Here's What Would Happen If Everyone Suddenly Became Infertile

Homo sapiens has been a distinct species for approximately 200,000 years, according to The Conversation, and the reason we continue to exist as a species is because we procreate, just like every other species. However, not every female human who has ever lived has reproduced, possibly due to the problem of infertility: either the woman or her male partner were incapable of reproducing. Indeed, according to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, 9% of males and 11% of females of reproductive age in the United States have had fertility problems.

But what if fertility problems became more widespread? In fact, the thought experiment about widespread fertility problems has informed works of fiction, such as the 2006 film "Children of Men" and the 1985 novel "The Handmaid's Tale," and spoiler alert: Things are pretty hairy in both scenarios.

So what would happen if everyone in the world became infertile? It's probably going to be extremely bad for humanity as a species and for the people unfortunate enough to live through the end.

Civilization now has an expiration date

Imagine if, tomorrow, the United Nations announced that, for whatever reason, humans are now fully incapable of reproduction. That means that the human race will die out in less than a century (the expected limit of the lifespan of any babies living at the time).

One interpretation of this scenario occurs in "Children of Men." Writing in New Statesman, Gavin Jacobson posits that no only did the screenwriter get things right, but that the scenario may yet happen some day.

Long story short, once humans realize that there is a literal end date for the species looming ahead, there's no longer any point in, say, going to work, administrating an effective government, or even living within the bounds of societal decency at all. In the film's world, humanity has descended into anarchy and chaos, while a select few have managed to form something approaching a decent society. Or, as Jacobson writes, "society is held together by a combination of barbed wire and people's desire to live as normal; to take it on the chin, to muddle through, to keep calm and carry on."

Similarly, humans may simply throw themselves into "liberation," embracing sex, drugs, violence, looting, and so on.

This isn't just speculation, though

For now, infertility is a problem for a small percentage of humans of childbearing age. But governments and scientists are legitimately worried about falling birthrates, for a variety of reasons.

In parts of Asia, in particular South Korea and Japan, birthrates are declining precipitously, not because of infertility directly, but because women are having fewer children, as East West Center reports. Since governments rely on a continual supply of new citizens to make up the populace (and pay taxes), lawmakers in the region have been trying, and largely failing, to encourage parents to have larger families.

In a broader sense, however, is a worldwide fertility crisis that appears to only be getting worse. As BBC News reported in 2017, sperm counts are dropping, possibly due to pollutants and other environmental factors. Left unchecked, this could possibly lead to total male infertility and the extinction of humanity at some point in the future.