Aging pregnancies
Posted by aogWednesday, 05 December 2007 at 12:19 TrackBack Ping URL

There’s a bit of buzz about advances in combating aging. This leads, as usual, to two thoughts on the relationship between anti-agathic technologies and reproduction.

The first is one I have considered for a while, which is what effect significantly extended lifespans would have on birth rates. Might not more people choose to have children if it wasn’t difficult to chose between a career and children? If the average lifespan were, say, 200 years, one could have a full, childless career, then retire to reproduce. Although I ended up reproducing anyway, it would have been even more desirable to have done my earning / career work without dependents and then spent a couple of decades being just a Dad with some side hobbies. Or would people simply redefine “career” to require the full, newly lengthened lifespan?

The other is how much of an impact life extension would have on increasing gender effects. It’s easy to maintain male reproductive capabilities but female reproduction is far more challenging. A sexually mature human female is not capable of producting any more eggs, where as to a large extent any male capable of having sex is capable of creating children. What would the social effects of having multi-hundred life spans but women still having to reproduce before 50 years? Would the tendency of men to prefer young women become even more pronounced?

The combination of these two issues will be interesting as well, a society where men can have children after achieving worldly success and independent wealth, but women have to commit long before they can achieve that state. Would surrogate pregnancy become the norm instead of the exception? I think this might well have as much impact on gender relations as the invention of effective birth control.

Comments — Formatting by Textile
Ali Choudhury Wednesday, 05 December 2007 at 12:36

Wouldn’t women just stick their eggs in a deep-freezer?

Annoying Old Guy Wednesday, 05 December 2007 at 12:47

I hadn’t thought of that. But egg harvesting is quite an invasive procedure, although enduring might well be worth it in order in an extend life span society.

Bret Wednesday, 05 December 2007 at 14:04

Living to 200, retiring to have children? Hmmm, that’ll have a bit of an effect on the economy.

Right now, in (very) round numbers, people live 75 years and work 45 years so they work about 60% of their lives. If they live till 200, and still retire at the same age, they’ll only work a bit over 20% of their lives. Thus, on average, we’ll all be 1/3 as rich. I don’t think that’ll encourage people to have more children.

Living longer will be a disaster from an entitlements and wealth perspective. It’s better to burn out than to fade away, my my, hey, hey.

Annoying Old Guy Wednesday, 05 December 2007 at 16:11

How do I disagree? Let me count the ways:

  1. People will work longer if life spans get extended.
  2. Even if you’re correct, we’d be only ⅓ as rich as we would otherwise have been, which will still be better off than we are today.
  3. The primary impediment to children is time, not money. If it were money, Africa and China would be depopulated wastelands. In fact, one could argue that poverty is a greater impetus to reproduction than wealth, based on known demographics.
Peter Burnet Thursday, 06 December 2007 at 09:04

Rationalism run amok. Let me count the ways:

A) Not are you assuming physical strength and energy levels can be extended dramatically, you are assuming youthful emotional, psychological and spiritual conditions will be too. You seem to see active 100 year old dads biking with the kids, but do you also see them hitting up the babysitter or wearing funny hats drunk and topless at the football game? AOG, you aren’t just postponing the aging process, you are postponing the maturing process too. Do you really believe most fifty year olds don’t have children only because they are too tired?

B) Your whole argument hinges on a very sad and dramatic incompatibility between children and career success. Gone is the notion that the gods of necessity inspire us to work and succeed for our families or that the successful integration of work and family is the mark of a successful, blessed life for which we should give thanks. Instead we just have the image of snivelling, demanding kids interfering with our effort to corner the market in pork bellies. This is a very modern Boomer sentiment and is all tied up with the notion of career as an act of personal growth and self-fulfillment. People with mere jobs or vocations don’t think that way. It isn’t really wealth and career success children interfere with. It is me, me, me.

C) Just what do you think the social effect will be on a whole generation of kids growing up seeing their fathers hang around the house emoting and baking muffins and living on wealth made long before they were born and which they didn’t witness being made? It’s one thing to watch your parents succeed or fail and learn from it, quite another to listen to the boring old layabouts sipping cocktails in the gazebo recount endless stories about how hard they had to work. Do you imagine they will be a hard-working generation? Again, your argument suffers from the modern conceit that the mere physical presence of parents bestows all kinds of benefits on the child and that there is never too much. Let’s put that one to the kids.

D)Note as well how your argument just assumes an ever-expanding economy where everyone—and I mean everyone—can achieve “worldly success and independent wealth”. What about sickness, war, depressions, inflation etc. A society made up exclusively of wealthy people? Wouldn’t the dismal science have something to say about that? Or do you suggest the losers and little people should have their kids young and then die respectably early before they become a drag on us all?

Annoying Old Guy Thursday, 06 December 2007 at 11:36

A) I don’t see why I am presuming youthful … conditions can be extended as well. I also don’t see where the maturing process is postponed either. And I wouldn’t say “too tired”, but too aged, yes. That’s something that’s commonly expressed among the older parents I interact with. For instance, not being too tired to play soccer, but realizing the health risks of doing so, which could be disastrous for the family and the children. It was certainly a large factor in my own family planning.

B) I think it’s undeniable that there is a conflict. I don’t find your comment much different than someone lamenting the passing of subsistence agriculture and its forced connection to the rhythms of life. After all, what is the point of our material progress if not to weaken the grasp of the Gods of Necessity?

C) That’s actually a good point. My personal experience is that it doesn’t matter, as I had no idea how my father’s career / work was going until I was in college. He kept us very insulated from that and yet I managed to learn to work hard to succeed.

D) If the society of 1000 AD could see the modern USA, they would think we had already achieved a society of exclusively wealthy people. I expect that we’d see the USA of 3000 AD that way, although I am also confident those future people won’t. On a personal level, independent wealth is largely a matter of time because of the wonders of compound interest. With a modicum of effort and prudence, anyone can become wealthy by living and working long enough.

Jeff Guinn Thursday, 06 December 2007 at 15:00

I pretty much agree with AOG.

I didn’t have children until I was 38, by which time I had worked the 60+ hour work weeks and put in the additional effort to obtain a masters degree. Those two things provided for my career trajectory, after which, comparatively speaking, I could coast.

Of course, there are costs in having kids late; I’ll be nearly 60 when my son graduates high school. Should my astonishing good health and fitness luck continue, then those costs will be pretty minimal. Should I fall prey to any of those things that become far more frequent with age, then that ledger sheet will rapidly do into deficit.

Therefore, I suspect that, to the extent age related risks can be delayed, people will make the same child bearing decisions, just later.

As for working, I would anticipate delayed retirement. Social Security income my provide a roof and four squares, but anything more than that will require real money, which means either continued employment, or great prudence and luck when younger.

With a modicum of effort and prudence, anyone can become wealthy by living and working long enough.

I am living proof that spending less than one earns and prudently investing the rest over a prolonged period, will lead to, if not being “wealthy”, at least being very well off.

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