In November 2021, the month before a surrogate mother delivered his second child with Canadian musician Grimes, Elon Musk became father to twins, a report from Insider has revealed. The mother is Shivon Zilis, an executive at Neuralink, a neurotechnology company founded by Musk.
This puts the total count of Musk’s living children to nine—two sets of twins, one set of triplets, and two single births. (Musk’s first child died suddenly as an infant in 2002.)
“Doing my best to help the underpopulation crisis,” the world’s richest man tweeted to his 100 million followers, seemingly referring to the news. “A collapsing birth rate is the biggest danger civilization faces by far.” Musk, who has expressed his belief in promoting population growth before, continued to note that the reason behind falling birthrates is that “far too many people are under the illusion that Earth is overpopulated.”
It’s possible that he’s correct about the general perception of overpopulation, but that is unlikely to be the reason behind negative population growth, especially in the US. Musk frames the combination of privileges that allows him to continue to father children in his 50s, and financially support nine of them, as a form of social action, a moral position of sorts—a world view that is blind to inequality.
This view is consistent with another idea he expressed in recent tweets—that going to the Moon in 1969 brought humanity together and stove off conflict, and so would heading to Mars. In a world that is dealing with challenges such as climate change, a pandemic, and increasing poverty, the colonization of Mars seems about as unifying as the Moon landing was in Gil Scott-Heron’s “Whitey on the Moon“: I can’t pay no doctor bill/(but Whitey’s on the Moon)/Ten years from now I’ll be payin’ still/(while Whitey’s on the Moon).
That Musk would brag about his fertility as an act at service to the world in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s overturning Roe v. Wade comes across as tone deaf, if not outright dangerous. After all, fighting the myth of overpopulation, and discussing the supposed role of abortion in causing population decline is a frequent talking point of anti-choice doctrine.
Although there are some arguments in favor of delaying having children to help the planet, population decline can indeed be worrisome—in wealthy nations at least. Shrinking countries such as Japan and Italy are already facing the consequences of dealing with a shortage of young people to support their aging populations. Having more children might be essential to ensure growth and wellbeing, and perhaps even encourage economic equality (pdf) in wealthy nations that already have relatively low levels of inequality—but only when combined with policies that support child care and families, and make raising said children a sustainable proposition.
Musk’s ability to father so many children in such a short span of time is predicated upon many privileges: his wealth, women willing to parallel-carry his offspring, and a support system in which to raise them. It’s likely that the mothers of his children had agency. Grimes didn’t carry her second, a surrogate did, and all of them likely have had the privilege of having significant child care support that they can afford. “I just assume that there will be nannies,” Musk told his first wife, when they were dating, while discussing how many children he’d like to have.
But even leaving aside the many who cannot have children, or aren’t able to afford fertility treatments, millions of American women and people who can get pregnant no longer have reproductive choices, and are at risk of having to birth children they do not wish to have. The inability to afford a child (or more children) is the most commonly cited reason behind abortions. In a country where child care costs are unsustainable even for many middle-class families, and one in six children suffer from hunger, 20% miss at least a meal a day, and 30% Black children miss a meal during the weekend, the large families Musk congratulates people on having are either a great privilege, or a complete nightmare.