A study in July 2017 reported a major decline in human sperm counts with concern about the possibility of human extinction. Between 1973 and 2011 the number of sperm in a single ejaculate from men in North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand dropped by over 50 percent. Increasing the worry about a worldwide fertility crisis, a study in the journal Human Reproduction Update published in 2022 involving 14,000 men from all over the world examining semen samples from 2014 to 2019, revealed a decline in sperm counts of 62 percent. It was noted that the rate of decline doubled yearly since 2000. Sperm concentration per ml of semen also declined. One study author declared- “The decline is not tapering off- it’s steep and significant….and it’s speeding up.”
Men and women are equally affected by infertility. When there is an inability to conceive, one third of cases is due to male fertility problems, one third to women and about one third to both. However, the new data infers that more men have a reduced ability to fertilize their partners. This is not only an issue for the affected couples but for their societies with shrinking populations,
As nations evolve into modern states, women become freer and have more choices. Many of them have decided to pursue careers instead of children. They enjoy being self-sufficient, independent and empowered, with their own agency, rather than financially reliant on men. There is also peer pressure in terms of what other women in their cohort are achieving and the way that social norms have changed. The advent of effective birth control with oral contraceptives and intra-uterine devices, plus the morning after pill and the ease of abortion permits women to choose if and when they will have children. But both sexes seem less interested in having children than in the past. A Wall Street Journal NORC Poll in March 2023 of 1019 Americans had only 30 percent of respondents saying that having children was very important, dropping from 59 percent four years earlier.
Many women with children continue to work, using child care and a husband’s help to allow them to continue to do so. Some nations also provide financial subsidies as well as child care for women with children. If there are no subsidies, and child care services are not available or too expensive in an advanced country, the birth rate may go down. The one child policy of Communist China under Chairman Xi, was the start of their population slide.
The average age of humans globally is increasing as people are living longer and having fewer children. In 1974, the average age was 20.6. In 2022, it is 30.2 years according to Our World in Data. An aging population means a nation’s productivity decreases and more funding and care is necessary for older people. The variation in age by country is enormous, with Japan’s median age at 49 while Nigeria’s median age is 17. Globally, woman give birth to 2.4 children currently versus 4.3 on average in 1974. Sixty percent of the world’s population live in countries that are at or below the replacement fertility rate of 2.1 according to the U.N. The U.S. population is also older than ever noted. Median age in the United States in 2022 was 38.8 compared to a median age of 30 in 1980. Fewer people will be working in the future to support a larger, longer living, elderly population.
Environmentalists may applaud the decline in human population, believing that humanity has been responsible for pillaging the Earth’s resources, eliminating many species, polluting the land, water and air, and destroying ecosystems. Humans are considered by some as super-predators whose greed and self-interest has destroyed much of the planet on which they live.
It appears as if many couples who want children are having difficulty conceiving. The vast numbers of pollutants and toxic chemicals in the environment and in people’s bodies may be playing an important role in diminishing human fertility. This may be a slow motion cataclysm that at some point could end human life and that of other advanced species on Earth.
Societies are concerned now with the war between Ukraine and Russia and whether it will expand, and the possible use of nuclear weapons. Nations are also starting to realize the dangers that global warming and pollution present. But they don’t perceive the decrease in the fertility rates and population as an immediate problem worthy of attention. Instead of having to deal with the explosive growth of population, a population bust has to be managed in many nations. Of course, if the problems of pollution, forever chemicals like PFAS and micro-plastics in the environment and in human bodies can be solved, human fertility may rebound as endocrine disturbances are remediated. The birth rate in some European nations is currently 1.5 to 1.6 per woman, considerably below the replacement rate of 2.1. And some researchers believe that China’s population may fall to below 700 million in the latter half of this century, a startling prediction.
If the number of people on the planet does decline, fewer goods will be produced and less natural resources will be needed. Global warming may diminish because less energy will be required and renewables may be sufficient. The questions raised are what time span will be necessary for the decrease in energy usage to take place, for fossil fuels to be abandoned, and for pollution to subside. Will it happen in time to save the planet, humanity and all the species and ecosystems being depleted? There is also the possibility that human fertility rates will continue to weaken because of all the pollution and toxins already around the planet and within human bodies, and it may be too late to reverse the downward trend. Hopefully, that is not the case and fertility in humans and all species will be restored as pollution is curbed.
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Tags: fertility, fewer workers, less productivity, older population, population decline, sperm counts
Political junkie, Vietnam vet, neurologist- three books on aging and dementia. Book on health care reform in 2009- Shock Therapy for the American Health Care System. Book on the need for a centrist third party- Resurrecting Democracy- A Citizen’s Call for a Centrist Third Party published in 2011. Aging Wisely, published in August 2014 by Rowman and Littlefield. Latest book- The Uninformed Voter published May 2020