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Why shrinking populations may be no bad thing

June 3, 2014 • Daily Email Recap

Why shrinking populations may be no bad thing


FATHER, mother and two children: surely the perfect family size. For those concerned, it is neither too big nor too small. For the national economy, it ensures that two new workers will replace the parents in the labour force. And eventually the children will have children of their own and keep the population stable.

For that happy state to be achieved, the “total fertility rate” (a measure used by demographers for the number of children a woman is likely to have during her childbearing years) needs to be above two: around 2.1 in the rich world and more in poorer countries, because some children, particularly in the developing world, die before adulthood. For many years the United Nations’ population forecasts-the gold standard in the demography business-have assumed that, in the long run, fertility the world over would converge on the replacement level and populations would stabilise. But fertility rates everywhere have been declining for decades. Even in Africa, where large families are still the norm, the number of children per woman in 2010-15 is forecast to fall to 4.7, compared with 5.7 in 1990-95. Global average fertility is already down to about 2.5.

In a growing number of countries the fertility rate has now fallen below replacement level (see map). In China it is around 1.5 (though official figures put it slightly higher) because of the one-child policy in force since the 1970s, which has also messed up the balance between boys and girls. For Europe as a whole it is 1.6, and well below that in several southern and eastern countries. In Japan fertility has been declining for decades, to 1.4 now, and the population is already shrinking. South Korea, at 1.3, has the lowest rate of any big country. Numbers are also slipping below replacement level in less wealthy South-East Asia. Quite soon half the world’s people will live in countries where the population is no longer reproducing itself.


Current World Population


Net Growth During Your Visit