BBC: Fertility rate: ‘Jaw-dropping’ global crash in children being born – ‘Nearly every country could have shrinking populations by the end of the century’


By: - Climate DepotJuly 28, 2020 2:55 PM

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By James Gallagher

The world is ill-prepared for the global crash in children being born which is set to have a “jaw-dropping” impact on societies, say researchers.

Falling fertility rates mean nearly every country could have shrinking populations by the end of the century.

And 23 nations – including Spain and Japan – are expected to see their populations halve by 2100.

Countries will also age dramatically, with as many people turning 80 as there are being born.

What is going on?

The fertility rate – the average number of children a woman gives birth to – is falling.

If the number falls below approximately 2.1, then the size of the population starts to fall.

In 1950, women were having an average of 4.7 children in their lifetime.

Researchers at the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation showed the global fertility rate nearly halved to 2.4 in 2017 – and their study, published in the Lancet, projects it will fall below 1.7 by 2100.

Graph of number of children women have

As a result, the researchers expect the number of people on the planet to peak at 9.7 billion around 2064, before falling down to 8.8 billion by the end of the century.

“That’s a pretty big thing; most of the world is transitioning into natural population decline,” researcher Prof Christopher Murray told the BBC.

“I think it’s incredibly hard to think this through and recognise how big a thing this is; it’s extraordinary, we’ll have to reorganise societies.”

Why are fertility rates falling?

It has nothing to do with sperm counts or the usual things that come to mind when discussing fertility.

Instead it is being driven by more women in education and work, as well as greater access to contraception, leading to women choosing to have fewer children.

In many ways, falling fertility rates are a success story.

Which countries will be most affected?

Japan’s population is projected to fall from a peak of 128 million in 2017 to less than 53 million by the end of the century.

Italy is expected to see an equally dramatic population crash from 61 million to 28 million over the same timeframe.

They are two of 23 countries – which also include Spain, Portugal, Thailand and South Korea – expected to see their population more than halve.

“That is jaw-dropping,” Prof Christopher Murray told me.

China, currently the most populous nation in the world, is expected to peak at 1.4 billion in four years’ time before nearly halving to 732 million by 2100. India will take its place.

The UK is predicted to peak at 75 million in 2063, and fall to 71 million by 2100.

Graph of population sizesImage copyrightBBC SPORT

However, this will be a truly global issue, with 183 out of 195 countries having a fertility rate below the replacement level.

Why is this a problem?

You might think this is great for the environment. A smaller population would reduce carbon emissions as well as deforestation for farmland.

“That would be true except for the inverted age structure (more old people than young people) and all the uniformly negative consequences of an inverted age structure,” says Prof Murray.

The study projects:

  • The number of under-fives will fall from 681 million in 2017 to 401 million in 2100.
  • The number of over 80-year-olds will soar from 141 million in 2017 to 866 million in 2100.

Prof Murray adds: “It will create enormous social change. It makes me worried because I have an eight-year-old daughter and I wonder what the world will be like.”

Who pays tax in a massively aged world? Who pays for healthcare for the elderly? Who looks after the elderly? Will people still be able to retire from work?

“We need a soft landing,” argues Prof Murray.

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