Handmaids a not-so distant dystopia
BIRTHrates in the western world keep falling. None more so than in the United States.
It's clearly an issue lingering at the back of our minds.
Dystopian movies and television shows such as Children of Men and Handmaid's Tale show a fearful future where economic collapse and social turmoil has resulted in the rise of fascist governments.
Fewer people buy homes, cars and other household items. More people sink more money into retirement savings funds - taking it out of circulation.
Everywhere, uncertainty and doubt about the future grip people with fear.
So why are birthrates in free-fall? And what could be causing it?
COLD, HARD NUMBERS
Last year, about 3.8 million babies were born in the US. That's a fall of 2 per cent from 2016. It's also the lowest number in 30 years.
According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of births in the peak female fertility range (15 to 44) was 1764 births over the lifetimes of 1000 potential mothers.
That's the lowest fertility rate since the US began to record such data in 1909.
Australia has also been facing similar, steady declines.
The most recent figures from the ABS relating to 2016 showed our fertility rate at 1.79 babies per woman in our population. That was down from a 30-year high of 2.02 in 2008.
In Australia, the birthrate has failed to match the numbers of those dying since 1976. To achieve a self-sustaining rate (enough babies to replace a mother and her partner), the ABS believes we need an average figure of about 2.1.
FEAR FOR THE FUTURE
Despite swirling speculation about chemicals in the environment and other growing health concerns such as obesity, researchers tend to believe the greatest cause is economic.
Director of the US Center for Family & Demographic Research Karen Benjamin Guzzo told Live Science that the effect of the Great Financial Crisis (GFC) continues to linger in the general workforce.
Many are now working part-time, on short-term contracts, trying to pay-down loans while clinging to insecure jobs.
"People feel just really uncertain about the future," Guzzo said. "And that generally does not bode well for having kids."
And young adults are finding it harder to meet the requirements necessary to have a family.
This includes secure housing, a reliable income, child support and health care.
"It takes longer to feel like you're a grown-up," Guzzo said.
She said this argument is supported by the one US demographic to record a boost in birthrates in 2017 being women in their 40s: "They can't put it off for the future".
Economics professor at the US university of Notre Dame agreed: "It's possible that the Great Recession may have been something of a triggering event that caused people to be more intentional about their fertility," she said.
The boated Baby Boomer social demographic is already weighing heavily upon Western economies such as United States and Australa.
And it's only going to get worse.
More and more are retiring. More and more require pension payments and advanced health care.
There are fewer and fewer younger workers to look after them. And less tax income to pay them anyway.
"Demographics have a really powerful impact on the economy," US economist for Oxford Economics Kathy Bostjancic says.
Just a decade ago, the number of US citizens looking for work was growing at a rate of about 1 per cent per year. With the falling birthrate, that has since dropped to just 0.3 per cent - a 0.7 per cent loss to the US growth rate.
So far, the United States and Australia have managed to avoid the worst of this potential economical slowdown through immigration.
"Immigration has allowed the population to increase at a healthy rate," Texas Centre for Assisted Reproduction analyst Kevin Doody told New Scientist. "Without that, the population would shrink, and more of the population would be older - which we see in places like Japan."
Birth rates plummet. Immigration increases. The world seems to change fast.
Some researchers suggest it's rapid, reactionary changes to immigration policies that unsettle communities.
Places with established diverse populations cope the best. More regional areas, however, react with alarm to a noticeable change in demographics.
"Modern aspects such as improved and increasingly technology-intensive equipment, more expensive medical care, better living conditions, norms of ''finding oneself'' before starting a family, increased demands for higher education and so on, all contribute to higher average age rates and lower fertility rates," an international study found last year. "These are all things that most people find central to an individualised democratic modern lifestyle and which they do not wish to change."
TRUMP'S EVANGELICALS: How the 'Rapture' is shaping US politics
But the study argues that we tend to ignore how our lifestyles and attitudes contribute to our ageing population, and therefore the need for immigration to sustain economies.
And then there's the impact of immigration itself.
"Although globalisation was conceived to allow capital and labour to move freely across national borders, real-world globalisation is affected by a multitude of noneconomic factors such as ethnicity, culture, and religion," the study reads. "This misalignment can lead to frustrations that feed populist movements. By opposing the collaboration that comes with globalisation, populist movements act as a feedback mechanism that pushes the general population towards becoming more ideologically rigid, and this, in turn, further accelerates the populism."