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Why Elon Musk thinks civilization could crumble without more babies

The world’s richest man is worried about declining birthrates and he’s tweeting about it a lot

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Tesla CEO Elon Musk, pictured at a Tesla factory in Fremont, Calif., Friday, June 22, 2012, has now weighed in on declining birthrates.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk walks past the Tesla Model S after a news conference at the Tesla factory in Fremont, Calif., Friday, June 22, 2012. The Tesla CEO has now weighed in on declining birthrates in the world.

Paul Sakuma, Associated Press

Elon Musk thinks human civilization will fall apart unless people have more babies — and he’s expressed particular worries about Italy, Hong Kong, South Korea and Japan. But he has some concerns about the United States, too.

For weeks, Musk, the CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, the acquirer of Twitter in a $44 billion deal and a father himself, has been tweeting about birthrate declines in America and abroad.

“At risk of stating the obvious, unless something changes to cause the birth rate to exceed the death rate, Japan will eventually cease to exist,” Musk tweeted on May 7, according to TheStreet. “This would be a great loss to the world.”

Japan is in its 11th year of population shrinkage, down nearly 650,000 from the previous year. And it has the highest proportion of people over age 65 anywhere, TheStreet reported.

Musk is also warning that Italy could disappear, the victim of population attrition. And he tweeted that “South Korea and Hong Kong are experiencing the fastest population collapse. Note, 2.1 kids per woman is replacement rate.”

Musk was referring to the total fertility rate, which is the average number of births a woman would be expected to have in her lifetime under prevailing conditions. In order to replace the population, women would need to average 2.1 babies. America has been hovering just below 1.8 children per woman. That’s about half the fertility rate of U.S. women in the 1950s, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In December, USA Today quoted Musk on the topic of population declines based on comments he made at The Wall Street Journal’s annual CEO Council. “I think one of the biggest risks to civilization is the low birth rate and the rapidly declining birth rate,” Musk said. The article noted that “the 50-year-old was answering a question about how the proposed Tesla Bot could solve some of the world’s labor issues. Musk had previously called the bot a ‘generalized substitute for human labor over time.’”

Musk continued, “And yet, so many people, including smart people, think that there are too many people in the world and think that the population is growing out of control. It’s completely the opposite. Please look at the numbers — if people don’t have more children, civilization is going to crumble, mark my words.”

CBS reported that Musk’s recent passion for population growth has been “bothering some Twitter users.”

Per CBS: “What is even the point of tweeting this?” said Tobias Harris, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. “The anxieties surrounding Japan’s demographic future is not that “Japan will eventually cease to exist” but rather the profound social dislocations that are occurring as a result of the decline to a lower population level.”

Others have reportedly welcomed attention Musk brings to the topic of population shrinkage.

While his may be a high-profile and perhaps unexpected voice on the topic, Musk’s far from the first to sound the alarm about the yearslong decline in fertility and what it could mean for a country.

The World Bank said the birthrate worldwide had been dropping since 1960.

In the United States, the birthrate actually rose a teeny-tiny bit in 2021, compared to 2020, as the Deseret News reported this week. Births were up 1% and the general fertility rate climbed 1%, too. But experts say that small increase may not signal the start of a new trend and it’s not likely to reverse the long-term trend of falling numbers.

Population stagnation and shrinkage worries a lot of demographers, academics, economists and others.

“Experts speculate ramifications exist for schools, for the economy, for building personal wealth and even for personal relationships, with different effects for the young, middle-aged or old,” the Deseret News reported in February.

In countries where population growth stagnates, poverty and loneliness in old age could become more likely. In the United States, the safety net programs of retirees could become a burden on ever-fewer workers. The stock market, housing market, education system and economy could all feel the impact.

“There’s really some very extreme implications there that we have not experienced,” Pam S. Perlich, director of demographic research for the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute at the University of Utah, told the Deseret News. “A healthy society would be one where people who wanted to have kids could and they would feel confident about their ability to support those kids — and have social and economic infrastructure supports in general.”

Some may not want to hear about fertility and birthrates from Musk, but CBS said others are glad he brought it up.