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.