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Under Her Eye

One recurring feature of life is how wrong Hollywood gets the future. I have written about it many times before (see my post - ). I don’t think this is just coincidence. Anything about the future has to be accepted by the majority of people as likely. And for the future to seem likely, it has to be a continuation of the past. My observation have included, but not limited to, if you bought Manhattan property when Escape From New York was released in 1981, despite the movie predicting future New York as huge open air prison, you did pretty well. Selling Japan when Rising Sun (1993) was released also worked out well.

For those who have not seen the recent TV Series Handmaid’s Tale, based on the Margaret Atwood book, it imagines a world where fertility rates have collapsed, and a new theological government takes control of the US. In this new state, Gilead, fertile women are forced to have children, with all other rights severely curtailed - the Handmaids.

The Handmaids Tale strikes a nerve, as fertility rates have been declining for decades. China has even reversed its one child policy, but fertility rates continue at below replacement levels. Is the only way out for government to take control of women’s bodies - and force them to reproduce? Is the repeal of Wade vs Roe the beginning of Gilead?

Plainly, I don’t believe this to be the case. Just as Malthusian economists missed the Green revolution of the 1970s, I believe our doomsday demographers have missed the potential of assisted reproductive technology (ART) and its ability to boost fertility rates. Using data from the International Committee Monitoring Assisted Reproductive Technology (ICMART) we can put some hard data to trends in ART and society. The first and most important chart is the growth in cycles (e.g. a round of IVF). Asia and Europe are far out in front of the world in using ART. Note Asia excludes China, which has recently been estimated at 900k cycles - putting it on a par with Europe. North America is a laggard.

Going through ICMART data, 2014 is the last year where they break out data by country. Using that data, we can look at which countries in particular are leading the use of ART. The four leading countries are Israel, Japan, Australia and Denmark. I have included the UK and the US for comparison. The metric I am looking at is cycles per million of the population. Of the four leading nations, Denmark has by far the best data on births, as well as the most liberal laws on using ART - including government paying for single women to undergo ART (if they are under the age of 40).

What do the demographics of Denmark look like? Denmark has excellent statistics, so we can tease out the trends of mothers by cohorts. The striking change between mothers born in 1983 and mothers born in 1993 is that they are having more children at every age over 22 years old. And we see a striking increase in births at 27 years old.

Denmark also gives births by month, so we can create a rolling 12mth of births. Its a very interesting chart. After the GFC and Eurocrisis, there was a noticable collapse in births, but Covid has seemingly had no effect on births in Denmark. The last data point for December 2021, gives Denmark the highest births since 2009. The likely reason for this change in the that in 2018, Denmark liberalised its ART laws. Denmark now pays for ART for any woman, including single women and lesbian couples, that wants it under the age of 40.

There is a striking counterexample to the success of Denmark, and that is Japan. Sadly, the demographic data is not as good, but one striking feature is that the most recent data has a very high 6% of births using ART - and yet despite that, 2020 data shows declining births at every age range.

The sting in the tail of this story is that in the Handmaid’s Tale, there is a class of “Unwomen” who were exiled. Sterile, the unmarried, widows, feminists, lesbians and political dissidents all made up this class, and were excluded from society and reproduction. In a striking irony, Denmark shows is that using ART to open up reproduction to all that want it, not just “traditional” families is the answer to our fertility crisis. Conservative family views are not the answer to declining fertility rates, but an expansive “liberal” views of reproductive rights, combined with modern technology. The Handmaid’s Tale could not be more wrong about the future, with its conservative views, and its old fashioned social views. I see a future of rising fertility and broadening concepts of family as the answer to the crisis. Blessed Be The Fruit.

Capital Flows and Asset Markets
Russell Clark