Re: longevity and overpop

Robin Hanson (
Mon, 27 Jul 1998 10:20:25 -0700

Damien Broderick writes:
>>What do you think of the above argument about lower overall birthrate per
>>unit time for longer-living people?
>I would hope so too, but this is about the point that Robin Hanson usually
>lobs in to mention that a small fraction with deviant growth rate will
>quickly supplant a more self-controlled majority. (If I understand the
>Great Filter/Fermi argument.) If everyone except a small bunch of
>Catholics swallowed their combined immortality & sterility pill, the world
>would soon be choked with die-hard (ahem) Catholics. No?

Max More writes:
>Decelerating population growth appears to be an inevitable result of growing
>wealth. Early on ... children as “producer goods. Parents put their
>children to work on the farm to generate food and revenue. ... As we become
>wealthier, children become “consumer goods”. That is, we look on them more and
>more as little people to be enjoyed and pampered and educated, not beasts of
>burden to help keep the family alive. ... We come to prefer fewer children to
>a vast mob. Changing tastes resulting from improved education seem to reinforce
>this preference. ... Children cost more to raise in cities and can produce
>less income than in the country.

On Damien B.'s cue, I'll say I think Max's "inevitable" claim is too strong. There is nothing economically inevitable about wanting to have fewer kids when you're rich; it's a matter of preferences. And there are in fact a minority of rich folks who seem to prefer large families, and whose kids do too.

Our current world is very different from the world human preferences were selected for. For some reason I'm not clear on, our evolved preferences and behaviors seem to choose to have fewer kids under "industrialized" situations. But this behavior doesn't seem adapted to our new world. It sure seems like those who prefer larger families when rich should be eventually selected for.

Of course with human reproduction beingh as slow as it is, such selection takes time, and by the time it really starts to bite the world will change even more drastically. I have written elsewhere about how I expect very strong selection effects with uploads.

Robin Hanson RWJF Health Policy Scholar, Sch. of Public Health 510-643-1884 140 Warren Hall, UC Berkeley, CA 94720-7360 FAX: 510-643-2627