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South Korea Turns to AI for Infertility Treatment - 12 3 2021 10 52 27 AM

South Korea is turning to AI to “optimize” infertility treatment. The country hopes that this move will help lead to more successful pregnancies. (Maeil Business Pulse)

NH: South Korea has the lowest TFR in the world (0.84). (See “South Korea's Falling Fertility Keeps Breaking Records.”) But the Ministry of Health has a new plan to boost the number of babies born. 

The government has hired analysts to apply AI to infertility treatment. Ideally, this team will be able to develop ML algorithms that can improve the efficacy of fertility treatments in much the same way as they have improved the prognosis and treatment of various diseases.

The ministry plans to test the AI in a few localities. If the results are promising, it will be expanded throughout the country.

It’s unclear how much infertility is the cause of low TFRs. Biologists like Dr. Shanna Swan have argued that men and women are physiologically changing in ways that make them less able to become pregnant. They cite global causes ranging from lifestyle choices to environmental chemicals called EDCs. (See “Coming Soon… Children of Men?”)

IMO, the biological thesis is interesting and needs more research. Most demographers, however, already believe that declining fertility is an overdetermined trend--meaning that there are already plenty of sufficient causes in plain sight.

In the case of South Korea, I have already discussed many of these: high urbanization; high rates of educational attainment; a strong ethic of marketplace individualism (which makes children seem like a burden); and a very strong Confucian ethic (which places onerous cultural expectations on wives and mothers).

All of these drivers alone are enough to explain ROK's falling birth rate. (See “South Korea’s Population Shrinks.”) By turning its focus on improving infertility treatment, the Ministry of Health may not be denying these other causal drivers. Rather, it may simply be admitting its inability to change them.

If young people absolutely don't want to get married or have kids, there isn’t much a democratic government can do it.

Funding infertility treatment is within the ministry's control. Even if it helps only marginally, the government may feel it's worth the investment.

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Neil Howe is a renowned authority on generations and social change in America. An acclaimed bestselling author and speaker, he is the nation's leading thinker on today's generations—who they are, what motivates them, and how they will shape America's future.

A historian, economist, and demographer, Howe is also a recognized authority on global aging, long-term fiscal policy, and migration. He is a senior associate to the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C., where he helps direct the CSIS Global Aging Initiative.

Howe has written over a dozen books on generations, demographic change, and fiscal policy, many of them with William Strauss. Howe and Strauss' first book, Generations is a history of America told as a sequence of generational biographies. Vice President Al Gore called it "the most stimulating book on American history that I have ever read" and sent a copy to every member of Congress. Newt Gingrich called it "an intellectual tour de force." Of their book, The Fourth Turning, The Boston Globe wrote, "If Howe and Strauss are right, they will take their place among the great American prophets."

Howe and Strauss originally coined the term "Millennial Generation" in 1991, and wrote the pioneering book on this generation, Millennials Rising. His work has been featured frequently in the media, including USA Today, CNN, the New York Times, and CBS' 60 Minutes.

Previously, with Peter G. Peterson, Howe co-authored On Borrowed Time, a pioneering call for budgetary reform and The Graying of the Great Powers with Richard Jackson.

Howe received his B.A. at U.C. Berkeley and later earned graduate degrees in economics and history from Yale University.