One of the most threatening and least talked about issues that our world faces today is declining fertility rates. Most of the world is now experiencing a phenomenon known as the 2.1 problem, where societies fail to sustain themselves through reproduction. 2.1 is the number of children per woman needed to replace any population. When the total fertility rate (TFR) is greater than 2.1, the population grows with every generation; when TFR is lower than 2.1, the population shrinks. For the first time in recent history, much of the world has shrinking populations. Latin America has a TFR of 2.0, East Asia has 1.8, North America has 1.7 and Europe has 1.6. Many individual countries have dire TFRs, such as the Republic of Korea, which is currently halving its population with each generation. The fact is that much of the world is losing people at an alarmingly high rate. If we do not act to change this course, our failure to procreate will lead us to a desolate planet.
Global fertility rates have been crashing in the past fifty years. In the early 1960s, the world’s birth rate was hovering above 5 children per woman. Since then, we have seen a rapid decline leading to the present-day levels of half of what the used to be. There are several reasons for this drop off including increasing child-care costs, education costs, housing and living costs, education opportunities, wealth, and poor gender relations. Additionally, the sexual revolution and the popularizing of a culture of sexual autonomy promote and propel this decline. This decrease coincides with declining marriage rates, increasing divorce rates, increasing contraception usage, increasing rates of abortion, and increasing STD infections.
The 2.1 problem is not an issue that has snuck up on us, it is being supported by our laws and culture.
The historically low birth rates have a devastating effect on our world. There are a number of journalists and advocacy groups who are excited by this phenomenon and call for even smaller families. Their arguments will be addressed in my next blog; in the meantime, it is important to remember that we need people. From a purely national perspective, low birth rates lead to high pressure on national economies, as there are fewer workers and taxpayers. A damaged birth rate sequentially hurts the workforce, pension programs, health care, welfare programs and the like. Fewer people lead to a weaker national defense, more sparsely populated areas with greater pressure on infrastructure, and a smaller and weaker economy and marketplace.
It is also worth noting that every great innovation, life changing idea, solution to a problem, act of heroism, demonstration of kindness, and expression of charity in the history of mankind has been achieved by humans. Having more humans leads to having more of the best aspects of life and thus creates a happier world.
So, what can we do to combat this disastrous trend and refill the world? Several countries are experimenting with laws and policies to re-incentivize families and births. Different forms of paid family leave are becoming popular, especially in infertile European countries. Governments are paying for months, and even years, of family assistance by protecting parent’s jobs, guaranteeing salary payments to workers who take time to raise their children, offering free childcare services, providing education discounts, and other various subsidies. Most countries are working to boost their economies as much as possible and provide financial stability so that parents are more comfortable settling down. Other countries have more creative solutions.
Hungary, which has one of the worst TFRs in Europe, has eliminated income tax for women who have three or more children: the idea being to help women get ahead later in life if they choose to have a family. In Denmark, private companies are encouraging procreation by offering to pay for vacations and diapers as part of their “Do it for Denmark” campaign. These various policies have managed to bring about a slight uptick in birth rates for their respective countries. Time will tell how effective they are in the long term. Thus, there are numerous policies attempting to incentivize life; however, the efforts are not currently as strong as they could be.
As beneficial as family policies are, they are currently not enough to reverse the sterile society. History has shown that laws, such as the One-child-policy in China, as well as cultural shifts can bring the birth rate down significantly. We have yet to find profound ways to bring it back up.
Our society needs a changing of culture. We need to develop a world where families are supported, and life is cherished. We must continue to design and implement policies that will guide our needed values. The great task is now to change the way cultures views families and existence, otherwise these institutions will continue to become endangered.