the Economist Magazine reports, Mikko Myrskyla of the University of Pennsylvania has a study which shows that wealthier people are starting to have more children. The wealthier are heading back up to replacement levels of 2 children per couple.
Dr Myrskyla speculates that the introduction of female-friendly employment policies in the most developed countries allows women to have the best of both worlds, and that this may contribute to the uptick.
During the twentieth century, the global population has gone through unprecedented increases in economic and social development that coincided with substantial declines in human fertility and population growth rates. The negative association of fertility with economic and social development has therefore become one of the most solidly established and generally accepted empirical regularities in the social sciences. As a result of this close connection between development and fertility decline, more than half of the global population now lives in regions with below-replacement fertility (less than 2.1 children per woman). In many highly developed countries, the trend towards low fertility has also been deemed irreversible. Rapid population ageing, and in some cases the prospect of significant population decline, have therefore become a central socioeconomic concern and policy challenge. Here we show, using new cross-sectional and longitudinal analyses of the total fertility rate and the human development index (HDI), a fundamental change in the well-established negative relationship between fertility and development as the global population entered the twenty-first century. Although development continues to promote fertility decline at low and medium HDI levels, our analyses show that at advanced HDI levels, further development can reverse the declining trend in fertility. The previously negative development–fertility relationship has become J-shaped, with the HDI being positively associated with fertility among highly developed countries. This reversal of fertility decline as a result of continued economic and social development has the potential to slow the rates of population ageing, thereby ameliorating the social and economic problems that have been associated with the emergence and persistence of very low fertility.
The figure depicts the difference between the TFR in 1975 and 2005 compared to the lowest TFR that was observed while a country’s HDI was within the 0.85–0.9 window. The (first) year in which this TFR is observed is denoted as the reference (ref.) year. For four particularly interesting and relevant countries, the United States (USA), Norway, the Netherlands (NL) and Japan, the graph shows the full path of the HDI–TFR development during the period 1975–2005. The figure includes all countries that attained an HDI 0.9 in 2005, with the exception of Slovenia for which no pre-1990 HDI time series could be constructed. For all countries, the HDI in 2005 is higher than the HDI in the reference year; for 18 of the 26 countries that attained a HDI 0.9 by 2005, the TFR in 2005 is higher than the TFR in the reference year. Countries ending in the top right quadrant in 2005 are Norway, the Netherlands, the United States, Denmark (1), Germany (2), Spain (3), Belgium (4), Luxembourg (5), Finland (6), Israel (7), Italy (8), Sweden (9), France (10), Iceland (11), the United Kingdom (12), New Zealand (13), Greece (14) and Ireland (15). Countries ending in the bottom-right quadrant in 2005 are Japan, Austria (16), Australia (17), Switzerland (18), Canada (19) and South Korea (20).
The increasing wealth of nations is accompanied by a fall in fertility, so that in many developed (and developing) nations, fertility rates have dropped below the replacement value of about 2.1 births per woman. This ‘birth dearth’, together with the ageing of populations, presents many difficult social and political problems. But, based on new cross-sectional and longitudinal analyses of the relationship between the total fertility rate and the human development index, Myrskylä et al. show that above a certain degree of economic development, fertility once again begins to rise, slowing the rate at which populations age. As a consequence, in contrast to the current popular and scientific debates, it seems likely that countries at the most advanced development stages will face a relatively stable population size, if not an increase in total population in cases where immigration is substantial.
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
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