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Birth Rates Drop to Historic Lows

We’re in the midst of a worldwide baby bust.

The Centers for Disease Control’s National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) released a new report showing an alarming decline in birth rates in the US and globally. For America, the fertility rate dropped by 3% from 2022, a historic low, according to the organization. Worse, this is the second year in a row of decline with no obvious solution in the near future.

Birth Rates Dropping

“By 2050, over three-quarters (155 of 204) of countries will not have high enough fertility rates to sustain population size over time; this will increase to 97% of countries (198 of 204) by 2100,” the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) predicted.

The NCHS report showed that, in 2023, birth rates for women aged 20-24 years old declined by 4% from the previous year, a record low, and the rate for women 25-29 was down by 3%. Why is this such a concern when it seems that the world is already overpopulated? “This ‘demographically divided world’ will have enormous consequences for economies and societies,” according to a study by The Lancet.

As IHME pointed out, the low birth rates will bring huge challenges to economic growth in middle and high-income countries as the workforce dwindles and the burden on health and social security for the aging population grows. Dr. Natalia V. Bhattacharjee, a lead research scientist from IHME and co-lead author on this study, explained:

“The implications are immense. These future trends in fertility rates and livebirths will completely reconfigure the global economy and the international balance of power and will necessitate reorganising societies. Global recognition of the challenges around migration and global aid networks are going to be all the more critical when there is fierce competition for migrants to sustain economic growth and as sub-Saharan Africa’s baby boom continues apace.”

What factors are causing the decline in birth rates? Science Direct published a study that described several reasons. Among the top were lack of education regarding birth control methods and the ability to obtain them. Graying of the population is another concern because of “increased proportion of elderly people as a result of decreasing birth and death rates.” Increasing life expectancy means families are not having several children to ensure survival. “Government policy promoting fertility control as a health measure,” is another reason.

There are also other things to consider. Many of today’s females are career oriented, and that makes it difficult to pause to start a family. Women are waiting longer to have children, and sometimes, by the time they are ready, their goals have changed, The Conversation pointed out. In the mid-20th century in the US, there was a baby boom, but today we are in more of a baby bust. “[D]uring the Great Recession, from 2007-2009, birth rates declined sharply – and they’ve kept falling,” The Conversation reported. “In 2007, average birth rates were right around 2 children per woman. By 2021, levels had dropped more than 20% to the lowest level in a century.”

Senior author Emil Vollset from IHME said: “We are facing staggering social change through the 21st century.” He continued:

“The world will be simultaneously tackling a ‘baby boom’ in some countries and a ‘baby bust’ in the others. As most of the world contends with the serious challenges to the economic growth of a shrinking workforce and how to care for and pay for aging populations, many of the most resource-limited countries in sub-Saharan Africa will be grappling with how to support the youngest, fastest-growing population on the planet in some of the most politically and economically unstable, heat-stressed, and health system-strained places on earth.”

Countries need to have a total fertility rate (TFR) of 2.1 children per female to sustain long-term generational replacement of the population, IHME said. But, the global TFR has more than halved over the past 50 years from “around five children for each female in 1950 to 2.2 children in 2021 – with over half of all countries and territories (110 of 204) below the population replacement level.” South Korea and Serbia have birth rates less than 1.1 child for each female, while countries in sub-Saharan Africa see nearly twice the global average at four children per female in 2021. “In Chad, the TFR of seven births is the highest in the world.”

An aging population, cost of living, women waiting longer to start families – these are some of the reasons for the decline in birth rates in the US and globally. The question is, how to fix it? Or, given societal life now, is it even possible to reverse this trend?

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