On Human Fertility, Part 2

I write about this every now and then, because human fertility is falling faster then most demographers expect.  Using the CIA Factbook for data, the present total fertility rate for the world is 2.47 births per woman that survives childbearing.  Last year it was 2.50, and in 2006 it was 2.90.  2.10 is replacement rate.  At the current trend, the world will be at replacement rate in 2022.  That’s a lot earlier than most expect, and it makes me suggest that global population will top out at 8.5 Billion in 2030, lower and earlier than most expect.

Have a look at the Total Fertility Rate by group:

The largest nations for each cell are listed below the graph.  Note Asian nations to the left, and African nations to the right.

Africa is so small, that the high birth rates have little global impact.  Also, AIDS consumes their population, as do wars, malnutrition, etc.

The Arab world is also slowing in population growth.  When Saudi Arabia is near replacement rate at 2.26, you can tell that the women are gaining the upper hand there, which is notable given the polygamy is permitted.

In the Developed world, who leads in fertility?  Israel at 2.67.  Next is the US at 2.06, slightly below replacement.  We still grow from immigration.

Quoting from my prior piece, why is this happening?  There are many reasons why the total fertility rate is declining:

  • Educating females makes many of them want to have fewer kids, whether the reason is pain, effort, wanting to work outside the home, etc.
  • Contraception is more widely available.
  • The marriage rate is declining globally.  Willingness to have children is positively correlated with marriage.
  • Governments provide an illusion of support, commonly believed, that the government can support people in their old age, so people don’t have kids for old age support.

The rapidly slowing rate of childbearing will have global population peak in the early 2030s at a level in the lower 8 billions, unless there is some further change to attitudes on children that makes people have more or even fewer kids.

Some of those changes may come from:

  • governments looking to stem a shrinking population that is causing a future problem with their social welfare programs.  (Note: in general, whatever governments offer, people don’t have materially more kids. Once women are convinced that kids are more of a burden than an advantage, they do not easily shift from that view, even if that view is wrong.)
  • Various religious leaders realizing that the women are not with the program of growing their ranks, where contraception has become quietly common.  I am speaking mostly of Catholics and Muslims here.
  • Abortion, especially for sex selection reasons becomes more or less common.  Growth in future population depends heavily on the level of fertile women, and if they are being killed or not at birth in places like China, India, the satellite countries of the former Soviet Union, etc… fewer women means a lower growth rate, and unhappier societies 20+ years out.

As I close, I want to list a few nations that are below replacement rate, that would surprise some people:

  • Bahrain
  • Qatar
  • Lebanon
  • Azerbaijan
  • Georgia
  • Tunisia
  • North Korea
  • Uzbekistan
  • Iran
  • Brazil

And those the are close to replacement rate:

  • Turkey
  • Indonesia
  • UAE
  • Saudi Arabia (Wahabism is less strong than believed)
  • India
  • Mexico
  • Argentina

One last point, because the demographics profession has been slow to pick up on these shifts, if present trends continue, within 10 years, I believe you will see a scad of articles talking about the likely leveling off of global population and even future shrinkage of global population, and the effects thereof.  Always something to worry about…


  • cig says:

    Even if we assume people are having kids for the sole purpose of providing for their old age (and I hope they aren’t), is maximising the headcount the optimal strategy? In a developed society, having successful kids who will have spare cash to support the parents may be better than having too many who can be barely fed and educated, and who will end up at the bottom of the pile, short of both time and money to support their elderly parents (notwithstanding the ability of some outliers to do quality and quantity).

    • How do you get goods into the future for your old age when there is no means of saving, and property rights are not well protected? Kids. How you get more productive children? Educate them. What if there are no schools, and death rates are high? Have a few more kids as insurance.

      As it is, the West is going into demographic eclipse, where we will find that our entitlement systems don’t work well with stagnant or shrinking populations. Collectivizing old age care removes an incentive to have children, which leads to underfunded, broken entitlement systems.

      • cig says:

        What I was saying is that “more kids as insurance” likely only works at the very poor end. In middle-income plus countries, it becomes quality OR quantity for people without star teacher spouses and outlier level of resources, that is more kids may provide less insurance than a manageable number for them.

        While socialised retirement is surely a disincentive, and we know you like to blame governments for every ill in the world as a matter of faith, I suspect the coefficient is quite low. The phenomenon of people having fewer kids as countries become wealthier is universal, and surely some of those countries have very little in terms of socialised old age provisions.

  • ReneeA says:

    Do children really contribute to their parents financially though?

    Too many older parents are paying for college, when they should be preparing for retirement. If the student has the loans, how can the child financially help the parents when she or he has college debt, a mortgage/rent, and wanting to start a family of their own.

    Parents are helping children out well into adulthood financially, helping with college or a down payment on a house.

    Children never seem to pay in the financial sense, older adult children are there to ensure parents are cared for though. Being able to drive them to doctor’s appointments or obtaining proper elder care when they can no longer live independently in their homes. The mere checking in once a day, if you indeed still have a relationship with your adult child/children.

    As someone with four children, as an educated American, I never felt at ease how much government influence the push for a smaller family. We’re are constantly marketed that women have choices, but really there are larger goal to push women to have ‘no more then two’. This comes from economic influences, such as buying a home based on two incomes rather then one. A mortgage based on both incomes forces a woman to work full-time. Then add day-care, after having two children, a woman’s paycheck goes completely to cover day-care and the house. Student debt, doesn’t help in the equation, financially forcing women (and men) to post-pone children.

    I don’t think our government really wants housing or education to be truly affordable, the inflated costs of these two things artificially creates an environment in which it makes sense to have one possible two children at most. Also culturally we shame young moms, I know several young mothers through out the years. Otherwise in a healthy relationship with the father eventually marrying and supportive extended family, the finished school/trade and are doing fine. They’re not in extreme poverty.

    Sure we don’t live in the suburbs, but the lights are on and there is good on the table. I like to think it pays off, the fewer material items and lower transportation costs reduces our carbon footprint.

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