It’s easy to blame feminism for a lot of things, but data from Asia show pretty clearly that cratering fertility is more a product of urbanism and modernity than feminism per se. It looks like feminism is actually a symptom rather than a cause of many of these social trends.
Some years ago, I studied Chinese demographics concerning the one-child policy. A lot of bright people have put much effort into understanding the effect of this wide-ranging policy of forcing people to have fewer children. Unsurprisingly, many American professors are quite supportive of it. However, the honest ones admit that it has had limited utility, and has taken second place to trends that began years before Deng Xiaoping ordered it into Chinese law. The policy has produced brutality on a scale that is difficult for most of us to comprehend. Millions of abortions been coerced or forced, and from the looks of the streets of Shenzhen in the late 90s, where gangs of child beggars ran rampant, a lot of parents were giving “extra” kids away (or selling them) to avoid the fines. It may be that the explosion in Chinese prostitution in the 90s was partly a result of this. However, it’s plausible (although by no means certain) that even more misery has been averted — this is the view that most environmentalist American professors take. Although I don’t share their faith in such measures, I’ll at least concede that it’s an arguable point.
What many do not realize is that fertility was already declining when the policy was put into place, particularly in cities. Shanghai was the first administrative district in China where fertility dropped below replacement level, and this happened as early as the late 1950s. As China modernized, other cities soon followed suit. By the 90s, the only parts of China with above replacement fertility were remote rural regions where modern culture had made few if any inroads.
Today, fertility in China’s big, advanced cities is among the lowest in the world. In Shanghai and Beijing, it is only 0.7 — under half the replacement level. Other Asian cities outside the PRC policy have experienced similar declines. Singapore is barely above that with a fertility rate of 0.78. Hong Kong has 1.09, and Macau 0.92. Tokyo is at 1.02; Seoul 0.92. All terribly low.
Political feminism has barely made inroads into Asia, but the women there are behaving in much the same manner as their Western counterparts. This suggests that it isn’t feminism that effected the cultural and lifestyle changes in large metropolitan areas, but rather that feminism is merely a political expression of post-industrial urban culture — a symptom, not a cause.
If you think about the implications, they are quite sobering. We often hear about environmental sustainability, but rarely, if ever, about cultural and demographic sustainability. There is obviously something unique about the economic powerhouses of Asia, Europe and the Americas that has allowed the development of extraordinarily advanced societies. However, from the looks of it, they contain the seeds of their own destruction. Demographically speaking, they are withering on the vine, and where the people go the culture will follow.
It is this trend above all that points to a world in decline, and it doesn’t look as though it will be possible to prevent it. If China’s brutal, ham-fisted population control efforts only had a marginal effect on population growth, there is no eugenics program or natalist policy that will have any significant effect on advanced urban populations. As the numbers get worse by the year, it leads me to speculate about the late Roman empire, and wonder whether there wasn’t a similar process at work there. Perhaps, as someone once said, it is the meek who shall inherit the earth.