Low Fertility in Populations: Definitions & Explanations

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  • 0:00 High Income, Low Fertility
  • 0:50 Reasons for Low Fertility
  • 2:21 Benefits
  • 3:03 Population Collapse
  • 4:26 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught middle and high school history, and has a master's degree in Islamic law.

The world is growing faster than ever with respect to population. Yet, much of that growth is coming from the poorest parts of the world. In this lesson, we'll look at the reasons for a decline in fertility, as well as the benefits and consequences of it continuing into the future.

High Income, Low Fertility

All over the world, populations are growing faster than ever. In the past 20 years, more than a billion people have been added to the net global population. That means well over 7 billion people call our world home. Yet that growth is not equally distributed.

Fertility rates are a measure of how many children a woman will have in her lifetime. If you were to look at a graph of where fertility rates were the highest, you'd notice that many of those countries tend to be poorer. For example, of countries that have more than five children per woman, all but two are in Africa, and the odd countries out are Afghanistan and Timor-Leste, two poor states in Asia. Meanwhile, wealthy countries have a much lower rate, even well below average. Some countries are not even replacing their current populations.

Reasons for Low Fertility

There are actually quite a few reasons for this. Foremost, more money typically means better access to health care. For example, the level of health care available to a woman in Singapore is much better than it is to her counterpart in Niger. A woman in Niger has almost seven children on average, while an average Singaporean has fewer than one child. Crucial to that access to health care is access to birth control.

Birth control isn't the only reason for this disparity in fertility, however. Many of these developing countries still have societies that rely on large families in order to main economic stability. Fathers in Niger or South Sudan don't have 401Ks, but they may have multiple sons. Therefore, there is an incentive to have more children.

Unfortunately, newborn babies and children are still vulnerable to many diseases and these are only more apparent in the developing world. While losing a child is an inconceivable tragedy on an emotional level, there is a severe economic loss to these families as well. As a result, when it happens, they try to have more children.

Another reason for the disparity in population rates is that women from richer countries delay having children, which either limits the total number they can have or results in not having them at all. In the developed world, there are many avenues open to women that are socially acceptable other than the role of mother. Even for women who do opt to have children, waiting means that they are able to pursue other personal goals, such as higher education and a career.

Benefits of Living in a Low-Fertility Country

In fact, many of the goals of these women in low-fertility countries factor into a much better life for the child in question. While money isn't everything, an increasing number of studies link childhood poverty with future well-being. By advancing in education and careers, future mothers greatly lessen the likelihood of their children facing poverty. These mothers are also generally able to provide better educational opportunities for their children. As a large enough group of women does this, society gains not only from the increased economic output of the women, but also from the increased output of the next generation.

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