Fertility and Happiness: A Global Perspective
Following up on my earlier post about the connection between fertility rates and happiness, I wanted to take a wider view with more proper research controls to see if the pattern holds.
Here is a map I’ve drawn of self-reported happiness around the world, as reported in the World Values Survey:
As before, this is the percentage of respondents in each country who reported that they were “very happy” (4 out of a 4-point scale, the others being “quite happy”, “not very happy”, and “not at all happy”). Also as before, I’ve taken the most recently available data whenever possible, usually the 2005-2008 data, but some are from earlier waves, circa 1999. Also, as before, the low scorers aren’t created equal. In many of the low scoring countries, the vast majority of respondents (70-80%) report being “quite happy”; however, a considerable percentage of the low scoring countries have sizable fractions reporting that they were “not very happy or worse”.
Now this is a map of fertility rates around the world (from Wikimedia Commons):
While a bit rougher, the relationship seen between fertility rates and happiness in Europe also seems to exist globally (presumably being somewhat attenuated by the effects of per capita income).
The relationship looks pretty good, and clearly exists outside of Europe. To see this numerically, I ran a regression analysis of fertility rates matched against happiness level:
We have an R2 of 0.07 – paltry, but positive. We can see the wealthier countries clustered to one side while the developing nations–particularly those of sub-Saharan Africa far and away on the other side.
Here is the scatterplot with sub-Saharan Africa excluded:
Slightly better, but not by much. Many of the impoverished and war-torn nations still seem drag down the total. While I’d imagine my fit would improve if I controlled for GDP per capita, let’s see what happens if I restrict the analysis to the high average IQ nations only (i.e., Europe, the Anglo world, and East Asia):
Bingo! R2 = 0.548. We have a considerably strong relationship. It seems, in the developed world, more than half of the variation in happiness is “explained” by the fertility rate. The outliers give the appearance that average wealth may be a factor. In the future, I will run control for GDP per capita to see if I can improve the fit further.
Here are the within-ethnicity correlations superimposed on this:
While generally smaller, all are positive, except for the Anglo world where we see an odd negative (but small) correlation.
Note that for the European (Anglo) countries, I’ve tried to be sure to use the native (White) fertility rates whenever possible (see here for my sources for the UK, the Netherlands, Norway, and New Zealand).
Digging deeper, I wanted to see how these matched up when looking at the relationship between fertility and happiness within certain countries, especially the larger ones outside Europe. Here are maps I’ve drawn of the fertility rates versus reported happiness by region within countries:
Associations are present, but they’re not very tight (and some cases reversed!), perhaps because the data aren’t very well resolved in each country. Ideally I’d like to get data resolved down to say a county/greater metropolitan level and see how well the relationship holds, particularly in the U.S. and Canada.
Overall the evidence does indicate a relationship between fertility rates and happiness in the developed world. The relationship is weaker in the developing world, but a future project of mine will be to see if this is attenuated by conditions in these countries.
A positive relationship between fertility rates and happiness in the high-latitude countries is much as I’ve predicted. Dwellers in high-latitude civilizations appear to have been selected to seek resource security before procreating. Modern conditions have made (perceived) resource security hard to obtain. The added fact that, thanks to modern technology, children are essentially “optional“, makes procreation that more difficult. In many ways, this is, in part, a natural response to land and resource scarcity.
Indeed, in the case of seemingly sparsely population Spain:
We find much of the flat land between the mountain is used for farming. The areas devoted to residential purposes are small. Indeed, I’ve heard that in Spain, a new couple often needs to work for over 10 years to be able to afford their own apartment, usually living with their parents or roommates in the mean time. It seems that either through an unwillingness or inability to exploit their open land for living space, the Spanish may have made “affordable family formation” incredibly difficult. Hence, their “effective” population density is high, and fertility suffers as a result.
Indeed, this project is perhaps a preliminary test of Steve Sailer’s affordable family formation theory on a global scale. Fertility remains abysmally low in East Asian countries primarily due to their incredible crowding.
Intense crowding and little easily obtainable/affordable living space tightens the competition for the “necessities” of life at every turn: education becomes competitive, as does employment. And indeed, this increases the competition for desirable mates, as netting a good provider becomes that much more important (for both men and women, varying according to sex ratios). This increased competition increases the stress individuals experience in their lives, likely reducing the sense of well-being. Paradoxically, this may be partly because people in developed nations try to “have it all”; that is, try to live a life with access to modern amenities and be able to support children with these standards. This is one reason why you see fertility rates drop in developing nations as their standards of living rise: suddenly, the pursuit of modern amenities becomes the goal – with the ultimate goal of raising children with these amenities – but the chase ultimately leads to fewer children.
Now, it’s not like low fertility rates are, in and of themselves, any cause for alarm. Indeed, in many of the most crowded countries, population could stand to decrease for awhile:
Eventually, this will allow population densities to reach less crushing levels, at which points fertility rates will increase, and likely stabilize near replacement levels. Indeed, for a “mature” developed nation, fertility rates ideally should hover around replacement levels so that the population remains essentially static. The living won’t necessarily be incredibly “easy”, but will be fairly decent for the average person.
No, most of the alarm over sub-replacement fertility stems from two factors. The first is the dysgenic nature of that fertility: the fact that the less intelligent (and those with overall higher levels of genetic load) reproduce more than the most intelligent, degrading the population over time. The second factor, mostly in the West, is the greater fertility of lower-IQ immigrants, and the threat of population replacement by those immigrants. This disrupts the negative feedback loop that population density sets on the fertility of the native population.
The other factor is the lower fertility of secular, liberal-minded individuals in these populations in favor of more religious conservative ones, and all the problems that that entails.
Much talk is made about how to make people happy. I suggest here a back-to-basics approach that indicates that perhaps, people really do want the house, car, the white picket fence, and their 2.3 kids. They apparently also want to enjoy a modicum of the delights our modern technological society affords us – and quite reasonably so. When this becomes difficult, as we see today in much of the developed world with below “living” wages, difficulty ensues. Happiness may be an elusive and somewhat confusing goal, but some times, you just have to not overthink it.
Now, about that matter of affordable family formation and the difficulty of this, please allow me to remind my readers of the donate button seen near the top right. I greatly appreciate your support of my work.