The global decline in birth rates
A common narrative in the Western world is that we’re doubling the world’s population. We’re are not.
Population growth, according to the United Nations, actually peaked in the late 1960’s and has been declining ever since. Pre-pandemic we were seeing a global average of about 2.1% but that is now expected to decline to 1.1% and may even drop to 0.1% by 2100. Another concern is the decrease in male fertility and children being born around the world.
There are many factors behind the decline, some good, some unknown and some as yet unexplained. One positive impact is that more women in developing nations are becoming better educated and entering the workforce than ever before in human history. The result is higher employment for women, thus better nutrition for mom and baby, but less babies as the need for more children declines. Through the mid twentieth century, large families were common and often needed, especially in rural areas for running the farm and labour. As the West became more industrialized and wealthy, a middle class evolved and there was less social and economic pressure for large families.
As developing nations like China, India and Vietnam modernize and grow their middle classes, the same is happening. Smaller families. China for decades had the one child policy, which is now coming back to bite them as with fewer families and growing middle class, it’s harder for them to fill jobs.
While this may seem good for the environment, it presents some challenges. Who’s going to look after the ageing population? If you’re in your twenties or thirties now, this is a question you’ll want to ask yourself, since you’re going to be in your 70’s one day. Who’s going to take care of you? There’s also all the jobs that will go unfilled. Indicators too are that there will be more male than female births, which impacts fertility rates. In addition, alarming research is showing significant declines in sperm counts in males. Although there’s no definitive single answer, obesity, diabetes and environmental factors seem to be playing a role.
Some countries have resorted to incentives to increase their population such as Russia and Sweden with Sweden seeing a minor uptick from 1.7 children per family to 1.9, but this is not enough over the longer term. Africa’s population is expected to treble by 2100, but infant mortality rates are so high, this may not happen either.
So no, we’re not doubling our population anytime soon.
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Author: Alex Hurst is a staff writer for HUM@Nmedia, the parent brand for Silver and Optimyz Magazines.