Monday, August 27, 2012

Reproduction Fail?

A recent paper by Goodman, Koupil and Lawson, Low fertility increases descendant socioeconomic position but reduces long-term fitness in a modern post-industrial society, in the 2012 Proceedings of the Royal Society (Biological Sciences), has basically affirmed the position many people are in denial about — that is, that the richer people get, the less they want to reproduce.

Why is this so? Well, this strategy essentially produces a limited pool of offspring, all with huge amounts of per capita resources in both human and economic capital. It makes them socioeconomically very competitive. The downside is that the species as a whole becomes less biologically competitive.

But this is not a new problem. Humans have been using technology to avoid the problems of simple biological competition for ages. We can compete with large predators (in fact, we've eliminated many of them or reduced them to zoological exhibits) by using weapons that vastly increase our sensory and attack range. We can compete with the environment by using engineering of all kinds. And we can mobilise energy quantitatively more effectively (although not more efficiently) than most other species. A smart human with high resource levels will out-compete a less-smart, less-resourced human — which is why you see dropping birthrates once a society gets freer access to technology.

In a city-state, where there are few natural threats, the main threat is socioeconomic, no matter what people moan and groan about. It thus makes perfect sense to see a drop in fertility levels in the vast majority of cities and city-states unless they have a large hinterland that is not urbanised.

However, there is always a bump in the implementation of such a strategy. This normally comes in the form of people moaning and groaning about low fertility as if they lived in an agricultural, low population density, high resource density environment. Ridiculous. We're not bacteria in a particularly rich chicken broth.

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Blogger LoneRifle said...

Do you believe that this is a conscious, deliberate decision made, or a side-effect of the lifestyle people choose to lead (ie. they desire a family but end up too caught up with clubbing/work/etc. and regretting so)? I suppose the latter can be classified as socioeconomic activity and counts towards the competition that you described above.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012 8:10:00 pm  
Blogger Trebuchet said...

I believe it is partly-conscious, partly-deliberate; that is, in the population we're considering, members of that population span the range of consciousness and degree of deliberation. Can't really tell how rational, or how sane (even if rational) they are, and whether it would qualify for 'economic' behaviour in that sense. So we reify, and we wonder, and we dream the opium-dreams of a dying race. Then again, if we do find extreme life-prolonging methods, we'll be glad for it.

Monday, September 10, 2012 12:08:00 am  

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