Should We Get What We Want?

We live in a time of great abundance. For instance, the U.S. produces so much food that 40% is wasted. The abundance of computation and communication has been quantified in the name “Moore’s Law.” Problems arise, however, when that abundance is not evenly distributed. Countless numbers of people are dying from malnutrition in developing countries, while food in the U.S., Europe, and Asia is being thrown away.

Infant and child healthcare

I am going to talk about a particular abundance that is not differentially distributed geographically, but is differentially distributed by sex. I will talk about the abundance of infant and child healthcare.

Infant mortality has dropped

The infant mortality rate in the U.S. is about 1/50 of what it was in 1850. This is a tremendous drop in the number of children dying. This drop in child deaths led to the greatest social upheaval in history, the demographic transition.

More children lived

What was the immediate consequence of the dramatic drop in childhood deaths? Well, the first thing that happened was that more children lived thus increasing the population of young people. This happened at various times around the planet and is still happening in places like sub-Saharan Africa and parts of India.

Fertility dropped

What happened next? If the fertility rate does not adjust to the extra people that are surviving childhood, then we are destined for a population explosion. Lack of resources will limit the number of people. That is not what we saw, however. We have seen a worldwide drop in fertility from five children per woman to just more than two children per woman. In Korea the fertility rate has dropped to one child per woman. In order to replace ourselves, we must procreate at a rate of at least two children per woman depending on how low is the childhood death rate.

Women’s education

What caused this fertility drop? Most sociologists attribute the fertility drop to increased education for women. This cannot be the whole story, though. If women had not been relieved of some of their child-bearing and child-rearing responsibilities, then they would not have been able to take advantage of the educational opportunities. We must have a virtuous cycle at work that feeds off the increased availability of women in society and the increased availability of education for women. The speed with which fertility is dropping is an indication that there is a positive feedback loop driving the process.

Women enter workforce

Women became free to enter the workforce. In the U.S. in 1890, 20% of the workforce was made of women. Today, the majority of the workforce are women. This spurred economic growth.

Women gain differential improvement over men

As women entered society and particularly the workforce, the role that men played became less crucial. The improved economy drove the jobs away from manual labor and toward jobs that required education and creativity. These are areas in which women can compete on an equal footing with men. Men entered the land of cognitive dissonance and a large populist movement arose around the world. The common element of the movements around the world is a desire for simpler times, a less complex time. The complexity of the times is driven by the increased number of choices people now have as well as the differential benefit of abundance. In this case the women gained a differential improvement over men from increased child healthcare.

Abundance can lead to unexpected consequences

The takeaway is that the differential application of abundance can lead to unintended consequences. It is certainly not obvious that abundant child healthcare can lead to fertility drop and male angst.

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