Study: Fer­til­ity rates are in de­cline around the world

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution - - FROM PAGE ONE - By Rick Noack

Al­most half of all coun­tries have fer­til­ity rates be­low the re­place­ment level, ac­cord­ing to an un­prece­dented study pub­lished by The Lancet jour­nal. While there was not a sin­gle na­tion with a fer­til­ity rate be­low the 2.05 thresh­old back in 1950, the global av­er­age is now only 2.4 — down from 4.7 about 70 years ago.

Dif­fer­ences be­tween na­tions have be­come more pro­nounced, with some Eu­ro­pean coun­tries hav­ing record-low rates down to one child per wo­man on av­er­age, com­pared to more than six chil­dren in some African na­tions.

If you live in a poorer na­tion with high fer­til­ity rates, a de­crease would likely be a rea­son for cele- bra­tion. Lower fer­til­ity rates are of­ten the re­sult of fewer child deaths, eas­ily ac­cessi- ble con­tra­cep­tion and pros- per­ous economies, which ex­plains why Europe, North Amer­ica and richer Asian na­tions like Ja­pan are dis­pro­por­tion­ately af­fected.

In coun­tries with be­low-re- place­ment level fer­til­ity rates, how­ever, the costs out­weigh the ben­e­fits. Europe has strug­gled with this chal­lenge for years. Even more so than the United States, Eu­ro­pean wel­fare largely de­pends on a suf­fi­cient num­ber of work­ing-age res­i­dents who can fi­nance health care, pen­sions and so­cial se­cu­rity for every­one. The fewer there are, the more com­pli­cated it be­comes to sus­tain a sys­tem that was set up in a cen­tury when fall­ing fer­til­ity rates were among the prob­lems peo­ple had to worry least about.

Alarmed by con­tin­u­ously drop­ping fig­ures, some EU gov­ern­ments have taken dras­tic mea­sures. Italy’s Health Min­istry launched an ad cam­paign two years ago to re­mind peo­ple that Sept. 22 was “fer­til­ity day.” Other coun­tries have sought to ad­dress the is­sue by fo­cus­ing on ed­u­ca­tion. In Den­mark, for in­stance, school­child­ren are now taught in class that hav­ing ba­bies doesn’t only come with risks, but also with ben­e­fits.

But this week’s study raises se­ri­ous doubts over the im­pact of such poli­cies or pro­pos­als. “Pro-na­tal­ist poli­cies have been pur- sued in more than a dozen coun­tries but the ef­fects on fer­til­ity rates have not been large,” they wrote. In­stead, they ar­gue, an in­creas­ingly large share of the world’s pop­u­la­tion may have to come to terms with higher re­tire­ment ages, slashed ben­e­fits and — iron­i­cally above all — prob­a­bly the most di­vi­sive is­sue of this cen­tury, so far: mi­gra­tion.

Fall­ing fer­til­ity rates do not im­me­di­ately have to re­sult in re­ced­ing pop­u­la­tion num­bers, as mi­gra­tion and bet­ter health care also im­pact over­all fig­ures, ac­cord­ing to the study that was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foun­da­tion. While al­most half of all na­tions now have fer­til­ity rates be­low the re­place­ment level, pop­u­la­tion growth only de­clined in 33 coun­tries from 2010 to 2017. The coun­tries where pop­u­la­tion fig­ures re­mained steady de­spite lower fer­til­ity rates also ex­pe­ri­enced a higher in­flux of mi­grants. The fer­til­ity rate in the United States is ac­tu­ally also be­low re­place­ment lev­els at 1.8, yet the pop­u­la­tion is still grow­ing, thanks in large part due to im­mi­gra­tion.

Mi­gra­tion has so far saved the United States from fol­low­ing the fate of Europe’s ag­ing so­ci­eties. But a fall in net mi­gra­tion has al­ready sl owed U.S. pop­u­la­tion growth and could even­tu­ally lead to a neg­a­tive trend. As other global mea­sures to boost fer­til­ity rates have so far failed, mi­gra­tion had proven to be “ef­fec­tive in sus­tain­ing pop­u­la­tion num­bers,” the au­thors of the study write.

Based on that anal­y­sis, slash­ing mi­gra­tion num­bers — as the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is at­tempt­ing to — and op­er­at­ing a bud­get that re­lies on a young work­force ap­pears con­tra­dic­tory.

It’s a con­clu­sion that will not sit well among an in­creas­ing num­ber of vot­ers in the United States and Europe.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.