People just aren’t making babies like they used to.
Based on their research, people across the globe are giving birth to fewer children than they did in the past — and the impact on society could be catastrophic.
According to the report, the average woman in 1950 gave birth to 4.7 children over the course of their lifetime. Last year, that figure was just 2.4 children.
Those dropping fertility rates mean half the world’s nations are now on the cusp of a ‘baby bust’ – meaning their residents aren’t giving birth to the number of children needed to maintain the population.
“On current trends, there will be very few children and lots of people over the age of 65, and that’s very difficult to sustain global society,” report author Christopher Murray told the BBC.
“Think of all the profound social and economic consequences of a society structured like that with more grandparents than grandchildren.”
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 Prof 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.
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.
In some respects, though, the declining fertility rate is a sign of progress. More children are living to adulthood, so a person needn’t give birth as frequently to have the family they always wanted.
Increased access to contraception, employment, and educational opportunities also give women options beyond motherhood, which they might not have had in 1950.
This decline in fertility rates could also benefit the environment. While the global rate of births per woman would need to drop below 2.1 for the population to decrease, a lower fertility rate could at least translate into slowed population growth, which could buy us time as we try to address such issues as climate change and global hunger.
Source: Science Alert