Challenges in Fertility Trends

Article published at: Agora London Mar 27, 2024
Challenges in Fertility Trends
All Fertility

The United Nations projects that the global population, currently around 8 billion, could increase to 9.7 billion by 2050 and reach a peak of nearly 10.4 billion in the mid-2080s. However, these projections overlook a significant trend known as the total fertility rate (TFR), which is the average number of children born per female during her lifetime. In some countries, the TFR has already dropped below the replacement level of approximately 2.1 children per woman. For example, Western Europe's TFR is expected to be 1.44 by 2050.

Given these trends, should we be concerned about low fertility rates, population decline, and the ageing of populations?

Implications of Declining Fertility Rates

Throughout the twentieth century, the world witnessed remarkable economic and social progress, accompanied by significant reductions in human fertility rates and population growth rates. This link between economic and social advancement and declining fertility has emerged as a well-established and widely acknowledged pattern in the field of social sciences. Consequently, over half of the global population resides in areas where fertility rates are below the replacement level (less than 2.1 children per woman). Moreover, in many highly developed nations, the trend towards low fertility is considered irreversible. Some studies indicate that out of the 204 countries and territories analysed, 76 percent are projected to undergo declines below replacement levels by the year 2050.

The 21st century will be defined by profound social transformations, carrying immense implications. The global economy will undergo significant shifts in power dynamics on the international stage, while societies will undergo restructuring and reshaping.

The initial consequences of low fertility include rapid population ageing, and, in certain instances, the possibility of substantial population decline which will impact the material standard of living.

Lifestyle Factors in Fertility

Some researchers suggest that lifestyle decisions, particularly dietary choices, may have an impact on reproductive health and fertility, prompting intensified investigation in this field. Following healthy diets rich in seafood, poultry, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables has been associated with improved fertility in women and higher semen quality in men. Although our understanding of the relationship between nutrition and fertility remains incomplete, significant advancements have been achieved.

Government Responses to Declining Fertility

Unfortunately, fertility can be affected by various factors, including pollution and financial instability. Recognising this, many governments are reassessing their policies to support individuals who wish to expand their families. This is particularly relevant in Britain, where birth rates have been declining. In 2020, the total fertility rate (TFR), which measures the average number of children per woman, was 1.58 in England & Wales, and even lower in Scotland, where the TFR stood at 1.29. Also by 2050 a quarter of Britons will be over 65. This situation, where a smaller portion of the population is employed while a larger portion requires economic assistance, undoubtedly has a detrimental impact on the economy's productivity.

Can Immigration Solve the Problem?

Relying solely on immigration as a solution to counteract a declining birth rate may prove insufficient in the long term. This is because numerous other countries are encountering comparable demographic challenges. While immigration can contribute positively to population growth and workforce replenishment, its efficacy as a singular strategy may be limited due to broader global trends. Factors such as changing social norms, economic conditions, and lifestyle choices are influencing birth rates across multiple nations. Therefore, a comprehensive approach that addresses the underlying causes of declining birth rates, such as supporting family-friendly policies, enhancing access to childcare, and promoting work-life balance, may be necessary to sustainably address this issue.

 

Sources:

Declining fertility rates will transform global economy, report says – in Financial Times, March 2024

Diet and fertility: a review - Audrey J. Gaskins, Jorge E. Chavarro

Advances in development reverse fertility declines Mikko Myrskyla, Hans-Peter Kohler

The coming acceleration of global population aging. Nature 451, 716–719 (2008).

Food & Fertility Study- Maria Buhl Borgstrøm Anne Ahrendt Bjerregaard – Denmark

Is Low Fertility Really a Problem? Population Aging, Dependency, and Consumption by Ronald Lee



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