The Washington Post reported earlier this week on new research suggesting that for some highly developed countries, there has been a documented rise in fertility. This trend is surprising after decades of declining births to women in developed countries.
The Post reports:
Now, however, new research has produced the first glimmer of hope that economic prosperity may not be linked to an inexorable decline in fertility. The new analysis has found that in many countries, once a nation achieves an especially high level of development, women appear to start having more babies again.
“This is something like a light at the end of the tunnel for some of these countries whose populations were on the path to decline,” said Hans-Peter Kohler, a professor of sociology at the University of Pennsylvania who helped conduct the research. “We project a more optimistic future where fertility will go up, which reduces fears of rapid population decline and rapid aging.”
“…There was a consensus that as countries develop, become richer and provide more education, that fertility would know only one trend — and that trend was downward,” Kohler said. “This raises a broad range of concerns. Systems such as pension systems would not be sustainable. A rapid decline in the labor force could result in an economic decline and a loss of competitiveness and perhaps a loss of innovation.”
About the study itself…
To explore whether economic development is necessarily linked to falling fertility, Kohler and his colleagues examined fertility trends between 1975 and 2005 in 37 of the most developed countries. They used a measure developed by the United Nations known as the human development index (HDI), which combines income data with other measures of advancement, such as longevity and education levels.
Fertility rates did tend to decline as a nation’s HDI rose, the analysis showed. But for 18 of 26 countries that crossed a certain threshold of development — an HDI of at least .9 — their fertility rates began to rise again.
“This basically shattered this notion that as countries develop, fertility would only decline,” Kohler said. “Quite to the contrary, in the very advanced societies, fertility may go up as countries get richer and more educated.”