‘Re­mark­able’ de­cline in fer­til­ity rates

Iran Daily - - Health -

There has been a re­mark­able global de­cline in the num­ber of chil­dren women are hav­ing, say re­searchers.

Their re­port found fer­til­ity rate falls meant nearly half of coun­tries were now fac­ing a ‘baby bust’ — mean­ing there are in­suf¿cient chil­dren to main­tain their pop­u­la­tion size, BBC wrote.

The re­searchers said the ¿nd­ings were a ‘huge sur­prise’.

And there would be pro­found con­se­quences for so­ci­eties with ‘more grand­par­ents than grand­chil­dren’.

How big has the fall been?

The study, pub­lished in the Lancet, fol­lowed trends in every coun­try from 1950 to 2017.

In 1950, women were hav­ing an av­er­age of 4.7 chil­dren in their life­time. The fer­til­ity rate all but halved to 2.4 chil­dren per woman by last year.

But that masks huge vari­a­tion be­tween na­tions.

The fer­til­ity rate in Niger, west Africa, is 7.1, but in the Mediter­ranean is­land of Cyprus women are hav­ing one child, on av­er­age.

How high does the fer­til­ity rate have to be?

When­ever a coun­try’s av­er­age fer­til­ity rate drops below ap­prox­i­mately 2.1 then pop­u­la­tions will even­tu­ally start to shrink (this ‘baby bust’ ¿gure is signi¿cantly higher in coun­tries which have high rate of deaths in child­hood).

At the start of the study, in 1950, there were zero na­tions in this po­si­tion.

Prof. Christo­pher Mur­ray, the di­rec­tor of the In­sti­tute for Health Met­rics and Eval­u­a­tion at the Univer­sity of Wash­ing­ton, told the BBC: “We’ve reached this wa­ter­shed where half of coun­tries have fer­til­ity rates below the re­place­ment level, so if noth­ing hap­pens the pop­u­la­tions will de­cline in those coun­tries. “It’s a re­mark­able tran­si­tion. “It’s a sur­prise even to peo­ple like my­self, the idea that it’s half the coun­tries in the world

Which coun­tries are af­fected?

More eco­nom­i­cally de­vel­oped coun­tries in­clud­ing most of Eu­rope, the US, South Korea and Aus­tralia have lower fer­til­ity rates.

It does not mean the num­ber of peo­ple liv­ing in these coun­tries is fall­ing, at least not yet as the size of a pop­u­la­tion is a mix of the fer­til­ity rate, death rate and mi­gra­tion.

It can also take a gen­er­a­tion for changes in fer­til­ity rate to take hold.

But Mur­ray said: “We will soon be tran­si­tion­ing to a point where so­ci­eties are grap­pling with a de­clin­ing pop­u­la­tion.”

Half the world’s na­tions are still pro­duc­ing enough chil­dren to grow, but as more coun­tries ad­vance eco­nom­i­cally, more will have lower fer­til­ity rates.

Why is the fer­til­ity rate fall­ing?

The fall in fer­til­ity rate is not down to sperm counts or any of the things that nor­mally come to mind when think­ing of fer­til­ity.

In­stead it is be­ing put down to three key fac­tors: ● Fewer deaths in child­hood mean­ing women

have fewer ba­bies. ● Greater ac­cess to con­tra­cep­tion. ● More women in ed­u­ca­tion and work.

What will the im­pact be?

With­out mi­gra­tion, coun­tries will face age­ing and shrink­ing pop­u­la­tions.

Dr. Ge­orge Lee­son, di­rec­tor of the Ox­ford In­sti­tute of Pop­u­la­tion Ag­ing, said that does not have to be a bad thing, as long as the whole of so­ci­ety ad­justs to the mas­sive de­mo­graphic change.

He told the BBC: “De­mog­ra­phy im­pacts on every sin­gle as­pect of our lives, just look out of your win­dow at the peo­ple on the streets, the houses, the traf¿c, the con­sump­tion, it is all driven by de­mog­ra­phy.

“Ev­ery­thing we plan for is not just driven by the num­bers in the pop­u­la­tion, but also the age struc­ture and that is chang­ing, so fun­da­men­tally we haven’t got our heads around it.”

He thinks work­places are go­ing to have to change and even the idea of re­tir­ing at 68, the cur­rent max­i­mum in the UK, will be un­sus­tain­able.

The re­port, part of the Global Bur­den of Dis­eases anal­y­sis, said af­fected coun­tries will need to con­sider in­creas­ing im­mi­gra­tion, which can cre­ate its own prob­lems, or in­tro­duc­ing poli­cies to en­cour­age women to have more chil­dren, which of­ten fail.

Re­port au­thor Mur­ray ar­gued: “On cur­rent trends there will be very few chil­dren and lots of peo­ple over the age of 65 and that’s very dif¿cult to sus­tain global so­ci­ety.

“Think of all the pro­found so­cial and eco­nomic con­se­quences of a so­ci­ety struc­tured like that with more grand­par­ents than grand­chil­dren.

“I think Ja­pan is very aware of this, they’re fac­ing de­clin­ing pop­u­la­tions, but I don’t think it’s hit many coun­tries in the West, be­cause low fer­til­ity has been com­pen­sated with mi­gra­tion.

“But at a global level there is no mi­gra­tion so­lu­tion.”

What about China?

China has seen huge pop­u­la­tion growth since 1950, go­ing from around half a bil­lion in­hab­i­tants to 1.4 bil­lion.

But it too is fac­ing the chal­lenge of fer­til­ity rates, which stood at only 1.5 in 2017, and has re­cently moved away from its fa­mous one child pol­icy.

The rea­son de­vel­oped coun­tries need a fer­til­ity rate of 2.1 is be­cause not all chil­dren sur­vive to adult­hood and ba­bies are ever so slightly more likely to be male than fe­male.

But in China, the re­port shows for every 100 girls born there were 117 boys which “im­ply very sub­stan­tial sex-se­lec­tive abor­tion and even the pos­si­bil­ity of fe­male in­fan­ti­cide”.

That means even more chil­dren need to be born to have sta­ble pop­u­la­tion.

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