Supply-Demand Models of Fertility

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  • 0:00 Supply and Demand
  • 0:59 Reasons for High Fertility
  • 3:33 Reasons for Low Fertility
  • 6:04 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

How many children should a couple have? There are many factors that influence this, and one theory explains this through the model of supply and demand. Explore this idea, and test your understanding with a brief quiz.

Supply and Demand

In economics, there is a theory called supply and demand. The idea is that the value of a product is determined by the balance of its availability and how badly people want it. Now, according to some researchers, this theory of economics can be applied to human fertility. Okay, so how's that supposed to work? What, are we calculating a potential supply of babies? And, then I suppose we just compare that to the demand for offspring?

Actually, yeah. That's exactly right. In the supply-demand model of fertility, fertility rates are assumed to represent a balance between the possible number of children a couple can have and the desired number of children. So, having kids is a choice, and the decision is based on these two factors: how many kids can you have and how many you want.

Reasons for High Fertility

Okay, so how does this actually work? Well, let's take a look at a few societies with different fertility rates, and we'll see. Although this model can be applied to individual people, right now we're going to focus on it as it applies to an entire culture.

And, here we are. Welcome to Studyland, a beautiful, fictitious cyber-community of beautiful cyber-people. Studyland has a very high fertility rate, so let's look at supply and demand factors.

The people here are very healthy once they reach adulthood and get married very early in life, which gives them the maximum potential number of offspring. On top of that, this is an agricultural society, so having a large family does not cost much extra, but having those extra hands to help with the farm is very nice. So, there is a lot of social pressure to have a large family.

Alright, let's recap. People marry young and have more chances to have children, so supply is high. At the same time, social pressures encourage large families, so demand is high! What's the result? This society has a very high fertility rate. The high supply and high demand give couples freedom to decide exactly when they want to have more kids, since they're not concerned about never having enough.

How about another example of a high-fertility society? This over here is Studyburg, the fictitious, virtual neighbor to Studyland. In Studyburg, most people between 15 and 30 emigrate to find work somewhere else, so all of the people still here are over 30. This means that they have physically less time to reproduce and fewer chances to have a child, so supply is low.

However, this is also an agricultural society, but their children emigrate at age 15, and on top of that, this area doesn't have great healthcare, so infant mortality is high. The risk of losing children means that couples must try to have even more offspring to compensate, so demand is high, really high actually.

Since supply is low but demand is high, this society will do pretty much anything to maintain as high a fertility rate as possible, so things like birth control are not only unpopular but possibly even illegal.

Reasons for Low Fertility

Let's take a trip to the other side of the map, and check out a town with low fertility. Welcome to Studyopolis. Now, in some ways, this society looks familiar. Just look at all of these young couples. People here get married young, again meaning that they have more chances to reproduce, so supply is high. However, there aren't a lot of children in this society. This is an industrialized society, not an agricultural one, and there are different social pressures. Having large families does not increase your economic success. In fact, just the opposite.

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