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Posted by on Apr 7, 2015 in Budget, Business, Economy, Education, Family, Featured, Finance, Government, Immigration, Politics, Religion, Women | 16 comments

The Implications of Low Fertility Rates for Developed Nations


Advanced industrialized societies are slowly dying because of low fertility rates. The rates reflect the perceptions of women in these societies of how their lifestyles will be affected by having children.

Fertility rates drop temporarily in times of economic hardships, wars or famines, but the current decreases in the industrialized nations have been consistent. At present, essentially no advanced society has women bearing children at the necessary replacement rate of 2.1 percent. Of course, with some women having one or no children, others must have three or more in order to maintain the population level.

European nations are far below the replacement rates and the population of these countries is actually dropping. In all of Europe in 2014, the fertility rate was estimated to be 1.55, with individual states slightly above or below. And these low fertility rates in developed nations in Asia were similar to those in Europe.

The United States fertility rate was only 2.01 in 2014, but immigration elevated the nation’s population growth. Hispanic and Asian immigrants in the U.S. also have a higher fertility rate for several generations than the native-born population. Though the majority of the United States will be non-white by 2040 (or earlier), this is due to a combination of minority immigration and high birth rates for these groups, along with depressed Caucasian fertility rates.

Multiple factors have interacted to lower fertility rates in the developed nations. A major one, of course, was the advent of effective and easy birth control methods for women. The use of these techniques disconnected sex from reproduction for women, allowing them to engage in sexual activity without worries about pregnancy. At present, higher fertility rates exist among less educated women who may be unaware of the birth control methods available, or neglect to take proper precautions. Many pregnancies also occur in teenagers who are unfamiliar with the options for birth control or disregard their use in early sexual experiences.

The accessibility of abortions in industrialized countries also contributes to reduced fertility rates. Unwanted pregnancies only occur for religious reasons, ignorance, or lack of a physician or finances. Sex education in the schools, on television, and the Internet also lowers unwanted pregnancies. When sexual experimentation starts, young people have usually learned about birth control methods.

The most important factor in lower fertility rates in developed nations is probably the increase in educated women who want to pursue careers and demand more stimulation in their lives than merely raising children. While educated women may be willing to take off a few months or even a few years to be with a young child, they may not wish to devote their entire lives to their children, wasting advanced degrees or special skills.

Women are also marrying later in life than a century ago. The years of education and starting careers necessitates marriage when a woman is older (if she marries at all). However, unmarried women may also have children or may choose to remain childless when they are single. They no longer require men to support them and may not be able to find men they consider their equals to marry and with whom to raise a family. Being single and earning decent livings, women can have comfortable and fulfilling lives, with or without children.

Given the current status of women, do they have an obligation to have children to perpetuate society? Many men and women will reply that their only obligation is to themselves, to maximize their own happiness and pleasure while they are alive. And some will say that to be happy, they need careers outside their homes.

During recent decades, Christianity has been fading in Europe. With the population increasingly secular, it reduces the need to have children for religious reasons. Indeed, many people see fewer or no children as a boon to the environment as fewer resources will be expended with a smaller population.

With fertility rates in industrialized nations decreasing, fewer workers will be available to pay into the social security systems, and with less financial backing, the safety nets may falter. The economies of these states may be progressively impaired, as both production and consumption of goods will be diminished. States may also lose their stature and position in the world as their economies are impacted and their military forces shrink and become outmoded. The scenarios described are not on the distant horizon, but will be seen in the next generation or two.

Within advanced nations, immigrants have the highest fertility rates. Immigrants can help support the safety nets for the older Caucasian workers, will be the main producers of goods and services, and will also be avid consumers. Their increasing presence, however, means that centuries’ old traditions in Europe may have to be altered. Christian culture will be supplanted by Islam; or at least some sort of melding of the two will be necessary. This transition will not be easy as there are many native Europeans who have been extremely resistant to the cultural changes thus far wrought by the immigrants. And in America, more Hispanic and Asian concepts will enter the mainstream and be accepted as part of the culture.

It is also possible that governments will come to realize the damage their societies will suffer if there is a sustained drop in their populations because of low fertility rates. If that awareness occurs, actions may be taken to reverse the decrease in population by attempting to enhance women’s desire for children. Through advertising, having children could be made to seem glamorous, patriotic, good for society, and fun for mothers and families. Private corporations could do their part by granting long maternity leaves and holding open positions for women who were caring for children. In addition, financial problems associated with having children could be alleviated by governments bestowing significant stipends for each child a woman had. Free day care could be provided and free tuition at all universities and technical schools could be guaranteed when the children were older.

Developed nations must do whatever is necessary to maintain or increase their population bases. At the moment, fertility rates suggest that having children is a burden many women do not relish, settling for one or no offspring. This viewpoint needs to be changed if advanced industrialized societies are to survive and prosper.

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  • Markus

    Dr. Levine:
    “…in America, more Hispanic and Asian concepts will enter the mainstream…”
    so what? In my experience Mexicans and Asians place very high values on family and hard work. I find it hard to see this as a bad thing.
    Additionally, I find it hard to be too concerned about the racial purity of European nations. When I watch the World Cup, I do notice that some guys wearing European nations’ jerseys have more melanin than past team members, but they play well. London is full of people who arrived long after the battle of Hastings, Paris is full of people whose ancestors did not serve Pepin the Short, and Berlin has lots of Turkish folks. All of those cities are vibrant and humming with productive activity.

    • Slamfu

      Agreed, sounds just like life to me. Many great nations throughout history have gone through dominant phases, and as great nations they naturally attracted groups of people from other nations to emigrate to them or at the very least trade and do business with. And while these nations were doing so, they remained vibrant and flourished.

      Of course the next chapter is when the nation got so big and powerful that they decided the rest of the world was something they needed to keep out in order to preserve their, whatever. It is usually at this point that they start declining. It’s so consistent that I think trade and open borders and new ideas are a vital and necessary component to great nations. When they stop innovating, stop listening to new ideas, this is when they stop growing and other nations overtake them.

      Long story short, I think not only is it not a bad thing, its a very good and vital thing. Beside in the interest of karmic fairness, lord knows we’ve exported a lot of our culture and ideas to the rest of the world. I wouldn’t be surprised in fact if some of our ideas that went out come back to us via immigrants.

  • Greg

    “Developed nations must do whatever is necessary to maintain or increase their population bases.” Why? Simon says, ‘take a giant step back’. Read two essays by Aldo Leopold; ‘The Conservation Aesthetic’ and ‘The Land Ethic’. Then consider the matter in a broader context. A more meaningful question is whether the rate of increase in the world population has reached an inflection point and slowed. Bad long term economic data may be very good quality of life data, unless of course humankind seizes the opportunity to pounce on nations whose militaries have eroded because they weren’t sufficiently prolific breeders.

  • I don’t see how a reduced birth rate and decreasing population is a bad thing. We are at a point where available resources are decreasing the growth we have experienced is a thing of the past. Thanks largely to automation there are not enough jobs for people who want or need them. The EROI for energy is decreasing and energy is the real currency – less energy equals less growth. A reduction of growth must be accompanied by a reduction in population.

  • The_Ohioan

    I guess it depends on where you look. This study claims that as women’s status (and pay scales) rise, men are more willing to take on child rearing activities – leading to increased fertility rates.

    Immigration policies of a country can alleviate any problems caused by a low fertility rate. They can not only enrich a country’s social life and stabilize the social contracts of caring for elderly and disabled citizens, they can create innovation by their willingness to try and to accept new ideas.

    Any country that has solid and progressive civil rights in place has nothing to fear from either religious or ethnic influence coming from immigrants. Those that don’t may be overcome by strife.

    Nativism is passé.

  • hmmmm? i have a question; Is there anyway to tell if the rates are due to sociological factors as suggested above, or could women’s ability to conceive and bear children due to environmental assaults that effect conception?

    I wonder if there is any connection with this post that comes from Europe?
    Alarm Over Sudden Drop in Female Life Expectancy?

    • The_Ohioan

      Yes, the baby boomers lived more fast and furious than any generation since the flappers of the 1920’s. The piece mentions smoking and drinking, but drugs played a huge part in that generation’s social activities and may be an additional or even greater source of falling age of death rates.

      • TO i also wonder about the effects of environmental and agricultural chemical combinations on women’s bodies..many of those can cause hormonal and immune kinds of issues that also shorten the life span of women…

    • Slamfu

      No, it is almost entirely a factor of economic levels. Poor = more kids, Rich = less kids. Really simple. As far as this idea we need to keep growing the population, I’m not really on board with that. The growth rates in human population over the last 300 years vs the previous 3000 is kinda scary if we don’t do something about it soon. I for one find it comforting that one of the most effective ways to reduce overpopulation appears to be raising quality of life rather than China-esque policies and forced sterilization. Says to me we need to work on getting the rest of the world developed and into the modern age in order to manage our resources.

      • Respectfully disagree that it is “entirely a factor of economic levels”…. so much more complex that one factor…

        • Slamfu

          I’m confused, why? There are mountains of data correlating levels of wealth with birth rates not only in this country but around the world. That link you had seemed to be an article about lowering life expectencies for women.

          Also, there is a distinction between can’t have kids, which would be a factor in any environmental issues, and just aren’t having kids as a matter of choice. Choice in wealthier economic statas seems to be the driving force behind lower birth rates, not inability to do so.

        • One in six couples have a difficult time conceiving, it can be due to both male and female factors…

          Infertility has increased 4 % since 1980…

          From wiki… factors that influence male infertility:

          Factors that can cause male as well as female infertility are:

          DNA damage

          DNA damage reduces fertility in female ovocytes, as caused by smoking,[13] other xenobiotic DNA damaging agents (such as radiation or chemotherapy)[14] or accumulation of the oxidative DNA damage 8-hydroxy-deoxyguanosine[15]

          DNA damage reduces fertility in male sperm, as caused by oxidative DNA damage,[16] smoking,[13] other xenobiotic DNA damaging agents (such as drugs or chemotherapy)[17] or other DNA damaging agents including reactive oxygen species, fever or high testicular temperature[18]

          Genetic factors

          A Robertsonian translocation in either partner may cause recurrent spontaneous abortions or complete infertility.

          General factors

          Diabetes mellitus, thyroid disorders, adrenal disease

          Hypothalamic-pituitary factors



          The presence of anti-thyroid antibodies is associated with an increased risk of unexplained subfertility with an odds ratio of 1.5 and 95% confidence interval of 1.1–2.0.[19]

          Environmental factors

          Toxins such as glues, volatile organic solvents or silicones, physical agents, chemical dusts, and pesticides.[20][21] Tobacco smokers are 60% more likely to be infertile than non-smokers.[22]

          German scientists have reported that a virus called Adeno-associated virus might have a role in male infertility,[23] though it is otherwise not harmful.[24] Other diseases such as chlamydia, and gonorrhea can also cause infertility, due to internal scarring (Fallopian tube damage).[25][26][27]”


          Further information: Female infertility

          The following causes of infertility may only be found in females. For
          a woman to conceive, certain things have to happen: intercourse must
          take place around the time when an egg is released from her ovary; the
          system that produces eggs has to be working at optimum levels; and her
          hormones must be balanced.[28]

          For women, problems with fertilisation arise mainly from either structural problems in the Fallopian tube
          or uterus or problems releasing eggs. Infertility may be caused by
          blockage of the Fallopian tube due to malformations, infections such as chlamydia and/or scar tissue. For example, endometriosis
          can cause infertility with the growth of endometrial tissue in the
          Fallopian tubes and/or around the ovaries. Endometriosis is usually more
          common in women in their mid-twenties and older, especially when
          postponed childbirth has taken place.[29]

          Another major cause of infertility in women may be the inability to ovulate. Malformation of the eggs themselves may complicate conception. For example, polycystic ovarian syndrome
          is when the eggs only partially developed within the ovary and there is
          an excess of male hormones. Some women are infertile because their
          ovaries do not mature and release eggs. In this case synthetic FSH by
          injection or Clomid (Clomiphene citrate) via a pill can be given to
          stimulate follicles to mature in the ovaries.

          Other factors that can affect a woman’s chances of conceiving include being overweight or underweight,[30] or her age as female fertility declines after the age of 35.[31]

          Sometimes it can be a combination of factors, and sometimes a clear cause is never established.

          Common causes of infertility of females include:

          ovulation problems (e.g. polycystic ovarian syndrome, PCOS, the leading reason why women present to fertility clinics due to anovulatory infertility.[32])

          tubal blockage

          pelvic inflammatory disease caused by infections like tuberculosis

          age-related factors

          uterine problems

          previous tubal ligation


          advanced maternal age

          This is just a tiny sample of what can be found…

          It is not one factor…yes poverty is a factor, but there are many many other factors which could be part of a gestalt that causes any one women to be non fertile, some are her choice and others can well be environmental or disease factors that are increasing in women…

          • Slamfu

            If it’s environmental issues, how come some of the poorest, most polluted countries have high birth rates still? If it’s environmental they would be more susceptible to the effects and not less. And why would it affect the wealthy who have better access to medical treatment and generally live in a more healthy lifestyle, and not the poor who are more at risk statistically for anything? A 4% increase in infertility explains neither the actual reduction in births noticed, nor accounts for why the lower rates are found almost entirely among the upper income brackets.

  • archangel

    I’m stumbling on the word fertility. I would imagine most all women of a certain age are fertile. I think the word childbearing would be more accurate if one is talking about birthing babies.

  • JSpencer

    “Indeed, many people see fewer or no children as a boon to the environment as fewer resources will be expended with a smaller population.”

    Bingo. I am decidedly not on board with the pitch for increased procreation. If anything, it’s a phenomenon developed nations should export.

  • ShannonL

    The only real problem I see with using immigration to stabilize population is the cultural differences between western europe and conservative Islam. Moderate muslims integrate quite well. The US doesnt have that problem at all.
    I am guessing the europe will continue to integrate more immigrants from India and China than anywhere else in the world as those people integrate very welll into european society.

    Interestingly, the solutions the author suggests are already in place in Germany and (i dont know the exact numbers) have not been very effective. Germany still has a negative birth/death rate.

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