This question by Andrea Jens considered a world in which a virus causes global infertility: no new children can be conceived.

Now suppose that, after 40 years of complete global infertility, a cure is found and distributed worldwide. Babies are being born once again to the youngest generation — parents who are at least forty years old.

Here are some basic assumptions we will make about this world:

  • The period of global infertility lasted from 2015 to 2055.
  • Consider the level of technology to be comparable to today.
  • The world population at the beginning of the event was just over 7 billion. Over the 40 year period 2 billion people died “naturally” and 1 billion died as a result of local conflicts triggered by the infertility. As of 2055, the total human population is at 4 billion.
  • Let us assume based on 2015 estimates that there are 600 million women in the 40-49 year old age bracket at this time (For simplicity, assume that the vast majority survived the turmoil of the infertility period).
  • Most countries maintained enough order to survive. Societies have been warped by this tragedy, but the governmental structure and land boundaries remain intact.
  • Throughout the period of infertility, unfertilized eggs could be frozen and stored in countries with the technology to do so. These eggs are viable for use after the cure.

With this 40 year age gap worldwide, what societal and economic changes would humanity experience as the new generation is born and matures?

  • $\begingroup$ For starters, China is going to be in unbelievable amounts of pain, completely changing the world power dynamic in utterly unpredictable ways. Coming in second on my intuitive list, the "working age" bracket is 40 years, so the entirety of our industrial-economic system is going to have to shift to something almost completely unrecognizable. Is this the direction you intend to go with the question? I may put together an answer with the list, but I'd say "what changes would we experience" might be answered with simply "yes." $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented Sep 28, 2015 at 23:48
  • $\begingroup$ Would you mind if I answered this question in the negative? I think the list of things that wouldn't change is vastly smaller than the list of things that do change, so it'd be easier to answer that way. $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented Sep 28, 2015 at 23:49
  • $\begingroup$ @CortAmmon Absolutely. That's a totally valid approach. $\endgroup$
    – Avernium
    Commented Sep 29, 2015 at 0:11
  • $\begingroup$ I like the question, there is just simply too much to cover in an answer though. If you could narrow it to a single country, or perhaps a single economic/social impact that would make it much more answerable. $\endgroup$
    – James
    Commented Sep 29, 2015 at 18:36
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ A pretty intriguing film on this very concept: Children of Men: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0206634/ $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 13, 2017 at 2:45

4 Answers 4


I feel like my answer is fairly insufficient, but I've spent quite a while working on it, so I'm going to post it anyhow.

Years 0 - 20

Essentially what we're going to see is that as time goes on, the age pyramid1 simply breaks from the ground and shifts up (still pinching at the top because of death, of course). What this means is that private organizations like daycare are the first to go in capitalistic societies, as they have no more clients. The government stops funding levels of public education that are no longer needed. The youngest students in the generation who fall behind all enter a single "remedial" class that will be the last class to be taught that material for another 40 years. Of course, society has no way of knowing that a cure will be found, but hopes it will be, so each government creates a standard curriculum (if it doesn't already have one) and stores it somewhere safe so that it can be accessed if needed by future teachers. Universities eventually go out of business and must sell/re-purpose their land.

Years 20 - 40

Eventually when generation Ω (omega) reaches the age to be employable, there starts to be a problem. Social Security is funded by the young for the old, so with an impending drop-off of SS funds, the government reduces benefits and/or increases the required age, causing older people to work longer. Because there is a decrease in workers, there's an increase in wages. However, there would also be a huge decrease in the average household expenditure, as Americans spend about $34,000 annually on their children2. These two forces may even out to create an economy that is similar to our own, except that there is little to no market for child-oriented things like Capri-Sun, Teletubbies, or DisneyLand. Also, the elimination of an unwanted pregnancy only adds to the normality of casual sexual encounters. In general, people have the idea that the world is ending really slowly, so there are more mid-life crises and crime. Because of the scarcity of youth it is valued exorbitantly.

Years 40 - 60

Eventually scientists discover the cure to infertility and generation Ω starts making babies. Of course, there is a huge government campaign focused on encouraging couples to have children if they can. Children are highly prized and seen more than ever as those who will inherit the Earth. The last people to have taught elementary-aged children are at least 60 at this point, but they brush off the curriculum which was stored away and use it to instruct the next generation while other teachers from generation Ω are being trained. By the time generation A (alpha) is ready for a college education, public universities (which were hopefully re-purposed rather than sold) have been converted back to places of learning. Essentially no one who was ever actually a college professor is teaching there now, though, because they're all at least 90 at this point. Come to think of it, even generation Ω is at least 60 by now. Generation A has grown up with elderly people and has only ever seen young people in old media, but it understands how highly youth is valued.

Child-oriented businesses have the potential to start up again, although many trade secrets and experience would be lost by those who had died without passing on their knowledge. There would be a gradual relearning of how to do everything, but overall once the first few years of generation A (which would have an enormous population, by the way) had passed people would generally know what they were doing in the industry.

Years 60 - 80

Because of all the propaganda, young people are encouraged to have children, but not at culturally unusual ages. Everyone understands that the virus has been cured and so there's no need to risk birth defects by having children at a young age, especially when generation A thinks about how their parents were 40 when they had them. Having a child so young would just seem weird. Nonetheless, parents would get antsy and encourage having children in the early 20's. Children would still be highly valued, and grandparents would have an active, but not too active role (with the lack of SS, they don't have as much free time as they would have had they been retired).

Years 80 - 100

At this point generation Ω is in their 80's, and generation A is in their 30-40's. They have been learning what they can from their parent's generation, because they know that they will soon be the youngest oldest people alive in centuries. Because there had been such an age gap between the two generations, generation A had never really been quite as mature as generation Ω. For the first time, members of generation A are the CEO's of companies and heads of governments. They aren't continually viewed as immature by older members of society anymore. Members of generation A begin to disrespect generation Ω as they were old, weak, and grumpy, and often require assistance that keeps generation A from what they would have rather been doing with their time and money. The gap in the labor force (ages 40 - 80) would likely be the worst yet. Previously, the elderly were able to keep working in order to keep the economy going, but now only those aged 20 - 40 are supporting those aged 0 - 20 and those 80+. At this point (or perhaps a bit sooner) we can expect there to be a general consensus to euthanize many elderly people as they are a burden that society can't support. (Another possibility is that younger people have to work from an earlier age, but I don't see this youth-worshiping culture encouraging that)

Years 100 - 120

Generation A is now entering what we would consider retirement age, and as there are no (few?) individuals older than generation A to support, there may be talk of reinstating SS. However, worries about its sustainability and the recent history that even generation A's parents worked until they were 80 keeps the retirement age elevated. Society as a whole seems more or less to have recovered at this stage.

TL;DR: We finally lose Social Security


1: Population Pyramid

2: Cost of Child

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I think you underestimate the economic collapse of losing basically two generations' worth of children over 40 years. In addition to businesses that exist solely because people have babies, hospitals would go bankrupt not having the steady \$10,000-\$15,000 per new mother from the maternity ward, big-box department stores would see substantial reorganization phasing out up to half their current floor space, car manufacturers would stop designing large SUVs, minivans and other "family vehicles", etc. Such a large change to the status quo would create chaos in the economy. $\endgroup$
    – KeithS
    Commented Nov 6, 2015 at 18:49
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ In addition, with the youngest possible mother in Generation Omega being 40, Generation Alpha is going to be a small one, as up to 3/4 of Generation Omega will be menopausal. The government would have a vested interest providing living assistance to any couple that could still have kids, encouraging the last remaining fertile mothers to have four or five kids. "It takes a village" would be taken to heart, with any that couldn't have kids helping to raise and support what children are born. You might end up with a fairly spoiled Generation Alpha. $\endgroup$
    – KeithS
    Commented Nov 6, 2015 at 18:55
  • $\begingroup$ Universities would not all shut down. Not every student is fresh out of high-school. I know many people who have gone back to school after years, decades even, in the workforce. $\endgroup$
    – Ryan_L
    Commented Apr 5, 2020 at 21:05

Well, for one thing child rearing would become a much greater priority in our societies. Laws would be passed to encourage women to have children as quickly as possible. Single mothers would be given more financial support. Corporate practices which discriminate, even slightly, against women because of their fertility, would be pounced on as damaging to our society.

The entire education system would have to be revived. What happened to it in the interim years? Was it dismantled, since there were no children to teach? Or was society willing to pay to keep it up even if it wasn't providing value? If the former, it will have to be reinvented from the ground up.

Parents too old to bear children might be called into service to help raise them, so that those young enough to bear could have larger families. Couples too old to bear children could still raise them, so adoptions would be encouraged. The taboo against "paying" for children might be bent or even removed. Foreign adoptions would increase as fertile females in basement economic brackets see their fertility as a way to bear themselves out of abject poverty. Immigration laws would invite fertile females to make this move, and the countries they came from would try to keep them from leaving.

Nations which did not enact stronger laws protecting their women would find themselves shrinking. Note that this does not necessarily lead to good things for women, because women can be enslaved and turned into baby bearing machines "for the good of the country/state/whatever organization".

Babies may become a commodity. Child abductions may rise.

The first decade of the "post fertility cure" will have many middle aged women bearing children. "Use it before you lose it" becomes the slogan. This will lead to a high number of age related birth defects. This may lead to an emotional reaction against them. Women who don't get tested so they can abort any defective children will be considered irresponsible, or worse. Fertile wombs are a scarce resource and shouldn't be wasted on a child who is not going to be an asset to society. Unscrupulous nations may take "defective" children away from their parents and raise them to be "wombs for the nation", implanting them with fertilized eggs from "normal" parents.

Ten years later, another "dry spell" as the older women go into menopause and the world waits for the younger ones to grow up. Many countries may try to "force babies on the babies". Countries where children are married and give birth at a very young age will have an advantage over those where maturity is expected to happen later.

In any case, when the children of the "first regeneration" become old enough to be fertile, they will be encouraged to start having babies as soon as possible. By this time a strong societal acceptance for having younger women bear the children and older ones raise them will be in place. It may become a custom that children are most often raised by their grandparents.

Unwed teenage mothers will become society's "heroes" instead of its pariahs, as long as they realize their jobs is to have babies, not to raise them. "Your turn will come" becomes the slogan, featuring pictures of a happy middle aged couple being handed a baby by a proudly beaming teenaged mother, who then races off to her life of partying.

Society may also become paranoid about losing its fertility. Younger girls may be pressured to prove their fertility early. It happened once, after all. "Testing" young girls' fertility may be seen as an early warning system. A lot of what happens along those lines would depend on what caused the infertility in the first place. Was it man-made? And if so, was it deliberate or accidental? A natural disaster? Or do they simply not know what caused it?

--- further thoughts on children becoming a commodity / abductions ----

Nations will want to rebuilt their population as quickly as possible (lending a new meaning to the term "arms race"). Even though society hasn't completely disintegrated, the huge population decrease has left everyone vulnerable. What segments of society do you pluck from to plump up the others? What is your priority? Send people into the military or use them to educate the young? Nations run on their economies; who will work for the businesses that pay corporate taxes? Do we train people to build bridges and infrastructure, or to work on our electronic defenses? We can no longer have it all. hard choices must be made.

Or do they?

Nations with less scruples can find a way to game the system. Why pay all that money to raise and educate when you can purchase older children? Concentrate on your military and then you can pluck your neighbors, thereby having the best of both. Nations may specialize; imagine a country who acts as an educator and child raiser while being protected by the military of the nations whom they supply with trained workers. And smaller nations (Japan, perhaps) would concentrate on areas that require specialized training but not great numbers (the best hackers and anti-hackers in the world). Everyone knows that if you want the best programmers and analysts, you send your kids to the Nippon University of Electronics.

Once a child has been taken out of a country and provided with new identification it would be very difficult to locate that child without the help of the authorities. Of course, an obviously white baby in the hands of a black couple in Africa would be hard to hide, but consider how easy it would be to conceal a child stolen from black Americans or Asian Americans and transported to a country where their ethnicity is dominant. Or to conceal a child stolen from Africans and adopted by African Americans. Not to mention how easy it is to steal from your neighbors with the same ethnicity.

Then, imagine a wealthy man, woman or couple, too old to bear their own children and unable, for whatever reason, to adopt, or at least unable to adopt exactly the child they want. They have plenty of money and reason "we have so much money that any child would be better off with us than with someone poorer". Potential for abduction there. Wherever there is money there will be people eager to supply.

Then there are the baby makers. A new profession that grows up and flourishes in less developed countries willing to look the other way, as long as the profits are shared. Abduction would be an obvious supplement to the income that they get from selling babies. And for those worried about getting "caught" because of genetic testing, the children who are abducted could be used as "breeders" instead of being sold outright. Genetics could still connect them to a particular family but it couldn't be proved how those genetics got here.

These babymakers might pour money into genetic mapping and research so as to develop a menu for potential buyers. "Made to order" children with a carefully chosen set of genetic markers. Many of them might develop a very long range marketing strategy.

  • $\begingroup$ Really great points in here. I hadn't considered fertile women in poverty / poor countries using it to escape -- that's quite an interesting thought. $\endgroup$
    – Avernium
    Commented Sep 29, 2015 at 17:23
  • $\begingroup$ +1 ""Your turn will come" becomes the slogan, featuring pictures of a happy middle aged couple being handed a baby by a proudly beaming teenaged mother, who then races off to her life of partying." Brilliant! I'd love to see that movie. Or just a propaganda vid. $\endgroup$
    – fgysin
    Commented May 1, 2019 at 11:35

You do make a lot of assumptions. And the first analogy that came to mind was the US "baby boom" post-World War II. So, initially it seemed to me that the new-era babies would blossom into a huge group to be reckoned with...

However, there are some stark differences that I think the other answers overlook.

First, once re-birthing begins, infant mortality and child-rearing women mortality rates would likely be much higher than present day. Although the technology might exist, the last doctors to birth babies would be at least 65 years old AND 40 years out of practice. You may have nurses or other medical care givers that are as young as 60 that would also be valuable, but nearly anyone yonger than that would have little first-hand knowledge of good child-birthing practices. It is easy to imagine a lot of economic resources dedicated to those efforts, inefficiently for at least a 5-10 years.

Next, the maternal mortality rate is much higher for women in there 40's and very little is currently known about women in their 50's. But assuming the first group of "young" women to get pregnant (40-44) have mortality rates similar to developing nations today - they have about a 1% chance of death during childbirth. For older women it gets much higher, much faster. Additionally, it seems that 600 million cohort of "young women" could only produce, reasonably, 2-3 children before the risk of death becomes very high. By the time medical practitioners "remember" good birthing techniques, most of these women will be too old to endure child birth at all.

So, after about 10-15 years the very youngest of the "older" people would no longer be able to bear children. The very oldest of the "young" generation would barely be old enough to begin reproducing. With the population of the earth continuing to decline, the concentration of wealth focused on this group would probably create some very weird new "rules" - like having kids while still in school and being spoiled by the older generations. But for at least another 10 years, population decline would continue fairly rapidly.

As during this time, there would be a huge boom in child-rearing goods and services. Based on the assumptions, the economic "bust" of the industry 40 years prior was in some way "absorbed" into the economy. However, this boom would come with huge amounts of wealth dedicated to protecting, teaching and entertaining this new generation. Other areas of the economy would certainly feel the drain of resources, creating booms and busts for a few decades for sure.

Then as the "young" generation began reaching child bearing ages in large numbers, there would be a very large group of older care-givers available, creating a society where it might become expected that you have a "community child" - care for the child is shared among the older generation, and the younger generation can continue to not have responsibilities for child rearing, dedicate themselves to careers and/or self-indulgence, etc. Getting pregnant and procreation could easily become a priority over marital bonding, since childcare would no longer hinge primarily on the parents of the children.

This "echo" generation of babies from the first young generation would see the last of the older generation die off and not enjoy nearly the same conveniences of their young parents. And these young parents would likely retain little about the energy, effort and cost it takes to raise children. They also would still be building careers and enjoying a significant amount of wealth coming into their possession as the older generation died off.

This would create a huge generation gap, along with the wealth gap and general dislodging of a great many of our current social and moral norms (pregnancy would be a priority after all...), and would lead to a much greater revolution than the post WWII baby boom in the US. In the US during the 60's and 70's, as those young children came of age, the world changed.

In the case of a 40 year infertility period followed by two "baby booms" and a nearly extinct older generation, the revolution would likely be significant enough as to reshape whatever geo-political boundaries had endured during the period of infertility.

It seems to me that a entirely new religious and political system would arise as these waves of young people entered a world where they did not have to endure the the struggle to survive in any normal capacity compared to the rest of the evolution of humankind, and after a long period of fear that the human race would reach an abrupt and quiet end of existence. There is little reason to believe it would look anything like our society does today - especially because of all of the value we place on personal historical lessons that would be long forgotten and devalued by the new generation (the "when I was a kid, I had to walk up hill to school both ways... in the snow!" type of lessons.)


@Avernium as virtualg33k said, Children of Men is a movie about this very concept. If you want to see what kind of dystopia would result,watching that movie is a solid start. For there is no guarantee we ever find a cure,but what is known is that as it stands there will be no legacy.

With no children being born beyond still births,the world is going to fall into a state of shock and then mourning. Imagine knowing there will be no new children,no one to pass the torch onto. That all the human's on Earth now,at this very moment are the last one's there will ever be. People would see it,very realistically,as the death of our (humanity's) future. And with it the death of hope.

People would turn to science, to god, and to one another for answers. Suddenly life would become about the here and now,for nothing good awaits us anymore. When human life becomes very visibly finite to everyone,people get pushed over the edge.

Wars would be fought,law and order would break down,and people would rip apart the world in a desperate rage to find answers. But most of them would just end up ripping apart one another. Depression,apathy and nihilism would grow more and more prevalent.

The death toll would only climb,with no new births it would become only a matter of time. In 2015 the Earth had an estimated 7.2 billion people alive on it.

Every year 55.3 million people die. If you multiply that by 40 you get the incredibly harrowing number of two billion two hundred and twelve million people dead in that 40 year period.

That is under the generous assumption where nothing particularly bad happens. Under the threats of violence war would be fought,the last brutal conflicts of mankind being fought over resources and out of hatred and spite. As people decide to determine the fates of others so as to be the last one's standing at the end.

Nations would go to war out of fear that another nation could completely erase them. There's no new generation coming,to the vast majority of humanity they will be thinking "This is it. We're all that there is ever going to be."

Youth would be highly prized,far more than it is today. People would try to cater to the changing needs of the populace. Pets would become more common,becoming the surrogate for the children that will never come. Lifelike dolls that mimic the sounds and warmth of a baby would be sold. And the value of human life would actually end up decreasing.

It would be an extinction event,one we'd be very lucky to survive. After all,if the only prospective mothers and fathers are in their forties at best by the time of the cures discovery;the odds of having children successfully will still be painfully low.

And after all of that,these children would need to be raised on a planet where 40 years of fear,hatred,nihilism,rampant crime and war decimated the world. It would be strange to have hope again.

The people with the cure had better be careful,for people with try to use it as a tool. The first children and everything else would be tools for the most ruthless age of humans to have been essentially. It'd be a painful rebirth,but perhaps like the phoenix we would rise from the ashes.

If you take away the past,you will still always have a tomorrow. But if you take away tomorrow,you will become the past.


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