Global fertility rates plummet: Implications for future populations

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Recent research reveals a stark decline in global fertility rates, with 76% of countries projected to fall below the population-sustaining threshold by 2050, prompting urgent calls for policy interventions to address demographic shifts.

Global fertility rates plummet: Implications for future populations | Image Credit: © annaperevozkina - © annaperevozkina - stock.adobe.com.

Global fertility rates plummet: Implications for future populations | Image Credit: © annaperevozkina - © annaperevozkina - stock.adobe.com.

Global fertility rates are dramatically declining, according to recent research published in The Lancet.

Takeaways

  1. The research indicates a significant global decline in fertility rates over the past decades, with projections suggesting a further decrease in the coming years.
  2. With 76% of countries expected to have fertility rates below the population-sustaining threshold by 2050, there are serious concerns about the sustainability of populations in these regions.
  3. Low fertility rates pose challenges to economic growth and strain health and social security systems, highlighting the need for policies to support parents and address these impacts.
  4. There's a notable shift in livebirth patterns from higher- to lower-income countries, emphasizing the importance of improving access to modern contraception and education in regions with high birth rates.
  5. The projected demographic divide between high-income and low-to-middle-income countries underscores the necessity for national governments to implement effective policies to manage population growth and decline.

Data was obtained from the Global Burden of Disease, Injuries, and Risk Factors Study and included past, current, and future national, regional, and global trends in fertility and livebirth. The total fertility rate (TFR) was calculated as the average number of children born to a female individual over a lifetime.

A TFR of 2.1 children per reproductive-capable individual is necessary for long-term population sustainment. According to researchers, 76% of countries will be below this level of fertility by 2050. This rate is expected to increase to 97% by 2100, indicating populations will likely shrink in these countries.

This data indicated struggles in economic growth and an increased burden on health and social security systems. Policies providing additional support to parents may reduce the impact of low fertility.

Additionally, the data indicated a significant shift in livebirth patterns from higher-to-lower income countries. Of babies born in 2021, 29% were born in sub-Saharan Africa, with this rate expected to rise to 54% by 2021. This indicated a need to improve modern contraception and female education access in these regions.

“We are facing staggering social change through the 21st century,” said Stein Emil Vollset, MD, MPH, DrPH, head of the Future Health Scenarios forecasting team at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME). “The world will be simultaneously tackling a ‘baby boom’ in some countries and a ‘baby bust’ in the others.”

In the past 70 years, the global TFR has decreased from approximately 5 children per female individual in 1950 to 2.2 children in 2021, indicating a reduction of over 50%. Additionally, over half of all countries had a TFR below the population replacement level of 2.1 in 2021.

Regions such as Serbia and South Korea have significantly reduced TFRs at under 1.1 child per female individual. In comparison, the TFR in certain sub-Saharan Africa is 4 children per female individual, which is nearly double the global average. The highest TFR of 7 births was reported in Chad.

In 2050, the global TFR is projected to be approximately 1.8, vs 1.6 in 2100. Only Somalia, Samoa, Niger, Chad, Tonga, and Tajikistan are expected to have TFRs above 2.1 by 2100. In Western Europe, the TFR is projected to fall to 1.44 in 2050 and 1.37 in 2100.

By 2100, 77% of livebirths are expected to be in low-and lower-middle-income countries. In regions such as South Africa, livebirth rates are projected to decrease from approximately 25% in 2021 to 17% in 2050 and 7% in 2100.

This demographic divide, “requires national governments to implement safe and beneficial policies to help support conditions that can increase birth rates in some regions and lower them in others,” said Austin E. Schumacher, PhD, acting assistant professor from IHME.

“Time is of the essence, as current efforts to manage population growth will likely only be felt after 2050,” Schumacher added.

Reference

The Lancet: Dramatic declines in global fertility rates set to transform global population patterns by 2100. IHME. March 20, 2024. Accessed March 21, 2024. https://www.healthdata.org/news-events/newsroom/news-releases/lancet-dramatic-declines-global-fertility-rates-set-transform#:~:text=By%202100%2C%2097%25%20of%20countries,to%20sustain%20their%20population%20size.&text=By%202050%2C%20over%20three%2Dquarters,198%20of%20204)%20by%202100

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