More than 225 years ago, prominent English scholar and political economist Thomas Malthus made one of history’s most spectacularly wrong predictions: continuous population growth arising from human passions will imperil economic growth and lead to people living on a bare subsistence income. Whereupon, England’s Industrial Revolution swept over Albion and far beyond, bringing continuing material prosperity. This is despite the fact that the planetary population has increased roughly eightfold since Malthus’s 1798 An Essay on the Principle of Population. Technological progress arising from human ingenuity, capital formation, and expanded trade overcame the law of diminishing returns.

But a virulently new anti-Malthusian phenomenon has arisen. The desire to have children has shrunk dramatically worldwide—to the point that population is starting to decline in populous countries like China and Japan, leading demographers to predict planetary population decline later in this century. Are humans going the way of other species like the dinosaurs, possibly from nuclear holocaust but maybe instead due to the changing economics of having children?

Economists say that “the opportunity costs of having kids have risen,” and/or “the costs of preventing children have declined.” Some might even argue that conventional sex has lost its allure relative to new alternative uses of one’s limited time and resources on earth—why have sex when you can be watching Tik Tok with friends while mellowing on some mind-altering substance?

If a nation’s “total fertility rate” (TFR) is below 2.1 (about two babies per adult woman) and there is no international population movement, its population will eventually start declining. The TFR is extraordinarily low in Asia—below 1.3 in such populous countries as China and Japan, where population is already falling. In the U.S. and most European countries, the rate is between 1.4 and 1.7. With the conspicuous exception of Sub-Saharan Africa and some small Asian countries, the world is just saying no to having many children.

The modern world is increasingly rejecting the immediate and long-term satisfaction arising from pregnancies, having children, and raising families, searching for alternative forms of satisfaction. More women are putting their careers ahead of children, and innovations such as abortion pills are accelerating declining fertility. Religious beliefs glorifying family formation are also being weakened in this age of secularization.

So what? Let’s look at just four implications for the U.S. First, the aging of the population implicit in low fertility materially increases the strain in dealing with a near bankrupt system of providing pensions and health care for a rapidly growing elderly population. The ratio of workers to non-workers is falling. It is likely just a matter of time when “retirement” for many comes at 70 or even later (this written by someone who is 83!). The monumental recent French battle over ending a standard 62 year retirement age is just the beginning of a much bigger fight internationally.

Second, although the statistical evidence is somewhat mixed, by many measures Americans are not saving enough to provide for unanticipated financial needs. In large part public policies discourage savings. For example, why save for college if the federal government provides student loans that they likely will ultimately “forgive?” Why buy stocks if you eventually will have to pay high taxes on “capital gains” that are often fictitious because of continuing inflation? Additionally, annual trillion-dollar federal budget deficits raise the costs of servicing our increasing collective fiscal irresponsibility.

Third, we will increasingly need to reallocate resources away from youth-oriented needs like schools towards elderly-oriented needs such as nursing homes, and hospitals, as octogenarians need dramatically more care than those who are younger. We will build more cruise ships and nursing homes, fewer schools. Recently declining college enrollments may continue.

Fourth, demographic trends emphasize the need to reevaluate our policies regarding immigration—we need to encourage incoming highly productive young persons with skills to increase the ratio of workers to retirees and ease somewhat the burdens associated with aging. But instead of having two million unskilled individuals annually enter illegally across our southern border, why don’t we let at least that number of productive individuals buy their way into our vibrant labor market (via regular visa auctions), counteracting or at least delaying otherwise inevitable population decline?

Contra Malthus: The new threat to human well-being is not having too many babies but having too few, accompanying the huge risks arising from a growing number of narcissistic autocrats possessing nuclear weapons capable of creating a debacle similar to that decimating the dinosaurs. I think it is far more likely human stupidity and shortsightedness will do in the human race than global warming.