Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Anthropologist proposes link between per capita energy use and fertility rate

13.02.2004


As world reserves of oil and natural gas dwindle over the coming decades – a prospect predicted by many energy experts – the rate at which the people in most societies around the world have babies is likely to drop precipitously as well.



That is the prediction of anthropologist Virginia Abernethy, professor emerita of psychiatry at Vanderbilt University, speaking on Feb. 13 in the symposium "From the Ground Up: The Importance of Soil in Sustaining Civilization" at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science held in Seattle.

"The availability of energy has been a major factor in population growth," said Abernethy. "In the modern context, energy use per capita affects economic activity. So a prolonged decline in energy use per capita will tend to depress the economy which, in turn, will cause a decline in the fertility rate."


Abernethy’s argument has two parts: the link between the availability of petroleum and the economy, and the link between changes in economic conditions and fertility rates.

Regarding the first link, she points out that oil and gas are "unparalleled" sources of energy. Not only does petroleum provide the fuel that powers modern vehicles and the natural gas that people use for home heating and cooking, but petroleum products are the source for hundreds of industrial and agricultural products, including fertilizer, pesticides and plastics. This means that petroleum cannot be easily replaced by other fuels and feed stocks.

Despite the fact that continuing low prices are encouraging Americans and the inhabitants of other industrialized countries to consume oil and gas at profligate rates, "numerous geologists, physicists and computer scientists have calculated that petroleum and liquid natural gas production will begin to plateau and then decline within five to 10 years," she said.

Such a downturn will have major economic effects, Abernethy expects. In the United States since World War II, rising oil prices have preceded most U.S. recessions and unemployment rates have risen following significant increases in the real price of oil.

"Higher priced energy may force policy-makers to think of economic recession or slow growth as the usual state, and force farmers to rethink agricultural inputs. The shift away from high inputs to soil-conserving technology is theoretically ideal from the perspective of moving to a sustainable agricultural system. The downside, however, is that crops will be smaller and food costs higher – probably much higher – than with industrial agriculture," she said.

The second link, from economic change to the fertility rate, is based on a theory called the "economic opportunity hypothesis" that Abernethy first proposed more than 30 years ago. According to her hypothesis, people increase the size of their families when they are convinced that economic opportunities are expanding and decrease family size objectives when they believe that resources are shrinking and the difficulty of raising children is increasing.

What is important in this regard is not how rich or poor a society is, but the perception its people hold about how things are changing. When the future appears threatening, for example, people tend to exercise reproductive caution and adopt such measures as marrying later and putting more space between births within marriage.

According to Abernethy, this correlation holds true over the entire socioeconomic range and its predictions differ substantially from the conventional view that increasing educational levels in a society by itself can reduce fertility rates.

Abernethy uses recent U.S. history to support her proposed energy-fertility link.

The 15-year burst in fertility rates that followed World War II, known as the "baby boom," was accompanied by the widespread substitution of energy-intensive technology for labor that substantially improved productivity. Higher productivity and labor shortage in an expanding economy produced an increasingly large and affluent middle class that "responded with early marriage and closely spaced births." The baby boom ended within a year following rising energy prices and the 1961 recession.

Fertility rates fell to the lowest level ever recorded in the United States following the oil-induced recession of 1980-81. Both white and black fertility rates plunged below replacement level.

In the late 1980s, lower oil prices and other factors encouraged rapid job growth. Nevertheless, the bottom half of wage-earners enjoyed little increase in real income. So fertility rates rose only slightly and the recession at the beginning of 1990 reversed the modest upward trend.

"The improving standard of living to which many societies have become accustomed will be difficult to maintain in the face of rapidly rising prices for energy. In these circumstances, fertility rates are unlikely to rise. Indeed, a future marked by declining energy use per capita may be the ultimate driver of worldwide declines in fertility," she wrote.

David F. Salisbury | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.vanderbilt.edu/

More articles from Studies and Analyses:

nachricht Drone vs. truck deliveries: Which create less carbon pollution?
31.05.2017 | University of Washington

nachricht New study: How does Europe become a leading player for software and IT services?
03.04.2017 | Fraunhofer-Institut für System- und Innovationsforschung (ISI)

All articles from Studies and Analyses >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Can we see monkeys from space? Emerging technologies to map biodiversity

An international team of scientists has proposed a new multi-disciplinary approach in which an array of new technologies will allow us to map biodiversity and the risks that wildlife is facing at the scale of whole landscapes. The findings are published in Nature Ecology and Evolution. This international research is led by the Kunming Institute of Zoology from China, University of East Anglia, University of Leicester and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.

Using a combination of satellite and ground data, the team proposes that it is now possible to map biodiversity with an accuracy that has not been previously...

Im Focus: Climate satellite: Tracking methane with robust laser technology

Heatwaves in the Arctic, longer periods of vegetation in Europe, severe floods in West Africa – starting in 2021, scientists want to explore the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane with the German-French satellite MERLIN. This is made possible by a new robust laser system of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen, which achieves unprecedented measurement accuracy.

Methane is primarily the result of the decomposition of organic matter. The gas has a 25 times greater warming potential than carbon dioxide, but is not as...

Im Focus: How protons move through a fuel cell

Hydrogen is regarded as the energy source of the future: It is produced with solar power and can be used to generate heat and electricity in fuel cells. Empa researchers have now succeeded in decoding the movement of hydrogen ions in crystals – a key step towards more efficient energy conversion in the hydrogen industry of tomorrow.

As charge carriers, electrons and ions play the leading role in electrochemical energy storage devices and converters such as batteries and fuel cells. Proton...

Im Focus: A unique data centre for cosmological simulations

Scientists from the Excellence Cluster Universe at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich have establised "Cosmowebportal", a unique data centre for cosmological simulations located at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. The complete results of a series of large hydrodynamical cosmological simulations are available, with data volumes typically exceeding several hundred terabytes. Scientists worldwide can interactively explore these complex simulations via a web interface and directly access the results.

With current telescopes, scientists can observe our Universe’s galaxies and galaxy clusters and their distribution along an invisible cosmic web. From the...

Im Focus: Scientists develop molecular thermometer for contactless measurement using infrared light

Temperature measurements possible even on the smallest scale / Molecular ruby for use in material sciences, biology, and medicine

Chemists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in cooperation with researchers of the German Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM)...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Plants are networkers

19.06.2017 | Event News

Digital Survival Training for Executives

13.06.2017 | Event News

Global Learning Council Summit 2017

13.06.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Quantum thermometer or optical refrigerator?

23.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

A 100-year-old physics problem has been solved at EPFL

23.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Equipping form with function

23.06.2017 | Information Technology

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>