Fertility Rates are Decreasing in Some Unexpected Countries

I write about this every now and then, because human fertility is falling faster then most demographers expect.  Using the CIA Factbook for data, the present total fertility rate for the world is 2.47 births per woman that survives childbearing.  Last year it was 2.50, and in 2006 it was 2.90.  2.10 is replacement rate.  At the current trend, the world will be at replacement rate in 2022.  That’s a lot earlier than most expect, and it makes me suggest that global population will top out at 8.5 Billion in 2030, lower and earlier than most expect.

Have a look at the Total Fertility Rate by group:

The largest nations for each cell are listed below the graph.  Note Asian nations to the left, and African nations to the right.

Africa is so small, that the high birth rates have little global impact.  Also, AIDS consumes their population, as do wars, malnutrition, etc.

The Arab world is also slowing in population growth.  When Saudi Arabia is near replacement rate at 2.26, you can tell that the women are gaining the upper hand there, which is notable given the polygamy is permitted.

In the Developed world, who leads in fertility?  Israel at 2.67.  Next is the US at 2.06, slightly below replacement.  We still grow from immigration.

Quoting from my prior piece, why is this happening?  There are many reasons why the total fertility rate is declining:

  • Educating females makes many of them want to have fewer kids, whether the reason is pain, effort, wanting to work outside the home, etc.
  • Contraception is more widely available.
  • The marriage rate is declining globally.  Willingness to have children is positively correlated with marriage.
  • Governments provide an illusion of support, commonly believed, that the government can support people in their old age, so people don’t have kids for old age support.

The rapidly slowing rate of childbearing will have global population peak in the early 2030s at a level in the lower 8 billions, unless there is some further change to attitudes on children that makes people have more or even fewer kids.

Some of those changes may come from:

  • governments looking to stem a shrinking population that is causing a future problem with their social welfare programs.  (Note: in general, whatever governments offer, people don’t have materially more kids. Once women are convinced that kids are more of a burden than an advantage, they do not easily shift from that view, even if that view is wrong.)
  • Various religious leaders realizing that the women are not with the program of growing their ranks, where contraception has become quietly common.  I am speaking mostly of Catholics and Muslims here.
  • Abortion, especially for sex selection reasons becomes more or less common.  Growth in future population depends heavily on the level of fertile women, and if they are being killed or not at birth in places like China, India, the satellite countries of the former Soviet Union, etc… fewer women means a lower growth rate, and unhappier societies 20+ years out.

As I close, I want to list a few nations that are below replacement rate, that would surprise some people:

  • Bahrain
  • Qatar
  • Lebanon
  • Azerbaijan
  • Georgia
  • Tunisia
  • North Korea
  • Uzbekistan
  • Iran
  • Brazil

And those the are close to replacement rate:

  • Turkey
  • Indonesia
  • UAE
  • Saudi Arabia (Wahabism is less strong than believed)
  • India
  • Mexico
  • Argentina

One last point, because the demographics profession has been slow to pick up on these shifts, if present trends continue, within 10 years, I believe you will see a scad of articles talking about the likely leveling off of global population and even future shrinkage of global population, and the effects thereof.  Always something to worry about…

By David Merkel, CFA of alephblog



About the Author

David Merkel
David J. Merkel, CFA, FSA — 2010-present, I am working on setting up my own equity asset management shop, tentatively called Aleph Investments. It is possible that I might do a joint venture with someone else if we can do more together than separately. From 2008-2010, I was the Chief Economist and Director of Research of Finacorp Securities. I did a many things for Finacorp, mainly research and analysis on a wide variety of fixed income and equity securities, and trading strategies. Until 2007, I was a senior investment analyst at Hovde Capital, responsible for analysis and valuation of investment opportunities for the FIP funds, particularly of companies in the insurance industry. I also managed the internal profit sharing and charitable endowment monies of the firm. From 2003-2007, I was a leading commentator at the investment website RealMoney.com. Back in 2003, after several years of correspondence, James Cramer invited me to write for the site, and I wrote for RealMoney on equity and bond portfolio management, macroeconomics, derivatives, quantitative strategies, insurance issues, corporate governance, etc. My specialty is looking at the interlinkages in the markets in order to understand individual markets better. I no longer contribute to RealMoney; I scaled it back because my work duties have gotten larger, and I began this blog to develop a distinct voice with a wider distribution. After three-plus year of operation, I believe I have achieved that. Prior to joining Hovde in 2003, I managed corporate bonds for Dwight Asset Management. In 1998, I joined the Mount Washington Investment Group as the Mortgage Bond and Asset Liability manager after working with Provident Mutual, AIG and Pacific Standard Life. My background as a life actuary has given me a different perspective on investing. How do you earn money without taking undue risk? How do you convey ideas about investing while showing a proper level of uncertainty on the likelihood of success? How do the various markets fit together, telling us us a broader story than any single piece? These are the themes that I will deal with in this blog. I hold bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Johns Hopkins University. In my spare time, I take care of our eight children with my wonderful wife Ruth.