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Very Low Fertility Rates: Policies & Solutions

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  • 0:00 Fertility Rates
  • 1:02 Causes of Low Fertility
  • 3:23 Policies and Solutions
  • 5:26 Lesson Summary
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Instructor: Christopher Muscato

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

In this lesson, explore the issue that many modern nations are facing of low fertility rates. Discover the causes of this as well as possible solutions, and test your understanding with a brief quiz.

Fertility Rates

The world population is hovering at right around seven billion people. That's a lot of people! So, it may come as some surprise to find out that one of the biggest concerns facing many nations is a population that's growing too slowly. Every nation measures fertility rates, or the rates of new births per year. It's important to know where your population is headed. But despite the ever-increasing world population, a lot of areas have found that they have some of the lowest fertility rates in centuries. That's weird, right?

The world population goes up, but countries are worried because the rates of new births are at all-time lows. This is an interesting problem, and one that has only really begun being observed in the last decade or so. So what's this mean for our future, why is this happening and how to we change it? Well, let's take a look and find out.

Causes of Low Fertility

There are many things that can cause a decrease in fertility, like very unhealthy populations or periods of famine or disease. But, considering how modern areas with low fertility have some of the healthiest populations, that's not what's going on here. In the early 20th Century, an American researcher named Warren Thompson observed that fertility and mortality changed as nations developed industrial technology. We call this the demographics transition theory. Basically, the idea is that as nations industrialize, fertility increases and mortality decreases so populations grow. However, once a nation is fully industrialized, fertility decreases and populations stabilize.

Why the change? Well, as nations industrialize, they develop better healthcare, which reduces mortality, and have generally healthier populations, increasing fertility. But why does that stop once nations are fully industrialized? Well, cultural values tend to change. For one, the low rates of infant mortality mean that there is less pressure to have a large family. This is well-documented, and we call the period when fertility rates decline due to lower infant mortality a demographic dividend.

But there are other social changes too: women tend to have more freedom and economic opportunities, people get married later in life, often after starting a career and there is more social pressure to have smaller families. Plus, birth control becomes more available and more effective, so pregnancies are easier to prevent, and high costs of living can make large families unappealing. Together, all of these reduce the rates of fertility. People just start having fewer children, if any at all. Theoretically, this should balance out, with each couple having a few children to sustain the population. But that's not what we're seeing. Fertility rates in many areas just keep going down, reaching an average of less than one child per couple in places like China.

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