The invisible pandemic: unplanned childlessness

First off, it’s that time of year: 2023 population data are pouring in. A surfeit of statistics surfaces somewhere every week. Nirvana for demography nerds! Parsing numbers is boring, but some startling stats merit mention. South Korea, with the world’s lowest fertility rate (0.78), broke its own record at 0.72. In Japan births fell 5.1 percent, marriages almost 6 percent. Seems Europe has more fifty-plus folks than preschoolers.

Family advocate

Know what really caught my attention this week? The adventures of Stephen J. Shaw, a Brit resident in Japan. He’s a documentary filmmaker, data scientist and you guessed it, demographer. He produced a fantastic documentary, Birthgap – Childless World. Part 1 is accessible here. Parts 2 and 3 are accessible via subscription. The promo:

Shocked by data on declining birth rates in Europe and Japan, Stephen embarked on a 24-country journey in order to understand the causes of this phenomenon. Along the way, he came face-to-face with the economic, social and individual consequences of childlessness and declining birth rates… [T]his thought-provoking documentary combines deeply personal stories with never-seen-before demographic data to reveal the surprising reality of what has been happening across the globe.

Mr Shaw, a father of three, is a self-described “life-learner” who occasionally enrols in university courses. He is president and co-founder of Autometrics Analytics, LLC, a data analysis/forecasting group advising corporate clients. He knows his data and possesses an attribute invaluable to the spirit of inquiry: open-mindedness.

Man on a mission

Like so many data freaks, Shaw once believed Paul Ehrlich’s The Population Bomb thesis, the notion that we’re reproducing too fast for the food supply and mass starvation is around the corner. But then he came face-to-face with the facts: no credible data supported Ehrlich.

I had assumed before this project that the world’s population was growing exponentially out of control, almost that it didn’t matter what we did for the environment and because there are going to be so many people.

I saw that the world’s population is destined to maximize quite quickly, and then quite quickly go down.

Thus began the scholarly odyssey culminating in Birthgap – Childless World, a cinematic exposition about the birth dearth. Conclusion? There is a global pandemic (a real one) of unplanned childlessness.

We teach people so much about biology in schools… We teach young people how to not get pregnant. We really don’t teach anything meaningful about the fertility window.

Educrats love sex education, birth control and abortion rights; there is scant attention to the finiteness of human fertility. Birthgap provides a compassionate and much-needed platform for victims of unplanned, unintended childlessness. Their suffering has thus far been hidden from public view. That is changing thanks to Mr Shaw. People are now “coming out” about a sensitive personal issue critical to our survival.


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As for The Population Bomb thesis, Shaw says:

His [Ehrlich’s] words were used in some very menacing ways in terms of extreme anti-natalism… [Anti-natalism] is still taught in our schools, it’s in our textbooks, and is the general framework that we jump to, that there are too many people in the world. Ehrlich has since gone on to say that [low birthrate] is because of the environment and now I think the message is changing subtly again – it is about the patriarchy… The argument keeps changing. There is always a reason not to have children.

Thus far, 91-year-old Dr Ehrlich has not lived to see global starvation.

Cut to the chase

While pro-family folks fret about too few children, the root cause – unplanned childlessness – is now out in the open. Birth Gap interviews those who waited too long. Shaw also cites professors telling students not to have children in order to save the planet; yet rarely do they discuss the fertility window and preparing for family life.

[T]he crucial overlooked fact is that only half of women who enter their thirties without having started a family will ever become mothers. Many wait for their careers to develop, or they’re still looking for Mr Right.

Dr Jordan Peterson interviewed Shaw about “The Epidemic that Dare Not Speak Its Name”, the invisible epidemic of unplanned childlessness. Check it out:

Cancelled at Cambridge

The Peterson interview had repercussions. Last year, Mr Shaw was headed to Cambridge University for a screening of Birthgap. Overprivileged wokesters at “Red Cambridge”  did their usual acting out and got it cancelled. Shaw was called “misogynist,” “transphobic,” “homophobic”, “racist”, and “Fascist.” According to the speech police, his appearance with Jordan Peterson had been the final straw.

Shaw replied that the folks wanting to ban him were the very people he wanted to reach. Too bad: “Cambridge University Cancels Student Screening of ‘Anti-Feminist’ Documentary After Backlash.” That outrageous incident led to Cambridge’s cancel culture being denounced in the House of Lords. Whatever happened to the “Free West?”

Interesting findings

While upheavals like the 1970s oil shock, 2008 banking crisis and Covid caused birthrates to crater, they didn’t recover afterwards as they historically have following wars, natural disasters and epidemics. Shaw believes that is because today people are having children later and simply run out of time. Prioritising education, career and social mobility before starting a family simply doesn’t work.

Shaw also found that while fertility rates have crashed, families are not getting smaller. There are just fewer of them. “We are asking the wrong question: Instead of asking why people are having so few children… ask why so few become parents.” For instance, the percentage of Japanese families with four children has remained constant since the 1960s, while the number of those becoming parents has fallen off a cliff.

If a couple does start a family, it is likely to be as big as in decades past: ‘Motherhood has been incredibly resilient.’ However, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of childless couples. This is not, as you might think, because people are choosing career, money and freedom over children: only a tiny minority want to be childless.

Hear that? “Only a tiny minority want to be childless.”


Billions go to incentivise having children in a mammon-driven world. Maybe if we prioritised people over profit, family life would thrive. It’s worth a try, even if it means lower per capita productivity. Money ain’t everything.

Put me in charge, and wokesters would be free to whine to their heart’s content about all things wholesome. But I would also ensure equal time for the pro-family side. Anti-free speech cancel culture would come to a screeching halt. With such a fair and level playing field, I’ve no doubt who would prevail at the end of the day. 

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Louis T. March has a background in government, business, and philanthropy. A former talk show host, author, and public speaker, he is a dedicated student of history and genealogy. Louis lives with his family in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.

Image: Pexels


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  • mrscracker
    Those were some lovely thoughts you shared Mrs. Janet. God bless you & your family.
  • Janet Tabinski
    commented 2024-03-06 08:52:13 +1100
    Guess I was lucky. As a girl I always wanted 4 children (I was the eldest of 4), but didn’t marry until my mid-30s in 1983. First baby at almost 36, last at 44. We didn’t contracept—God was our family planner. My husband, who worked in advertising, had several periods of unemployment. The last was for 8 years. Lean times, but we managed with tasty, basic (and healthy) home cooking and activities like Sunday drives with picnics, afternoons at a museum, going to the park or visiting friends.
    Something that would ease parents’ burden is serious price reductions for children up to at least age 16 in things like public transport, entrance fees, clothing/shoes being tax-free, etc. This attitude must be adopted not only by government but also by private companies when setting their prices.
    We sacrifice more than sleep when we become parents—fancy holidays, eating out as a lifestyle, meat on the table every night. So take camping holidays; use cheese, beans, lentils to supplement protein; ban expensive soft drinks and processed snacks (my kids ate apples or a mug of frozen peas after school); buy kids’ clothes, books and toys secondhand; play board games; be content with older and fewer tech items. If you need a walk-in closet, you own way too much! Live in a simpler, less acquisitive, more human mode. Bake your own biscuits and brownies, make your own popcorn and peanut butter, serve up hearty soups and stews—with an abundance of love. And have a grateful heart!
  • Mark Georges
    commented 2024-03-06 05:58:58 +1100
    It’s not nice to drift into childlessness. It’s not a mistake you can come back from by taking a pill or by saying I’m sorry. There is a window of fertility, and if this is not taken seriously, that son or daughter that is so deeply fulfilling for a woman to have will never happen. We need to tell women and men about this so that they can plan their lives taking into account this information. We need to tell families about this so that they will support each other in having children in their twenties and thirties. We need to tell governments about this so that public policy does all it can to help women to have children in a stable marriage during their fertility window.
  • mrscracker
    I agree with Mr. Shaw that women are postponing marriage & family until their biological fertility window’s almost closed. The availability of IVF can give them a false hope, but its success rate diminishes year by year.
  • Geoffrey Haigh
    commented 2024-03-06 01:53:14 +1100
    The “Worldometer” estimates that there are 200,000 abortions per day worldwide. It is probably even higher than that since many countries have access to the abortion pills at home without medical supervision.
    This is therefore one major facxtor why birth rates are falling.
    Another factor is transgenderism which makes transgender males & females infertile due to being on constant hormone treatment.
    Another very important reason is the so called "Progressive Ideology seeks to denigrate male and female marriage which which results in destability of family and the need for children to have a parent of each sex.
  • Susan Rohrbach
    commented 2024-03-05 22:58:20 +1100
    A commenter said "The people contributing to the future gene pool are, by definition, the ones who want children. "

    Not so with IVF. As Brave (frankentube) New World bears out, it will be the genes selected by the state that will carry into the future.
  • Paul Bunyan
    commented 2024-03-05 20:47:39 +1100
    I think that would be a terrible idea, Philip. Shouldn’t people have children (biological or adopted) because they love them, not because they want the government to take care of them in their old age?

    Steven Mosher came up with a similar idea: forgive student loans for parents who have 3 or more children. That’s likely to lead to resentment, and it certainly won’t make things easier for couples who are financially strapped.
  • Philip Lynch
    commented 2024-03-05 20:25:06 +1100
    I have real sympathy for those couples who wish to conceive but are physically unable. A way to encourage all others to be fecund may be to tie future tax-funded superannuation to a person’s number of direct progeny. The carrot rather than the stick?
  • Steven Meyer
    commented 2024-03-05 12:52:07 +1100
    “Maybe if we prioritised people over profit, family life would thrive.”

    What? You some kind of commie Marxist?

    On a more serious note, how do you propose to bring about this transformation of society? You’re great on grumpiness but low on solutions.

    “Like so many data freaks, Shaw once believed Paul Ehrlich’s The Population Bomb thesis”

    Ehrlich was right. There was a population bomb and it did explode. In my lifetime global population more than tripled. Depending on how long I manage to stick around I may see it quadruple. I think mine is, fortunately, the first and last generation to witness such an explosion.

    Fortunately it turned out the population bomb was only a Hiroshima size nuke, not a 10MT H-bomb.

    “while fertility rates have crashed, families are not getting smaller. There are just fewer of them”

    Well, they are getting smaller but more children are surviving to adulthood. But that’s why I’m not worried about humans going extinct through lack of breeding. The people contributing to the future gene pool are, by definition, the ones who want children. Eventually the trend will bend.

    With luck maybe we’ll settle at a stable population of about 4 billion.
  • Louis T. March
    published this page in The Latest 2024-03-05 09:11:41 +1100