Better global economies reduce fertility and family size


United Nations figures have projected world population to reach 8 billion by the year 2023. However, if fertility rates slow more quickly than projected, there could be 500,000,000 fewer people by that time. Based on a recent study by University of a Missouri anthropologist, economic changes have the greatest impact on reducing family size and may help us understand how to prepare for population changes.

Better circumstances mean fewer babies

“Improvement in economic development, such as higher educational attainment, increasing employment in the formal labor market, and the shift away from agriculture, seem to have a doubly-powerful effect because they not only raise individuals’ standards of living, but also correlate to declining fertility rates, according to the results of our study,” explained Mary Shenk, assistant professor of anthropology in MU’s college of Arts and Science. “Another important finding of our study was that intervention programs that made changes that really affected individuals achieved the best results. For example, although advertising campaigns encouraging lower fertility may reach a wider audience for less money, face-to-face intervention campaigns providing health services or access to contraception provide belter results and are thus a better use of resources.”

Theories for the smaller family

Researchers developed three possible explanations for the decline in fertility. First, they found that parents have fewer children if they believe those children will survive into adulthood. Second, the rising costs of children and higher payoffs to investing in self may reduce fertility as a market economy develops. Third, social perceptions of what is the appropriate number of children, what appropriate birth control, and even the value of children may be influencing shifts in family numbers.

A framework for future analysis

“Few studies have compared those three possible explanations for fertility declines to determine which had the strongest effect,” noted Shenk. “Population growth rates have fallen globally, starting in 18th century Western Europe, but the exact cause was intensely debated because there are so many different explanations in the literature. Our study created a framework by which different explanations could be explicitly compared. Population data from any region could be analyzed using these methods to help researchers, government officials, health workers and others understand the key drivers of demographic change in that region.”

Source: MedicalNewsToday, UM-Columbia


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