We’re definitely not short of sex scandals lately.
Think Stormy Daniels and President Trump.
Or Missouri’s governor, Eric Greitens, and his hairdresser.
Or NBC’s Matt Lauer.
Or all the victims and offenders brought to light through the #MeToo movement.
Without passing judgement or belittling any of it, it seems like there’s so much sex going on that we can’t get away from it.
Yet, the most… ahem… capable among us, our youth, seem to be struggling to get around to it.
That’s a problem. Not just for those youth who haven’t found a partner, but also for the countries they live in.
The social systems in advanced economies share the premise that the youth will support their old-age dependents, through national programs like Social Security and Medicare. For the system to work, it needs a replacement-level supply of children, and then adults, to support its aging citizens.
That replacement level comes out to a little more than two children per woman (2.1 to be precise).
However, it’s recently come to light in the U.K. that 12.5% of its 26-year-olds are still virgins! The number climbs to 17% if you count non-respondents. This assumes that virgins would be too embarrassed to admit their lack of experience.
These numbers more than double (possibly triple) the 5% rate of virginity previous generations have held.
Sex just doesn’t seem to be that big of an attraction for kids these days.
The issue isn’t limited to the Brits…
Last year, researchers found that 31% of Japanese, age 18 to 34, were virgins!
The youth of both countries suffer from high levels of social-alienation anxiety. The U.K. youth cited fears of humiliation and the pressures of the social media. In Japan, some report the trauma of rejection and their retreat to the safety of internet pornography.
This tendency toward prolonged virginity will only hurt the long-running trend of falling births:
As you can see, the U.S., U.K., Germany and Japan’s fertility has been below replacement levels for decades, long before the outbreak of virgins. Low fertility means less and less people to grow up, get a job, contribute to society, reproduce, and support retirees.
There are a lot of factors that contributed to this dive. There’s birth control, the reduction of teen pregnancy, and the bringing of women into the workforce en mass. None of these developments were bad things. But they’ve undeniably depressed fertility and advanced economies haven’t found a clear way to bring it back.
Sprinkle in the social alienation and fear of rejection now holding young people back and things look bleak.
Still, countries with falling births are looking for creative ways to get people together. Russia offers cash payments for couples with a second child. The 2015 “screw for Denmark” ad campaign launched by the Danes led to a 14% increase in births in 2016.
Money is good motivator and increasing the status level of childbearing women can move the needle.
Another line of thought policymakers hold is to supplement the aging population with younger immigrants.
When German Chancellor Merkel opened her country to over one million Middle Eastern refugees, part of the rationale was economic. The refugees would get jobs, become productive members of society, and support German pensioners.
Japan, on the other hand, doesn’t view immigration the same way. The nation has remained highly restrictive on who it lets in, despite facing an old-age crisis of its own. The graying nation looks to be banking on an automation revolution to make up the slack of missing workers.
Only time will tell which approach is best. In the meantime, nations will push the buttons and pull the levers of public policy to help increase births. Trouble is, these policies just haven’t done enough. But that might be OK…
If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years working with Harry, Rodney, and the rest of the Dent team, it’s to respect the power of cycles.
Viewing fertility rates as a downward linear trend ignores the cyclical nature of the beast. So much of the data we observe tends to ebb and flow. We’ve been in the ebb phase for a while, and so I expect an increase is on the way. Otherwise, birth rates will trend to zero and humanity will disappear.
I think this unsustainable trend will self-correct over time. If modern civilization is hostile to reproduction, then it’s going to have to change. The fertile will survive and remake society in their image. But before that happens, advanced economies will have to find a way to get through this painful period and support their aging populations.