July 31, 2015

The Economist
I applaud your suggestion in Baby Love (Economist vol. 416 no. 8948 July 25, 2015 page 10) of subsidized nurseries.  Perhaps a nursery would have given me better social skills.  You concede without pointing out the science that this will not raise the birth rate up to survival levels.  You will find the science in chapter 19, by the eminent  Robin Fox, “Marry in or Die Out,” in the new textbook Handbook on Evolution and Society.  If you cannot find a copy I have one I can lend you.  The title says it all; adequate fertility depends on adequate consanguinity.  If I might cite one of the professor’s references, An Association between Kinship and Fertility of Human Couples Agnar Helgason et al. SCIENCE vol. 329 no. 5864 February 8, 2008 page 813 – 816, which you once reviewed, there are graphs of consanguinity against fertility in Iceland in the first and second generations.  Notice the error bars in the original article.  They are two standard deviations wide.  Contrast them with the graph on page 47 “Breaking the Baby Strike,” “Buy, Buy Baby.”  The Iceland data are much cleaner, and much of those two standard deviations are perforce caused by variation in the consanguinity of the grandparents of the first generation and the consanguinity of the mate chosen by the parents of the second generation.  There seems little room for anything else significantly to affect fertility. 

Once on television there was a history presentation describing a Greek and barbarian discussing why the men in that town in Asia Minor were effeminate.  I assume that means the birth rate was low.  The barbarian suggested it was pollution in the well.  The pollution argument has been offered for the low birth rate more recently.  The Greek countered that it was because of the pleasures of the city, as you suggest on page 48.  But it’s all consanguinity.

M. Linton Herbert MD
Dear web site readers: In light of the importance of this issue the Economist might be happy for you to drop just a line saying you’re interested. 

Home page.  I don’t have time to work out the statistics this morning.