By Anders Lorenzen
New research shows that globally the number of children born is declining drastically, and is at an all-time low.
The report which was published in the medical journal the Lancet looked at trends from 1950 to 2017 in all countries. It detailed that in 1950 on average, a woman gave birth to 4.7 children during her lifetime. Come 2017 the fertility rate had fallen to just above 2.4 children. This also means that the net reproduction rate (NRR) has dropped significantly. NRR is the average number of daughters born to a female (or a group of females) during a lifetime which conformed to the age-specific fertility and mortality rates of a given year.
It is argued that in order to not further increase the global population, on average women should give birth to not more than two children.
However, the report noted that across the world there’s a huge variation in fertility rates. For instance, the fertility rate in Niger in West Africa is 7.1, but in the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, women are having one child on average.
The report findings mean that on a global average the world is close to the day when the population starts to shrink, which would happen when the fertility rate reaches 2.1. In 1950 no countries on Earth had a fertility rate lower than 2.1. But today as detailed above, several countries, mainly in Western Europe, manage that. And the countries where the fertility rate is above 2.1 are mainly countries that are still perceived to be developing. As more and more countries become wealthier, and women are better educated and have access to birth control that number is expected to decrease further.
These findings, if backed up by other research, are crucial and show that the world is finally starting to curb global population growth. However, the population will still continue to grow, as many of those children will probably have children, and medical advances will mean that people live longer. This means we are entering a world where the older generation will be a significantly larger proportion of the population.
The Swedish statistician, Professor Hans Rosling died last year. He was known for his positive vision of global population growth. He argued countless times that the world is already dealing with overpopulation and that fertility rates are in decline in every single country on Earth. Many were sceptical about his theory and findings, but this research backs up and supports his idea.
Some people might be worried about the thought that population numbers are in decline with its impact on the economy, and with an increase in an ageing population. However, there could be net positive impacts such as making a case for immigration, and more jobs in a society where most jobs are becoming automated.
But fundamentally the highest benefit is to the environment because in a less populous world fewer resources such as food, water and energy are needed. And eventually stopping population growth will also mean controlling emissions. Many also believe that while there are many things we can do to tackle climate change the single biggest thing is not to have children. Some environmentalists are pledging not to have children due to environmental concerns.