Is The Handmaid’s Tale Fast Approaching?

The latest fertility numbers in the U.S. make it appear as though the Handmaid’s Tale could be fast approaching (via the Wall Street Journal):

American women are having children at the lowest rate on record, with the number of babies born in the U.S. last year dropping to a 30-year low, federal figures released Thursday showed. Some 3.85 million babies were born last year, down 2% from 2016 and the lowest number since 1987, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics. The general fertility rate for women age 15 to 44 was 60.2 births per 1,000 women—the lowest rate since the government began tracking it more than a century ago, said Brady Hamilton, a statistician at the center.

The figures suggest that a number of women who put off having babies after the 2007-09 recession are forgoing them altogether. Kenneth M. Johnson, senior demographer at the University of New Hampshire, estimates 4.8 million fewer babies were born after the recession than would have been born had fertility rates stayed at prerecession levels.

And here’s a chart showing how the number of births reached an all-time low in 2017:

Beyond a potential reenactment of the Handmaid’s Tale, the reason this is seen as a problem by many is that there are two main sources of economic growth: (1) productivity and (2) population growth. To state the obvious, low fertility rates will eventually have an impact on population growth.

Hans Rosling’s work confirms the data from the WSJ:

There are reasons these numbers were so much higher in the past. The big reason parents used to have so many more kids was as an insurance policy because so many children used to die at a young age. In 1800, an average of 4 out of 6 children would die before they themselves became parents.

People also used to need the extra bodies to help with manual labor on farms back in the day. And more men and women are now better educated and want their children to be better educated. This creates a delay in having children.

The simple solution to make that happen is to have fewer kids. This is what happens when nations mature and become more prosperous. As more and more people around the globe escape extreme poverty, this trend will continue.

But all is not lost.

The number of people is not going to fall off a cliff. In fact, just the opposite — population will continue to grow, just from a different source. By 2075, the UN projects worldwide population will reach around 11 billion people:

This growth will come, not from more children, but from current generations growing older. Here’s Rosling’s take:

The large increase in population is going to happen not because there are more children. And not, in the main, because old folks are living longer. In fact the UN experts do predict that by 2100, world life expectancy will have increased by roughly 11 years, adding 1 billion old people to the total and taking it to around 11 billion. The large increase in population will happen mainly because the children who already exist today are going to grow up and “fill up” the diagram with 3 billion more adults. This “fill-up effect” takes three generations, and then it is done.

Some people also worry that “something needs to be done” about the growth in global population. Those fears are also probably overdone. If the current trends continue this will eventually level off because fertility rates are on the decline and population will exist in more of a state of balance.

Getting from here to there could certainly have economic implications. But it’s far too soon to say that all-time low fertility rates in the U.S. are going to have far-reaching effects.

Further Reading:
If Demographics Are Destiny…


Here’s my quick Handmaid’s Tale review (it’s on Hulu): It’s dark. It’s dystopian. But it’s addicting once you get into it. This was one of my favorite new shows of 2017. The second season is just as good (7 episodes in). Highly recommended for those who can get over how depressing the future is in this scenario.


This content, which contains security-related opinions and/or information, is provided for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon in any manner as professional advice, or an endorsement of any practices, products or services. There can be no guarantees or assurances that the views expressed here will be applicable for any particular facts or circumstances, and should not be relied upon in any manner. You should consult your own advisers as to legal, business, tax, and other related matters concerning any investment.

The commentary in this “post” (including any related blog, podcasts, videos, and social media) reflects the personal opinions, viewpoints, and analyses of the Ritholtz Wealth Management employees providing such comments, and should not be regarded the views of Ritholtz Wealth Management LLC. or its respective affiliates or as a description of advisory services provided by Ritholtz Wealth Management or performance returns of any Ritholtz Wealth Management Investments client.

References to any securities or digital assets, or performance data, are for illustrative purposes only and do not constitute an investment recommendation or offer to provide investment advisory services. Charts and graphs provided within are for informational purposes solely and should not be relied upon when making any investment decision. Past performance is not indicative of future results. The content speaks only as of the date indicated. Any projections, estimates, forecasts, targets, prospects, and/or opinions expressed in these materials are subject to change without notice and may differ or be contrary to opinions expressed by others.

The Compound Media, Inc., an affiliate of Ritholtz Wealth Management, receives payment from various entities for advertisements in affiliated podcasts, blogs and emails. Inclusion of such advertisements does not constitute or imply endorsement, sponsorship or recommendation thereof, or any affiliation therewith, by the Content Creator or by Ritholtz Wealth Management or any of its employees. Investments in securities involve the risk of loss. For additional advertisement disclaimers see here:

Please see disclosures here.