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 Innovative genetic tests for children with developmental disorders and epilepsy
11.07.2018 | Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel

nachricht Oxygen loss in the coastal Baltic Sea is “unprecedentedly severe”
05.07.2018 | European Geosciences Union

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: Future electronic components to be printed like newspapers

A new manufacturing technique uses a process similar to newspaper printing to form smoother and more flexible metals for making ultrafast electronic devices.

The low-cost process, developed by Purdue University researchers, combines tools already used in industry for manufacturing metals on a large scale, but uses...

Im Focus: First evidence on the source of extragalactic particles

For the first time ever, scientists have determined the cosmic origin of highest-energy neutrinos. A research group led by IceCube scientist Elisa Resconi, spokesperson of the Collaborative Research Center SFB1258 at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), provides an important piece of evidence that the particles detected by the IceCube neutrino telescope at the South Pole originate from a galaxy four billion light-years away from Earth.

To rule out other origins with certainty, the team led by neutrino physicist Elisa Resconi from the Technical University of Munich and multi-wavelength...

Im Focus: Magnetic vortices: Two independent magnetic skyrmion phases discovered in a single material

For the first time a team of researchers have discovered two different phases of magnetic skyrmions in a single material. Physicists of the Technical Universities of Munich and Dresden and the University of Cologne can now better study and understand the properties of these magnetic structures, which are important for both basic research and applications.

Whirlpools are an everyday experience in a bath tub: When the water is drained a circular vortex is formed. Typically, such whirls are rather stable. Similar...

Im Focus: Breaking the bond: To take part or not?

Physicists working with Roland Wester at the University of Innsbruck have investigated if and how chemical reactions can be influenced by targeted vibrational excitation of the reactants. They were able to demonstrate that excitation with a laser beam does not affect the efficiency of a chemical exchange reaction and that the excited molecular group acts only as a spectator in the reaction.

A frequently used reaction in organic chemistry is nucleophilic substitution. It plays, for example, an important role in in the synthesis of new chemical...

Im Focus: New 2D Spectroscopy Methods

Optical spectroscopy allows investigating the energy structure and dynamic properties of complex quantum systems. Researchers from the University of Würzburg present two new approaches of coherent two-dimensional spectroscopy.

"Put an excitation into the system and observe how it evolves." According to physicist Professor Tobias Brixner, this is the credo of optical spectroscopy....

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Leading experts in Diabetes, Metabolism and Biomedical Engineering discuss Precision Medicine

13.07.2018 | Event News

Conference on Laser Polishing – LaP: Fine Tuning for Surfaces

12.07.2018 | Event News

11th European Wood-based Panel Symposium 2018: Meeting point for the wood-based materials industry

03.07.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

A smart safe rechargeable zinc ion battery based on sol-gel transition electrolytes

20.07.2018 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Reversing cause and effect is no trouble for quantum computers

20.07.2018 | Information Technology

Princeton-UPenn research team finds physics treasure hidden in a wallpaper pattern

20.07.2018 | Materials Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>