Breeding Breeders

Cicerone comments:

Taking the year at which TFR dipped well below 4 children per woman (say, below 3.8 to set a number) is not the perfect, but a good way of telling since when this process started. Why that number? 4 or a bit less than that was the lowest TFRs typically shown in Hajnal-Europe well below the demographic transition, so it is the lowest number attainable in a pre-industrial setting without having the population dying out.

France dipped below that number in the late 1830s, Switzerland in the mid 1880s and all the rest of core Europe (Germany, UK, Netherlands, the Nordics etc.) and their offshoots (US, Canada, Australia, NZ) between 1890 and the onset of WWI. France is two generations ahead of everyone else in that game, playing in its own category.

All valid, excellent points. The UK was still a bit in front of Germany, though I agree that it’s really France that stands out.

Fertility rates in UK, Germany, France 1800-2015.

There’s a huge variety of other factors to consider, for instance:

  1. Starting genotypic fertility preferences (e.g. during the medieval age and earlier). I suspect they would fit along the standard r/K racial continuum proposed by Rushton for the races of mankind – that is, Negroids > Caucasoids > Mongoloids. Intraracial group differences are even more speculative, but still possible!

  2. Pre-19th century trends. E.g., the UK hovered at around 4 children per woman during the 17th century. Then it increased to an average of 5 children during the 18th and first half of the 19th century.

3. Selection for breeder genes should be become exponentially, not linearly, more powerful as TFR falls. Example: If say a “breeder” has 2 children more on average than a normie, then in a population with a TFR of 5 – that is, as in many European polities before the demographic transition – (s)he’d have 7 children, which is not that a big of a difference relative to the average (and may not even make an impact at all if those 2 extra ones die off before themselves reaching reproductive age because higher fertility preferences are correlated with lower IQ, greater risk of poverty, etc., which are maladaptive in very poor economies); whereas in a society with a TFR of 1 – such as modern South Korea – (s)he’d have 3 children, and will make a disproportionate contribution to the gene pool.

Consequently, while breeder genes may have been relatively more competitive in 19th century France than in Germany, the latter may well have substantially caught up by the very dint of its post-1970 fertility collapse.

4. Selection for breeder genes is stronger in wealthier (slightly post-Malthusian) societies. The UK was much more wealthy than Europe since the Glorious Revolution, and substantially higher than average for approximately a millennium. You can look at Angus Maddison’s statistics, or if you have a literary inclination, you can read the travels of Arthur Young in France on the eve of their Revolution to get a sense of those differences, which were already very substantial even before the Industrial Revolution had gotten going (e.g. meat roasts were standard fare in England, a luxury in France; many French peasants could not afford to heat their dwellings, and thus had to stay in bed during the mornings instead of being productive). Real incomes in England were approximately double those of France.

Why is this important? Because “overbreeding” may well have incurred fewer costs in the richer UK than in a country like France, where people had much narrower margins for survival, especially during times of dearth. France experienced regular famines throughout the Early Medieval period up to 1794-95, whereas the United Kingdom did not really even have any truly severe famines after the Black Death (excepting the Irish Potato Famine).

This may well have annulled the relative genetic advantage French breeders enjoyed over their English counterparts due to France’s lower average fertility rate from the early 18th century.

This effect certainly played itself out in extra-European settled territories such as the United States, where the average colonist enjoyed access to vast tracts of land. With no famines or even periods of dearth to keep the breeders in check, it’s plausible that breeder genes enjoyed much more success there than in Europe. Indeed, despite early modernization, the US has consistently maintained significantly higher fertility rates than developed European nations throughout the 20th century, at least until recently. And this is despite childrearing being cheaper and more convenient in the welfare states of Western Europe from the 1960s/70s on. Regionally, based on these hypotheses, we can also expect that breeder genes would be least prevalent in New England (function of earliest settlement + cultura-mandated, ultra-high Puritan fertility, which would have constrained the relative competitiveness of breeders) and greatest in the newest colonized territories (see Jayman’s Pioneer Hypothesis). This is indeed what we see today.

Indeed, what we generally see today in Europe is that TFR is highest in historically rich regions – the UK, the Netherlands (though their period of preindustrial per capita surplus happened in the 17th century, not the 18th-19th) – as well as in France (not particularly rich historically, but did see a very early demographic transition). All factors that we can expect to be associated with the spread of breeder genes.

I accept that this theory, though tantalizing, is pretty flimsy and has no hard evidence in its support. Hopefully somebody can do a GWAS for fertility preferences before the idiocracy takes over.


  1. You all forgot about technology that makes instincts moot:

    -just like ultra violent movies and computer games gave outlet to violent instincts and replaced real world violence (see all the statictics documenting massive drop in crime that follows Internet penetration)

    -just like porn and sex robots, more real than reality, are giving outlet to sex instinct and are replacing real world sex
    (read the useless whining of christans and manospherians, and laugh)

    there will be 120% realistic child robots and simulators, more real than reality that will satiate the breeding instinct. Technology outpaces biology, all the time.

    In the future, if the government wants new people, it will have to make them yourself. As our esteemed host said, artificial wombs are the future.

  2. Because you’re my favourite author for these topics I’m going to forgive you for referring to the Great Famine within the context of the UK!

    Jokes aside, you’re dealing with a very different genetic and cultural region, so the use of mentioning the famine in the context of British breeding trends in minimal. We have our own unusual history with fertility rates.

  3. German_reader says

    Interracial group differences are even more speculative, but still possible!

    Shouldn’t that be “Intraracial” (it’s about differences within the European race after all)?

    AK: Thanks

  4. I agree completely, I am not completely ignorant about Irish history. However, Ireland was formally part of the UK then.

  5. Very true, I remember reading that and being surprised at your well-informed take. I plan on writing my own detailed review of Ireland’s demographic history sometime soon. I can drop you a link when the time comes if you want.

  6. Peter Johnson says

    Does the sudden uptick from 2.0 to 3.0 for “UK” at approximately 1921 relate at all to the redefinition of the UK at about that date to exclude the 26 southern counties of the island of Ireland ? Ireland had relatively higher TFR than England, Scotland, Wales, but of course was proportionally small.

  7. No that wouldn’t make sense, for the UK to jump from 2 to 3 based on the exclusion of the 26 would require them to have a much larger share of the population and a lower TFR than the rest of the UK.

    As it happens, they had a slightly higher TFR and a low share of the population, so no. The sudden change must have been other factors.

  8. Peter Johnson says

    Yes I see that now but I did not re-think in time to edit out the comment – apologies.

  9. Ah, fair enough. No worries mate.

  10. Peter Johnson says

    Perhaps related to the ending of the war? That would be a sensible explanation I think.


    In a couple of points
    a) Europe had excess population because of Christian/Catholic morals (anti abortion/contraception)
    b) Exported population and morals to the rest of the world,
    population and morals: Americas and Australia
    morals: rest of the world
    c) Population explosions in the rest of the world
    d) Rest of world populations explodes because of Catholic/Christian morals
    e) Europeans abandon Christian/Catholic morals (anti abortion/contraception)
    f) European fertility rates and aging population
    e) World population is invited* to Europe maintain an aging population.

    *Invited=seek refugee/asylum

  12. About 1740-1741 was a pretty severe famine in Ireland. I think 1741 was called “the Year of the Slaughter.”

  13. I wonder if it is possible that lactose tolerance could have influenced other genes related to fertility. It seems logical in theory – but we don’t observe anything, do we? I mean looking at a map of TFR and lactose tolerance, the two don’t seem closely associated.

  14. Real incomes in England were approximately double those of France.

    Assuming Wikipedia accurately conveys Maddison’s work and that GDP can stand in for income, that is not true. Year, UK and French GDP PPP per capita (1990 international dollars) and the British advantage:
    1500 714 727 -2%
    1600 974 841 16%
    1700 1250 910 37%
    1820 1706 1135 50%
    1870 3190 1876 70%
    1913 4921 3485 41%

    Also, from the same source, the first date where the UK is ahead of the Netherlands is again 1870.

  15. Point 4 may be the reason why population growth has been continuously higher in North-Western Europe then elsewhere since 1800, the English population has grown by a factor of 7.1x since 1800, Denmark has grown by a factor of 6.3x, Netherlands by 8.7x compared to Spain which has grown by 4.2x or Italy whose growth of 3.5x. Despite this already higher growth, fertility in the countries that have grown by 6-9x remains higher then it does in countries where growth has been around 4x. The population divergence between northern vs southern Europe looks like it will continue, even Germany which for a long time was the big country in northern Europe with low fertility has a TFR that is about 20% above Spanish and Italian levels now.

    Regarding America, at least among whites fertility converged to the levels of North-Western Europe in the 1970’s, higher American fertility from 1970-2010 was first an effect of high African American fertility and then later on high Hispanic fertility, both effects that have now largely subsided.

    In addition I think point 3 is a crucial one and the reason why I have personally thought for some time that fertility will begin to rise globally pretty soon, the advantage of having 1 child more is far more muted in a country where fertility is 6 as compared to a country where fertility 1.5, and as such breeder genes will spread far more rapidly in lower fertility environments, Israel I think is a prime example of this, the Israeli fertility rate has risen over the past few years, not due to different groups changing fertility but just because the Haredim are a growing share of the population due to them having higher fertility. If Israel was a pre-industrial society where everyone was having 6 kids, the Haredim would simply not be able to achieve this advantage.

  16. Once again, there is no such thing as a breeder gene.

    [The UK was much more wealthy than Europe since the Glorious Revolution]

    LOL, this is Whig history on steroids (and lobotomized).

    [the United Kingdom did not really even have any truly severe famines after the Black Death (excepting the Irish Potato Famine]

    Nonsense, there was a devastating famine in Ireland in 1740.

  17. LOL, this is Whig history on steroids (and lobotomized).

    Yes, we know you think economic history (and many other things) are all made up by liberals, or whatever.

    Nonsense, there was a devastating famine in Ireland in 1740.

    Ireland was not part of the United Kingdom in 1740 [also reply to comment #13]. The Act of Union was signed in 1800.

  18. GDP per capita estimates – yes.

    In terms of things that the average Frenchman or British person could buy after adjusting for subsistence minimums – they were approximately 2x larger for the British person (according to other sources I have come across).

    These are slightly distinct things, and the Maddison figures themselves confirm that.

    E.g., in 1700, assuming subsistence level was around $400, then “surplus” of the Frenchman was 910-400 = $510 and “surplus” of the British was 1250-400 = $850.
    In 1820, $735 for the Frenchman vs. $1306 for the British.
    So, not quite double, but close.

    I should have been clearer about that. Anyhow, anecdotal comparisons of life in Britain vs. France in the late 18th century make it clear that the former was already a much richer society.

  19. I should have been clearer about that. Anyhow, anecdotal comparisons of life in Britain vs. France in the late 18th century make it clear that the former was already a much richer society.

    With regard to the daily lives of ordinary people the British were not ” rich”

    The average height of the English in the 18th century was the same as the Russians, a little more than the average height of the Italians, Spaniards and French, and a little less than the average height of the Germans and Scandinavians. That is, the British had the same miserable life as the rest of Europe. The real life was better in the American colonies, where the population had a very high average height

  20. Doesn’t seem right.

    In terms of food access, the American settlers were of course extremely well off.

  21. average height of men in Victorian England in comparison
    In the 18th century, the situation had to be similar.

    About life of the English common people:
    As a whole. .. at least as far as food and shelter, the Russian peasant is not as bad as the poorest among us. … His food may be coarse, but it is abundant. Perhaps his hut is unsophisticated, but it is dry and warm. We tend to imagine that if our peasants are poor, we can at least amuse ourselves with the certainty that they live in much greater contentment than peasants in foreign lands. But this is a gross error. Not only in Ireland alone, but also in those parts of Britain that are believed to be free from Irish poverty, we have witnessed poverty, compared to which the conditions of a Russian peasant are a luxury… There are areas of Scotland, where people huddle in houses that Russian peasant finds unfit for his cattle.” [Robert Bremner, Excursions in the Interior of Russia (London 1839)

    If the standard of living of ordinary people in England was very high, this could hardly be written

  22. ImmortalRationalist says

    Even with technology making instincts moot, natural selection will still catch up given enough time. The Old Order Amish, for instance, have one of the highest fertility rates, plus a substantial boiling-off effect, creating selection pressure for a more “Amish” personality.

  23. Toronto Russian says

    This draft is just assumptions and 4 years old. Did they ever come up with the final version? Meanwhile some guy crunched the numbers and found the Amish are in fact not becoming increasingly different from the mainstream society, but moving in sync with it.

    The Amish experienced a post-WWII baby boom of similar shape as the rest of the US. And their fertility decline has been about equivalent in absolute number of births-per-woman lost too… The Amish have super-high fertility…. but it tracks general U.S. fertility trends fairly closely, which tells us U.S. fertility trends might NOT be driven by technology or cultural shifts.

  24. Reg Cæsar says

    Something else to think about– the number of people and the number of households do not necessarily track. Here is the population of Minneapolis for the last six censuses:

    The population decreased about 25% in those years. But the number of households has hardly budged:

    1950 Census…………………………………….. 159,000

    2005-7 American Community Survey…. 155,155

    Urban planners use a term, infill, for the resettlement of inner areas that have been largely abandoned over the years. Or changed from industrial or other uninhabited to residential.