The fertility rate is the number of children born for every woman of child-bearing age in a population. The things that tend to affect it include female empowerment, wellbeing and the status of children, technological and economic changes, and opportunities for family planning.
The level of education in a society – of women in particular – is one of the most important predictors for the number of children families have.
The global average fertility rate is just below 2.5 children per woman today. Over the last 50 years the global fertility rate has halved, as some of these factors bore down on family sizes.
In the pre-modern era, fertility rates of 4.5 to 7 children per woman were common. At that time, high mortality rates of young people kept population growth low. As health improved, the population growth rate began to soar, only flattening out as the fertility rate declined towards 2 children per woman. A record number of women now use contraception. Figures from the UN’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs show 64% of married and cohabiting women used modern or traditional methods of contraception in 2015 – a significant rise from 36% in 1970. But the figures show wide disparities between and within regions and countries.
Africa has the lowest percentage of women using contraceptives, and the highest unmet need in the world. Despite this, some African countries have made the biggest leaps in contraception use over the past 40 years and are projected to make the greatest gains in the next 15.
In Mauritius, rapid population growth in the early 60s led the government to launch a family planning programme, and the country now boasts the highest rates (75.5%) on the continent.
The decline in Bangladesh’s fertility rate is a significant achievement in a densely populated, predominantly Muslim nation. In 1975, the average family size was 6.3 children; by 2017, this had come down to just over two.
An indication of this is that in 2004 stunting levels (impaired growth and brain development) in the population were as high as 51%. Over the last 10 years this has dropped to 36%, though this still means more than one-third of under-fives are stunted.
Where women have control over their own fertility, there are gains well beyond their own families. The bigger picture is that with increased gender parity, women’s education and employment opportunities have improved and so have many health and economic indicators.
If birthrates have fallen so far, why is the population still rising fast?
Of course, fertility rates are just half the story. People are living longer – far longer in some parts of the world. About 55m people die every year, which is less than half the number who are born.
The number of children who die before reaching their fifth birthday has fallen to an all-time low: it is currently less than half what it was in 1990.
A child’s chance of survival is still vastly different depending on where they are born.
Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest under-five mortality rate – 79 deaths for every 1,000 births, which means that one child in 13 die before their fifth birthday. This compares with six for every 1,000 in Europe and northern America and four for every 1,000 in Australia and New Zealand.
At the same time, life expectancy is higher than 80 in 30 countries and higher than 70 in more than 100 countries.
This year, the number of people worldwide who are over 60 will rise above 1 billion for the first time. By 2050, it is forecast to be 2 billion. This raises the question: who will pay for them?
Falling birth rates can mean fewer young workers entering the labour force at a time when the healthcare and social support costs associated with ageing are likely to rise.
But ageing populations can be a cause for celebration. It means development has taken place. In Japan, for example, the introduction of universal health coverage meant more treatment for high blood pressure, and therefore fewer strokes. Many more mature members of society have not just greater life expectancy but also be healthier for longer.
Taken from here