million men. When they start to outnumber the men two to one, right, because a lot of the reason people go to college, you know, you've got to ask yourself, what's college for? It's like, well, it's to get educated, to go to lectures, to be accredited. It's like, no, probably not. Probably the reason people go to college is to find a mate. And there's a selected pool there and you have a decent chance of finding someone, you know, of approximately your ability and forward-looking vision, let's say. And the reason people are willing to shell out between 150 and 250 thousand dollars for four years is in no small part so that they can find a mate. Well, if you demolish that by, well, radically decreasing the number of available men, for example, you're just going to blow the whole enterprise out of the water, which is already what's

happening. Because a lot of the reason... Absolutely. And this is perhaps my greatest concern because I think if we make young people more aware of fertility, the fertility window, they might want to have children earlier. If we link that to in some way enabling careers later in life, which has to fundamentally happen for this to work, we might still be left with a situation where women who, the term is hyperginally, where women want to marry someone at least as educated, at least as successful, taller than they are. But if we're in a situation where there's so few men getting the same level of education, we

might be left with this imbalance. Oh yeah, that's already happening clearly. Yeah, it's very difficult for women to overcome the hypergamous instinct because they're trying to redress the imbalance in terms of reproductive responsibility. There's no evidence at all. You get a little bit of flattening of hypergamy in extremely egalitarian societies like Scandinavia, but it certainly doesn't disappear. And so that's built in at a very fundamental biological level. And I don't think any casual tinkering on the anthropological or sociological front is going to shift that a bit. So that's a big problem. It's a big problem. It's also the case too that if marriages where the wife out-earns or out-statuses the husband tend to be comparatively unstable and violent, so you know, now you can lay that at the feet of the man if you're inclined to, but in some sense it doesn't really matter because that's the way it is. And so the women are unhappy and the men are threatened and that's just not a good

recipe for marital stability. Everyone loses in this situation. So you would think, if you ask me how many women are in college in Thailand, I might have said 15%. I have no idea, but no, it's 55%. I have no idea, but 40% of men are in college in Thailand. So you have a similar shift even there. And what's happening to the men, the documentary, we went to a temple where monks are trying to rehabilitate young men who fell out of 1618, was turned to alcohol, was turned to substances to drive taxis because they could get some cash because there was no point trying to compete with a woman. So you have these deep societal problems, but yet I want to be really clear that the answer to this is not in some way preventing women from getting an education. That's just not going to function. You know, how are you going to do that? Of course, of course. And you know, there are people who think then, there are people who I think want to use this conversation to promote that because I've seen comments along those lines too often.

This has to be therefore partly about men in some way asking why are men excluded from society? Why are they becoming incels or in Japan, they call it otakus, you know, the young man who stays home

playing his gaming systems? And see, I don't think that's the right question. I think we almost always ask questions backwards. Why people become useless? That's not a mystery. It's easy to be useless. The mystery is why that doesn't happen to everyone all the time. And the answer is because we build up extremely careful structures of societal discipline to encourage people to adopt mature long-term responsibility and to reward them judiciously for doing so. And when you allow those structures to collapse or work consciously to undermine them, then you get default to the default. And the default is useless. It's short-term gratification. And so you'd never need an explanation for that.

It's like, well, why do people turn to short-term gratification? Because it's gratifying in the short term. It's easy. Now, you know, getting men, encouraging men to shed their Peter Pan persona, juvenile Peter Pan persona, and to adopt mature responsibility, that's a real challenge for every society. And we are increasingly not only failing at doing that, but punishing young men for developing, say, the virtues of ambition and even sexual desire, for that matter. So, all right, so chapter one, you went and interviewed a variety of people and just started to flesh out the territory. How does that unfold after

that? Well, it comes to the point where I realize there's a moment I realize there is a connection across all these countries. And it's to do with this structure of the family. You know, you would expect if you're having fewer children, you know, and some of these organizations encourage people to have fewer children, have fewer smaller families, you would expect if they had had any success or if people were doing it, you would have a lot of families with only one child. But actually, Singletons are actually really quite rare in life and they're no more common today than they were 30, 40 years ago. So, I started to discover that you see people with zero children, right? That's totally how you get a fertility rate of less than replacement levels. Either the number of people having one child or none. So, connecting that allowed me to start to ask more questions about childlessness and about aspirations of life and not

really... I see, and so it's zero children. That's totally... I see. So, it's not a matter of small families. It's a matter of no family. And then it's a matter of involuntary No family, that's right.

Okay, got it. And that's why I didn't end up doing any regressive analysis because it's a counting problem. You know, we were counting this the wrong way. You just simply need to look at the number of people having one child, two, three, four, and you find this gap and you find that gap getting wider and wider and it effectively expand, it effectively fall below replacement level. But there's really, there's really good news here too. The best news in all of this is that if the majority are a significant number of those people who are involuntarily on planned childlessness, as I call it, if they were having a family, they're not going to have one. They're going to have in the same proportions, one, two, three, four, five, plus, it's all about having that first child. So the documentary-

Right, well, the pre-cut, look, the second child's pretty straightforward after the first and once you've got two, you're already completely screwed, so you might as well have three. Well, that's- Then the kids start to take care of each other, by the way, too, which is something that parents don't understand is that you don't, if you have eight kids, it's not like you're taking care of eight kids. The kids start to form their own society

and take care of each other, and take care of each other. Yeah, and there's great examples of that in a documentary. Or at least the majority of you saw in Italy, this mother of four children saying she educated her eldest daughter, taught her how to read, and she taught the next daughter. She taught the next one. So that's certainly true. But the good news is here, Because family structure is really locked in, once of course, if you go to some countries as I did in Africa, you've got high birth rates because poverty, somewhat access to reproductive services, but mostly that's covered now, mostly it is. So we got poverty, the people in Africa need children to go and get the water, but a lot of good things are being done on that, that poverty level is coming way down, and we're seeing in Africa, on average in sub-Saharan Africa, just to cover that briefly, the average woman is having one less child every 15 years, it's around four now, so around 30 years time, we're looking at Africa starting to get down toward replacement level, it's on the same path. Yeah, yeah, yeah. That's the reasonable assumption based on the data right now. So once you get to that point, and this is what I think the world of demography really skipped over, is that it's not the same, some form, it's not like you look at families going from four to two, and then down to 1.5 and said this is the same trend, it's not. When you get to replacement level, when women are having pretty much the family size that they actually want, childlessness kicks in, and it's that that pulls it down a different level. So the next part of the documentary, then going to people, finding out what their young people, what their aspirations for the future was, then also talking to men and women who hadn't had children, why they didn't, what it meant to their lives,

and that gets quite-

So what do you find on the aspirational front? Oh, the majority, the significant majority of people, young people, expect or want of children someday. Right, right. Now, I do have some concerns, but I have no evidence for it, but it's just a natural concern that what we're seeing in the world today, perhaps, is over-focused on the environment is through fear. Yeah. Persuading people more than you would normally expect to not think of children, but I have hope around that

because it's this internal desire really does seem to kick in. Right, right. Really does seem to kick in. Yeah, well, I think it's not so much fear that's interfering on that front. I think it's actually demoralization, right? Because this is especially true for, let's say, decent young men who would like to be moral actors. If they're told continually which they are, that all of their male pattern behaviors, for example, in school are disruptive, and that their male ambition is nothing but a reflection of the tyrannical patriarchy, and that any interest they might evoke, they might events towards women is part of the predatory pattern of male behavior, then it demoralizes them literally. It makes them feel like their natural proclivity for ambitious striving, let's say, and sexual desire is immoral. And the people you hurt the most by doing that are the people who have a moral heart because the ones who don't care and the ones who do. I had a friend, his name was Rob Durnan, and he fell prey to this anti-male narrative very early in his life. This is like 40 years ago, 50 years ago, and he was definitely guilty about his role as a patriarchal male, let's say, and he did everything he could to adopt a kind of nihilistic Buddhism and just take himself out of life. He thought everything he did was, and everything that men did in general was just part of the destructive force that was ravaging the world, and he eventually committed suicide.

It was awful. I watched that unfold for 50 years, and I would say he had his flaws like everyone does, and in that self-destructive pathway, there can be a fair bit of, let's say, unconscious self-serving, but fundamentally, he was overwhelmed by existential guilt in relationship to being male, and that eventually convinced him to do himself in. It was quite the catastrophic voyage, all things considered, and I know perfectly well that that's not rare, because I've talked to thousands of young men who have been demoralized to the point of suicide, and that story is, I'd say that's the archetypal story, so it's not fear exactly. It's an assault. It's a moral assault, and it's unconscionable. It's an unconscionable moral assault. If your solution to saving the planet is that you have to demoralize young people so badly that they even abstain from sex, then there's seriously something wrong with your worldview, and maybe we can call out Paul Ehrlich on that front, for example. So, all right, so now you're starting to talk to people about their aspirations. You're finding out that young people do wanna have a family, and that doesn't mean one child, it means a family, but they're not prioritizing that properly, or they're, what happens to the people

who end up without children? Well, there's no path to it. Right. The path is education, education, education, usually. Not for everyone, but. And then debt. Sure, debt. But that's not the driver, because education in some countries is much lower than the US, so some people will say, oh, that's the problem. It's not a good thing. It can't help. And that's career, career, career, and no one is guiding people to say, actually, there is a moment in time when you really need to prioritize this. So, we've left young people to find a path on their own, having sent them off as parents, as societies, to find a path in life that will get them to where they want to be, which everyone, I think, implicitly assumes, for most people, not all, will involve love and will involve children.

But actually, what's happening is, when young people are getting to that point, they're often in their 30s, because no one really is thinking that 30 is too late at all. I mean, just another statistic. If you look across, probability of becoming a parent, a mother, rather. Some women, again. The probability of someone without children age 30 ever becoming a parent, at most, at most, is 50%. Really? That's just the outcome. So, by 30? By 30. If you haven't had your first child by 30,

in most countries, it's lower than that. And why is that? Do you know? I mean, there must be multiple causes. Part of that would be partnerlessness. Part of that would be fertility difficulties.

What are the major contributors to that? The major contributor is not finding the partner at the right time. Yeah, right. Or when you do find the partner, it's, you have challenges.

Yeah, well, the other thing that is painful to point out to women, is that 30-year-old women aren't competing with other 30-year-old women for partners. They're competing with 18 to 35-year-old women for partners. And so, all things considered, if you're 30 and you're looking for a mate and you want children, you're putting an awful lot of pressure, one way or another, on your 30-year-old male target. Because his option is to find a 25-year-old woman who all things being equal is of the same value as you are, except that you're 30. And that means his timeframe is now shortened in a manner that wouldn't be the case if he married someone younger. Plus, women tend to prefer men who are slightly older than them. Well, not exactly slightly. It's actually four years is the average internationally. And so, the optimal target for a 25-year-old woman is a 29-year-old man. And so, and it's rude to point such things out, but mate selection is a very difficult problem. And it's also exacerbated by the fact that this is also a terrible thing is that because of this hypergamous tendency of women, as women are, I knew a lot of very successful young women who worked in the legal field, and they were often stars in their firms, extremely able people. And generally, they were very vivacious, attractive, intelligent, educated, and intimidating as hell to men.

And not that interested in someone who didn't have the same ability and status they did, which was almost no one. So then they're 30, they're extremely choosy, and you could say they have a right to be, but the problem is, well, yeah, you're 30, and you're extremely choosy, and your pool of available candidates has basically shrunk to none. Because first of all, a lot of men are already snapped up by the time they're 30, so there's that reduction right off the bat. And then if you're gonna reject, women rate 80% of men on dating sites as below average in attractiveness. And that's just the baseline, right? For the women who are high status and high attractive, let's say, very able on the career front, and the men they're gonna regard as acceptable, that's a vanishingly small proportion of men. So that's part of the reason why they, what would you say, select themselves out of the mating market. That's brutal, man, it's brutal. And I watched women struggle with that like mad, and certainly had no shortage of sympathy for them, but the mere fact that you're sympathetic to someone doesn't mean that the brute reality that confronts them

has been altered in any manner whatsoever. A couple of points on that. So I agree with all of that. What I see, and I get to, often once or twice a week, have a coffee with a young person who has reached out, and you know when you talk about the documentary, or friends or friends or friends, someone wants to talk to you about something personal. A common conversation would be women more than men. They've been dating someone for five years. They think they might want to, well, different scenarios. They think they might wanna settle down and have a child with them,

but they've never talked about it. Well, it's only been five years.

Right, or what should they do? Or worst of all, they've just broken up because they've been dating this guy for seven years, and he's not got another girlfriend who's 25,

and she's pregnant. Oh my God, yeah, that's a brutal situation.

Brutal, brutal. But those are real life stories.

Oh yeah, yeah. Life stories.

Oh yeah, yeah, that's very, yeah, all that's very common. So the idea of dating someone for an extended period, my children are now, you know, 27 to 20. They're getting to that point where, you know, to me, I'm thinking of my own children. When I think of these young people and the advice I would give them, and frankly, the advice I usually give, and I'm not a clinical psychologist, but, you know, people are asking for advice, and I've talked to a lot of people is, if you're unsure, break up, because do you know what? If it feels wrong after you've broken up, you'll get back together quickly. And I'd say more-

The other advice too is get the hell at it. You think you have a long time to decide. Well, here's a way of thinking about it. If you're reasonably attractive, you'll be able to try out five people. That's it. That's what you've got. You know, because it takes a while to find someone, and then it takes a while to get to know them. And finding them and getting to know them? That's probably something approximating one to two years. And if you do that five times, that's 10 years, and that's your fertility window. And so you think you have time, but that's a delusion. And you think the right person will come around?

Well, first of all, that's a delusion to begin with, because you build a relationship. You don't find one now. You should have some sense when you pick your partner to the degree that you have the luxury to have some sense. But the notion that the person right for you will come along at the right time, that's just not the case. That isn't how things work at all. And if you know that even if you're very attractive, that the list of true candidates is probably five. And for some people, it's one or zero. And so that's, it's hard because when you're 17 or 16, especially if you're attractive, and I would say this is especially true if you're an attractive young woman, you have no shortage, generally speaking, of people who are interested in you. And it looks like that's sort of a landscape of plenty, but that doesn't mitigate against the fact that it still takes a long time to get to know people and to find the right person. Now men have it a bit easier on that front, I would say, because I had one friend who didn't have a child till he was 55, you know, that can always be the case for men and so the pressure is not in the same way. But even with men, like had I married my wife earlier, we would have had more kids, you know, and that didn't happen. So and we got married comparatively early for our social class, say an educational background.

Okay, so now you're talking to people and you're finding out they wanna have kids and then they find out that they don't get to, right? A little bit too late.

And so where does the documentary go from there? So from there, we take it into the consequences. The consequences, well, are partly personal, but partly economic. But everything ultimately is personal because everything ultimately comes back to, you know, whether it's you and your life and how you live and whether you're lonely or not. Or how much the state can help you, particularly in your later years, through healthcare, through pensions, through your city providing basic services like water, It all comes back together. So we explore a lot of those. And by the way, I sat down with, I believe, about a dozen experts, many professors, many, you know, a priest, a monk, people involved working with government healthcare programs around the world. So we hear these voices. And other than one organization, which happens to be the successor to what Paul Ehrlich set up, they were the only organization who took an optimistic view. Of course, they would do that. Everybody else is negative. Everybody else is worried about the future consequences of this.

And just by the way, I should call this out. Ehrlich set up an organization, author of the Population Bomb, of course, called ZPG, which evolved into the- Zero population growth, yeah. It evolved into another organization that still has something like 30,000 teachers who train other teachers, who educate 4 million U.S. high school kids every year. And they explain the population problems, usually in Africa.

And their message is, please think about it. Zero population. Yeah, there's nothing racist

about the too many African narrative. And when you teach someone like two and two is four, you don't say, think about that. But when you say, here's the problem in Africa, and you say to a, think about that, you're not really saying, think about Africa. You're thinking about, do you want the kids or not? So that's covered in the documentary as well as part of the narrative as to why we still have this viewpoint when, frankly, we should have known about this decades ago.

Well, we can also look at the self-evident economic statistics demonstrating that since Paul Ehrlich and his Population Bomb and the Club of Rome, et cetera, these anti-population zealots started beating the drum back in 1965, saying that we're all gonna starve to death by the year 2000 when we'll have four billion people, God help us. And now we have eight. And the relationship between wealth growth and population has been extremely positive, not negative or flat. And everyone on the planet virtually is richer than, well, than anyone had ever conceived of. And it's clearly the case that we could manage this if we had half the will to do it. And so the data are in. One of the things I've really learned is that I believe the whole idea of natural resource, almost the whole idea of natural resource is specious in that human beings, the wealth of the planet is dependent on the psychological health and the structures of governance that are put in place by people of good will. And that if we organize ourselves properly and aim up, there's no real limit to abundance. And it's certainly not population dependent. We're not in a zero-sum game. We are not yeast in a Petri dish. We're not doomed to a Malthusian outcome.

And the biologists who make that claim and say it's scientific, are assuming that the yeast in the Petri dish model of human function is the appropriate biological model. And it's not. And the reason for that is because we can let our ideas die instead of us and we can learn and we can transform. And we're very good at that. And there's no justification whatsoever for stating that it's a scientific fact that population increase is gonna produce a Malthusian catastrophe. Now it can in limited circumstances, but we are not yeast in a Petri dish.

That's the wrong model. So, and I can't disagree. I mean, I'm a data analyst. I'm only prepared to comment when I have done my own work or I've seen detailed work of others. I can't imagine how complicated it must be to model the planet. I mean, that's on a level beyond anything, any rational statistician could do along. It's models on top of models on top of come from us. To be honest with you, I don't know. But I do know that we are adaptive. I do know that we should prepare because to be honest with you, green technology sounds like pretty cool things. When you look at Tesla's out there, they're not perfect, but they're remembering. I work with a lot of automotive clients, but what Elon has done for the industry is phenomenal.

And if we come at this from a point of view of positivity, what can we do? And I look at my own kids and well, their generation and the malaise, the belief that the world is coming to an end. The world is not coming to an end anytime.

So I'm because of this. I'm because of this. Well, unless we precipitate it in that direction, which we seem to be striving to do

with all diligence at the moment. Well, and to bring it back to the documentary, at this point, we come back to this point of loneliness and meet people. I mean, there's a scene where I go to a crematorium in Germany, and I'm hoping to find out something about what it's like to bury people who have no family. I nearly got an interview directly with the director, but he refused to meet me, and an intermediary kind of sat down to explain why. And it's horrendous. And so this is off camera by a long note recently with more information as to what's happening. People with no family and care homes are being effectively mistreated, malnourished, tied to their beds for long periods of time. And we knew this, or it's known in this crematorium because the bodies that come are, I guess, marked. And they weren't prepared to say it because they're fearful of the system. So someone should make a documentary about that alone, but it tells you that the life of these people without family, and we can't see it because these people, whether it be in a suburb in Japan or in Germany or anywhere else, these people are spending their lives in their homes alone,

hidden from the world. Well, the thing is, in our culture, we only seem to be able to apprehend life until about 30. Like, that's our vision. You know, the vision is, you're young, you're full of promise, you get educated, you have your career, and then you're 30. And what's happening? Well, now you're successful. It's like, okay, but you got 60 years left there. What are you gonna do with that? Well, how long is your career gonna run you? Well, you know, lots of people think about early retirement, and that's particularly perhaps the case if you're successful economically. So let's say you retired 50. Okay, fair enough.

You had 45 years left. What's your vision for that? Well, now you're alone, you don't have a family, you don't have a partner. You don't have a career either. So what are you planning to do? Exactly. What's your vision? And the answer is, we don't have a vision for that. We don't have a vision for the expense of our life. And so, and that's an interesting thing in and of itself. I mean, you know, for a long time, back in the 1860s, people even in the West were struggling along on less than $1.50 a day in today's money. And it's not like people had the luxury of developing a lifetime vision.

They were sort of fending off one disaster after another like people do now who live in absolute privation. There's about 800 million people like that still on the planet. And then once you get a little wealthier, a little more secure, you can start thinking about the future. And that's very, very complicated. And this luxurious wealth we have is new enough so that our capacity to develop a lifetime vision hasn't developed to a degree that's sophisticated enough to take that whole time span into account. But this vision of isolated death with no one around you that cares, that's, I wouldn't recommend that as your life from 70 to 95 is pretty damn dismal.

So Jordan, it's gonna be worse in less industrialized nations because you go to Brazil and as professors there, I met three of them. The phrase they used was we're getting old before we got rich in Brazil. So they can't provide the infrastructure resources to the elderly on a level comparable to what we can. So the life of elderly people. So I look at, when I look at India with the birthright now, below replacement level, growing population because it's so young, people are living longer, which is a good thing. But I'm looking at future for India, 30 year care of them. So this is a problem that we focus too much on in our own societies. This is a global humanitarian crisis of old people who are going to be left by and large to some extent to fend for themselves. And when they're not fending for themselves, they're gonna be mostly in their homes or alone. And, you know.

Well, I find that psychological argument, I would say probably more compelling. I think not because I take any issue to your forward looking projections, but because things are so unstable on the technological and economic and political front that projecting even a decade into the future seems in some ways like a fool's errand, right? Because God only knows what's coming down the pipelines with regards to new technology. But I think you can make an extraordinary strong case that one of the things you don't wanna end up happening to you in your own life is to be involuntarily childless and isolated starting at the age of 30 going forward. Yes. Right. And so I do, you know, I've looked at the situation in China and in Japan with this, what do they call that? The inverted pyramidal distribution where there's way more old people than young people. And obviously that seems untenable on the technological or on the economic front. But I do think the psychological issue is much more present, should be much more present for young people. And the warning is don't be thinking you've got a lot of time to get your act together because you don't have as much time as you think, and you wanna get things going sooner than you might find it convenient. There's never a convenient time to have a child.

There's stupid times to have a child for sure, but there's never a convenient time. And that's the other thing people do too. Um, when my wife and I finally got together, she was about 28 or so, she wanted to have a kid pretty, you know, pretty much right away. And, uh, I was finishing off my postdoc and I hadn't got a permanent job yet. And my sense was, well, you know, everything's not in place. And we talked that out for quite a while and decided to proceed regardless, because there was no real reason for me to be concerned. The probability that I was going to be jobless was barring catastrophe zero. And you jump into the abyss holding hands with your wife, you know, it's, there's no right time. And the reason that's so important to know is because the clock ticks while you're waiting and that's also a catastrophe. And then it sneaks up on people unawares, as you just described and takes them out, not good. Okay. So now you're talking, now you're investigating in the documentary, the consequences of this involuntary childlessness.

And do you progress past that?

Yeah. Well, so the consequences go into both the economic, we go to Detroit, we look at what might happen to the future of the world based on what's happened to Detroit. Yeah. You know, we look at briefly, um, future pension systems. We look at AI technology, but only very briefly. It's an area that I'm sure many people, like you mentioned, technology just now, but a comment for me is that robots don't pay taxes. So simply saying there's going to be...

They don't necessarily want to take care of you. So we'll just see how that works out.

And I think they're going to be expensive. So the idea that AI is a solution just like this is probably oversimplified, possibly very oversimplified. But of course it has a role. Technology definitely has a role in this. But we can't just turn away from this subject and say, let's not worry about it for that reason. The final part of the documentary and, um, I have to credit a friend, I thought it was done after filming in probably 18 countries. I thought, well, this is enough now. Kind of, I can see the global pattern. And this friend in LA said, no, you haven't finished. You have to go to Africa. And you have to go to other countries like Bangladesh. And India had already been to, but I wanted to do more filming.

I wanted to go into... We went to slums in Mumbai. We went to slums in Rio. I think five in Johannesburg. And I wanted to see what's happening in the parts of the world that I think to some extent we might fear are exploding. And you have the same fundamental story happening everywhere. Even Nigeria. And so Nigeria is a good example of a country that's moving towards lower birth rates.

Nigeria, by the year 2100, then there are in China for everyone watching and listening. That's quite the shocking bit of information.

And you look at Nigeria and you still have a culture there where the more male children you have, it's part of what you might say the bravado that you have. That's that status reward. But you go to Ethiopia and you meet people there and you talk to professors there. And Ethiopia used to be like that. But the birth rate right now in Ethiopia is four and it used to be sevenplay, not that long ago. And there's a transformation happening. So you can see and feel the transformation happening in Africa happening in Africa, just like everywhere else. So I like to think of the analogy that the world is on a roller coaster and countries like Japan and Germany and Italy and now South Korea are in the front car. They're over in terms of the peak population and sure, they're aging and people are going to live longer and longer. So we're not going to really see the drop for a little while, but we know what's coming. Africa is in the rear car. They're still on the way up.

But the path is the same here, but perhaps the thing that struck me about Africa, where I'm trying to go back and spend a significant amount of time for my own purposes as much as anything. When you go to Africa, you go to Malawi, which is, I believe, World Bank data, the 12th poorest country in the world by GDP per person. And you go to a community and people are laughing, smiling. When you go to an area, it's not even a soccer pitch, it's nothing like a soccer pitch, but there's a soccer ball there. There's no rules, but you've got 30 kids running and screaming and laughing. And we're there, and they come and say hi for a moment, but they want to get back and play soccer with each other. And to see that sense of community and that intergenerational community, maybe in some ways part of a solution here that I think an argument for me is that we've lost a sense of community for one reason or another. And so that's something that surprised me actually, how similar really we all are, and

we're just at different parts of that cycle. So you've laid out this documentary and you've documented a problem that is not being attended to much. It's a very pervasive problem, and that's going to affect virtually everyone personally and sociologically. We talked a little bit about pathways. It's one thing obviously to diagnose a problem, and that's not a straightforward thing to do, to see the problem and then to diagnose it. It's a completely different order of things to start thinking about what might constitute an acceptable alternative. So in Hungary, what they've done, you probably know this, is that if you're a mother in Hungary and you have one child, you're now exempt from income tax at the federal level for the rest of your life, 25 percent, and then that scales up to 100 percent for four children. And the idea there was both practical and cultural. So the cultural idea was we need to signal that we value motherhood in children. And one of the more powerful signals that society has access to is economic signals. And the Hungarians have stopped the decline in their birthrate and tapped it up slightly. They've increased female participation in the workforce, by the way, 13 percent.

So the feminists had objected, or some of them, that the Hungarian government was just turning women into baby-making factories, which is a hell of a nasty epithet, I might add. But what's happened is the reverse, is more women are working now than before. And I suppose that's because they get to keep more of their money, you know, and they can make childcare arrangements more straightforwardly and all of that. They've knocked the divorce rate down substantially. They've increased the marriage rate. They've knocked the abortion rate down 40 percent, 38 percent, with no compulsion, right? It's not as easy to get an abortion in Hungary as it is in the U.S. or Canada. And the legal limits there is 12 weeks instead of the 16 weeks, which is about what Americans think it should be. But the point is, these alterations in policy have produced increases in fertility, increases in the marital rate, decreases in the divorce rate, decreases in the abortion rate, and those look arguably like desirable things. Do you see—and we talked a little bit about the fact that women live seven years longer, and so in principle have a time, let's say eight years, where they could have children without really being at a competitive disadvantage on the economic front with men, assuming that it is a competitive landscape, and that's also not particularly obvious to me. I mean, have your thoughts turned to what might constitute an appropriate pathway forward for young people?

Well, I certainly would quite boldly say what will not work, because there's so many examples of things that have been tried and tried and tried and tried. Now, we'll come back to Hungary in a moment, because it is very interesting. But if you look at baby bonus programs globally, at best what they do is temporarily increase the birth rate, and then you see a dip, and the dip usually goes below where it was before. All you've done is bring forward the people who would have had kids anyway. Yes, yes.

Yes, right, right. Would have had kids anyway. Yes, yes.

Yes, right, yeah, right. You look the amount of money, in certain Japan, certainly in South Korea, are spending on kindergarten.

Yes, yes, that doesn't seem to help at all. Yes, that doesn't seem to help. Quebec didn't make a bit of difference. Yes.

No, it isn't lack of childcare that's causing this problem. Yes. No, it isn't. Yes. And it's not income either. Right. It's a natural thing, I think, for people thinking, well, if I had a little bit more money at the right time, or my apartment's too small, but actually what you find is that when people have more money in their pocket, birth rates go down, they do other things.

It's like, not yet, we can take this vacation out either. So, they do other things. Well, I also think that their expectations for what constitutes sufficiently prepared for children also change. You know, like I said, when I was in Montreal, well, you know, I was already educated, I had a job, it was clear I was going to get a job, but my standard for what was sufficient security and opportunity for my children rose along with my horizon of vision on the economic front. And it's also not the case that more security makes you likable to take more risks. That isn't how life works. You have to jump into children just like you jump into a marriage,

or into your life, for that matter. I think that's the key point. You know, so ultimately, Hungary aside for a moment, and also Russia in the past has had similar programs where they have put significant benefits in place that seem to work for a time, but vast majority of financial incentives or even societal changes such as kindergartens did affect, very limited indeed. Now, if we come back to understand the fundamentals of the problem, is this unplanned childlessness issue, perhaps what Hungary might have got right, and I will never frankly tell someone you should not have an abortion as your choice. That's not something I want to have any, so I don't believe it's my right to say that, that's just my personal position on it. But what Hungary might have done, and you stayed a moment ago is just make it more positive, the idea of parenting.

That's something that people want to do, that's what they're aiming at. The Hungarians do understand, so their president, Katalyn Novak, a young, dynamic woman, who is their symbolic head of state, was very much involved in the formulation of these family policies. And she knew perfectly well that part of what the goal was, was to culturally elevate the, let's call it, the sacred significance of motherhood, something like that, to put the mother again on something approximating the necessary pedestal. You know, you see this in Catholic imagery all the time, is that, of course, in the Christian tradition, Christ is obviously the central figure of redemption and divinity, but there's strong competition symbolically on the part of Mary, because it's Mary and the infant. And I would say any society that doesn't hold the mother and infant as sacred is doomed, right? For obvious reasons, since we all had mothers and we're all infants, if you don't value that, whatever that value means. And when my wife had little kids, she was treated pretty damn dismally, I would say. You know, I used to go out to restaurants with her and just watch when she entered in with the kids. And there was a lot of sneers and a lot of, you know, casual mistreatment. There was no, they were a nuisance, you know? And that was extremely annoying to me to watch, because I don't think of kids as, kids can be nuisances if they're not well behaved, but there's something wrong with you if you think children are fundamentally a nuisance. And it's definitely the case that we don't value the contribution of young mothers in our culture the way that we would if we were wise.

And that's a very difficult problem to solve, right? All this emphasis on, you know, the kind of hedonic freedom that's associated with being a youthful teenager. And then that equally sex in the city nonsense about, you know, your freedom on the sexual front while you're pursuing your career. It's a bloody juvenile that it's almost incomprehensible, but it's not an easy thing to reverse. And it isn't even obvious that it's the government's role

to reverse that, but- And the outcomes are unplanned childlessness, I mean, is it time and time again? I think, you know, it's just clear that people who've done that path are thinking of what society tells them they can do in the short term only.

Unplanned childlessness- Right. Is it time and time again? It's a good time, interview, really, We should probably call it unplanned childlessness. I love that. Well, because that is so, it's so interesting that that exists as such a plague, and yet it isn't identified and it doesn't have a name. And that's a real, that's a real catastrophe.

I, you know, one of the earliest greetings I did, there was a young man, he was in Japan, but he was, he's from the U.S. And he just stood there afterwards gazing at the ceiling and he's probably 30, early 30, 35. And he said, unplanned childlessness. And he looked at me and said, that's me. That's me. And you could see it wasn't just the term, it was talking. Yeah, right. He was talking. The realization. The realization that you actually have to in some way have a plan, even if the plan is to do something, not rational, but to take a leap of faith, a faith. And to come back to men as well, in this, men can have children aged 55, you know, I divorced sadly, you know, at around 40, I guess. And I thought there'd be a time where I would meet someone again and have more children.

That's something I would have desired, frankly, not to get too personal, but it wasn't my plan for life to be a divorced dad. Right, right. And what you find is that you're competing with younger men. Yeah, right. The same younger baby. Easier said than done. Easier said that done. The fact that you can technically have a child at almost any age as a man, doesn't mean that you're going to. So, the outcome is no longer.

You have more children. It's something for the same younger woman, easier said than done. What makes you think you're gonna be more successful, old and ugly than you had been young and ugly? Right.

And every year you're on the path to get older. And I think that society needs to make parenting something more valuable. But to come back to your point, that cannot be at the sacrifice of career education options. We have to make it more, almost the default option, that you can continue your education. I love the idea of lifelong learning, which is what I'm doing.

You know, why am I doing what I'm doing? Yeah, well, it's very odd that we orient our educational establishments to people between 18 and 22. I just can't figure that at all. I taught at the Harvard Extension School, by the way. Had a lot of adult students, and I enjoyed teaching them a lot. There's absolutely no reason whatsoever that the university should specialize in 18 to 22-year-olds. That's a hangover from, oh, I don't know, God, I don't even know when that was useful and relevant.

It's just not a smart idea. And I sit in the college's interest, because as the shrinking number of children come through these systems, universities are going to need to diversify. Lifelong learning is the answer to that.

So why lifelong learning is the answer to that? So why? Well, it's also the case that in an era of rapid technological transformation that lifelong learning is necessary practically, but it's also, why the hell wouldn't you want that? Because it's part of what keeps you updated.

I remember the first class I took at the Extension School. It was in statistics that I went to my first class, probably dressed like I am now with a leather briefcase, and everyone else, I was not the oldest at all. But everyone else is in jeans and T-shirts and backpacks, and I love all of that. I haven't dressed like that for decades, but I went out and I got a couple of T-shirts and a backpack. And the most transformational thing happened to me. First recognition, I'm learning something I want to learn. I'm fully engaged with everyone else. There were Harvard College kids there taking summer classes, and there were people older than me. It didn't matter.

I love teaching at the Extension School. I mean, at Harvard, the undergraduates in the formal school were smarter than the people on average in the Extension School. But the Extension School people were a lot more motivated to learn, right? There was no one not attending,

because they were there because they wanted to be there. I'm probably asking questions that were, I actually took a psychology class, probably in the building of, is it William James? Yeah, William James, yeah. And again, I was there with a lot of even high school learners at a summer school program, but I realized the professor was enjoying the questions I was asking, but they were just different to the questions. Yeah, yeah, they were serious questions, right? Yeah. So when were you there? I started in 2015, 2016, I would have taken the psychology, probably one-on-one, of course. But the point is that the recruitment cycle for many career options is linked to the education cycle. So you can't change one without the other. You have, and if people say, well, it's fine, certain companies allow recruitment later in life, but it's not the normal thing to do, it's a risk. So if you're a woman or a parent taking time out to raise a family because you think you want to do that exclusively earlier on, that's a risk today.

You might not get on that path

and you might not get the recruitment. Yeah, well, yeah, yeah. But they're just different to the question. Yeah, yeah, they're serious questions, right? Yeah. So when were you there? Yeah, you know, I don't really buy that. I don't really buy that because I had one student, for example, Shelly Taylor, who, no, sorry, Shelly Carson. She came back to Harvard as a graduate student at, in her 40s. I was younger than her as her supervisor. She'd been an airline stewardess, pretty middle-class life, had been out of the academic stream for quite a while and was quite a lot older than most of the graduate students. And she hit it hard and developed a bang-up career and she's managed that quite successfully.

And I think that that's not normal. You know, it's not the standard of practice, but it's by no means impossible. And given that women do have that seven-year advantage in terms of lifespan, there's, man, you think you're out of the running on the education and career front when you're 35. You're out of the running on the reproductive front. You're not really out of the running on the education and career front. And I've seen lots of people hit the education ground running in their 30s, mid-30s, sometimes later, and have a whole new career. I mean, Jesus is at 40. You can still have 30 years at your new career. So that's a very optimistic way of looking at it. And so, all right, so well, for everybody watching and listening on YouTube and its associated platforms, thank you very much for your time and attention. And to Stephen Shaw for agreeing to talk to me today about birth gap and about the issue of declining birth rates and population shrinkage, bringing that to everyone's attention, bringing the issue of unplanned childlessness to everyone's attention. Cause that's a crucial issue here to note the existence of a problem and to give it a name is to bring it out of the darkness and to unshroud it, let's say, and that's an extremely useful thing to do.

And I'm gonna talk to Steven for another half an hour on the Dailyware Plus platform. I'd like to spend half an hour with my guests investigating how their pathway through life made it manifest, made itself manifest to them, both in terms of the problems that gripped them, the concerns they had, both voluntary and involuntary, and the opportunities that presented themselves as a consequence. And so if you're interested in that, then please head over to the Dailyware Plus platform. You could consider supporting them. In any case, they have also worked diligently to make the kind of conversations I had today possible. And that's much appreciated to the film crew here in Vancouver, because that's where I am today. Thank you very much. And thank you all for your time and attention. Good to talk with you. Yeah, I do. You bet, you bet. Hello, everyone.

I would encourage you to continue listening to my conversation with my guests on dailywareplus.com.