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Sub-replacement fertility is a total fertility rate (TFR) that is not high enough to replace an area's population. In developed countries sub-replacement fertility is below approximately 2.1 children per woman's life time, but the threshold could be as high as 3.3 in some developing countries because of higher mortality rates. Taken globally, the total fertility rate at replacement is 2.33 children per woman. 2.33 children per woman includes 2 children to replace the parents, with a third of a child extra to make up for the different sex ratio at birth and early mortality prior to the end of their fertile life.

Replacement level fertility in terms of the net reproduction rate (NRR) is exactly one, because unlike the total fertility rate, the NRR takes both mortality rates and sex ratios at birth into account.

Map of countries by fertility rate.
Because the replacement-level fertility rate varies from country to country, this map does not indicate replacement status.
Today about 42% of the world population lives in nations with sub-replacement fertility. Nonetheless most of these countries still have growing populations due to immigration and population momentum. This includes most nations of Europe, Canadamarker, Australia, Russiamarker, Iranmarker, Tunisiamarker, Chinamarker, Japan, and many others. The countries or areas that have the lowest fertility are Hong Kongmarker, Macaumarker, Singaporemarker, Taiwanmarker, Ukrainemarker and Lithuaniamarker. Only a few countries have severe enough or sustained sub-replacement fertility (combined with other population factors like emmigration) to have population decline, such as Russiamarker, Japan, Lithuaniamarker, and Ukrainemarker.


Graph of Total Fertility Rates vs. GDP per capita of the corresponding country, 2009.
Only countries with over 5 Million population were plotted to reduce outlyers.
Sources: CIA World Fact Book
There have been a number of explanations for the general decline in fertility rates in much of the world, and the true explanation is almost certainly a combination of different factors. The growth of wealth and human development are undoubtedly related to this phenomenon (see the Demographic-economic paradox).

The increase of urbanization around the world is considered by some a central cause. In recent times, residents of urban areas tend to have fewer children than people in rural areas. The need for extra labour from children on farms does not apply to urban-dwellers. Cities tend to have higher property prices, making a large family more expensive, especially in those societies where each child is now expected to have his own bedroom, rather than sharing with siblings as was the case until recently. In Mediterranean countries where parents will be expected to buy a house for their daughter when she gets married, there is a powerful financial disincentive to having more than one daughter. Rural areas also tend to be more conservative with less contraception and abortion than urban areas.

Changes in contraception are also an important cause, and one that has seen dramatic changes in the last few generations. Legalization, and widespread acceptance, of contraception in the developed world is a large factor in decreased fertility levels.

Growing female participation in the work force has led to many women delaying or deciding against having children, or to not have as many. A longer pursuit of education also delays marriages. Greater access to contraception and abortion, and greater proclivity of women to use them, also has reduced rates.

Other social changes both separate and related to feminism also have played a role. Bearing children is regarded as less of a social duty than it once was in many societies. Women's social status increasingly correlates with their work or behaviour as consumers rather than from their role as mothers. Indeed having a large family is often socially deprecated, being associated with lower status groups. A number of governments such as those of Chinamarker and Iranmarker have launched programs to reduce fertility rates and curb population growth. (See One-child policy in China and Family planning in Iran.)

Another possible cause cited by many pundits is a decrease in religiosity, or a shift to more liberal religious belief, which is one of the causes for sub-replacement fertility. Highly religious societies, or more religious people in a given society, tend to have higher birth rates than very secular societies or people. One extreme example is in Israelmarker, where secular Jews have birth rates slightly above replacement but ultra-Orthodox Haredim have birth rates rivaling those in the Sahel (and higher than their Palestinian neighbors). Other targets of blame are high costs of living and job insecurity which makes it difficult for young people to marry and start families. Both these factors (religiosity and cost of living) seem to help explain the difference between the fertility of American women versus their counterparts in Canadamarker, or in European countries such as Germanymarker, Italymarker, or Spainmarker.

Another school of thought argues that all these factors are a natural outgrowth of a Malthusian attempt to restore a population balance that was upset earlier. The revolution in hygiene and medicine that caused death rates to plummet during the twentieth century did not see a corresponding fall in birth rates until a couple of generations later. This period of low death rates and high birth rates thus caused human population to balloon at a rate never before seen in human history on such a wide scale. The Malthusians argue that modern low birth rates are a natural reaction to counteract this imbalance.

John Bongaarts and Griffith Feeney have suggested that a tempo effect is driving the decline of fertility in the developed world. When women postpone having children, the mean age of childbearing increases and the TFR falls - even though the total number of children borne by women over their lifecourse might not change. Taking tempo changes into account, adjusted birth rates for a number of European countries are higher than the conventional TFR.

Another, perhaps simpler explanation for falling fertility could be a reduction in the frequency of sex in populations with low birth rates. For example, according to a survey published by the Japanese Family Planning Association in March 2007, a record 39.7 per cent of Japanese citizens aged 16-49 had not had sex for more than a month. [71621]. The decline of male sperm counts in industrialised countries over the past forty years - one of the consequences of pollution - is also often cited as a possible cause.


Sub-replacement fertility do not immediately translate into a population decline because of population momentum: recently high fertility rates produce a disproportionately young population, and younger populations have higher birth rates. This is why some nations with sub-replacement fertility still have a growing population, because a relatively large fraction of their population are still of child-bearing age. But if the fertility trend is sustained and not compensated by immigration, it results in population ageing and population decline. This is forecast for most of the countries of Europe and East Asia, where immigration is low.

Current estimates expect the world's total fertility rate to fall below replacement levels by 2050 [71622], although population momentum will continue to increase global population for several generations beyond that. The promise of eventual population decline helps reduce concerns of overpopulation, but many believe the Earth's carrying capacity has already been exceeded and that even a stable population would not be sustainable.

Sub-replacement fertility can also change social relations in a society. Fewer children tends to mean each child gets more attention from the parent. Fewer children, combined with lower infant mortality has also made the death of children a far greater tragedy in the modern world than it was just fifty years ago. Having many families with only one or two children also reduces greatly the number of siblings, aunts and uncles.

Population aging poses an economic burden on societies, as the number of elderly retirees rises in relation to the number of young workers. This has been raised as a political issue in Francemarker, Germanymarker, and the United Statesmarker, where many people have advocated policy changes to encourage higher fertility and immigration rates. In France, payments to couples to have children have increased birthrate. Subsidizing childbirth, however, can erode government funds needed to finance pensions or health services for an ageing population, which may mean the financial burden may fall upon future generations in the form of higher taxation, but perhaps the population growth is enough to provide for both situations, which otherwise could be worsening.


Some European governments, fearful of a future pensions crisis, have developed natalist policies to attempt to encourage more women to have children. Measures include increasing tax allowances for working parents, improving child-care provision, reducing working hours/weekend working in female-dominated professions such as healthcare and a stricter enforcement of anti-discrimination measures to prevent professional women's promotion prospects being hindered when they take time off work to care for children. Over recent years, the fertility rate has increased to around 2.0 in France and 1.8 in Britain and some other northern European countries, but the role of population policies in these trends is debated.

Attempts to increase the fertility rate among working women bring difficult political dilemmas: how far to alter traditional working practices so that women who are juggling work and child-raising responsibilities are not disadvantaged in their careers compared with men (for example, by legislating for compulsory paternity leave, flexible working and/or limiting total weekly working hours for men as well as women) and above all the question of whether the problem of sub-replacement fertility is so serious that unmarried women should also now be encouraged to have more children.

Giving women paid maternity leave can have the unintended negative consequence of dissuading employers from hiring women because they may fear having to pay a pregnant woman wages for a job she isn't doing. This may increase the gender-wage gap, the income disparity between men and women in the labor force. This disincentive can be ameliorated by giving parental leave to both men and women.

Germany’s family minister Ursula von der Leyen has stated that the slight increase in Germanymarker, Italymarker, and other European countries with low fertility might be the first small steps to an eventual recovery. Although the increase will so far not counter an expected population decline it will however slow it down. European analysts hope, with the help of government incentives and large-scale change towards family-friendly policies, to stall the population decline and reverse it by around 2030, expecting that most of Europe will have a slight natural increase by then. C. D. Howe Institute, for example, tries to demonstrate that immigration can not be used to effectively counter population ageing .

The American exception

Fertility rates in the U.S. in 2006
Total 2.05
White 2,06
Black 2,07
American Indian, Eskimo, Aleut 1,75
Asian or Pacific Islander 1,89
Hispanic 2,89
While almost all of the developed world, and many other nations, have seen plummeting fertility rates over the last twenty years, the United Statesmarker' rates have remained stable and even slightly increased. This is partly due to the high fertility rate among communities such as Hispanics, but it is also because the fertility rate among non-Hispanic whites in the US, after falling to about 1.6 in the 1970s and early 1980s, had increased and is now around 1.9, or slightly below replacement level, rather than collapsing to the 1.3-1.5 level common in Europe.

New Englandmarker has a rate similar to most Western European countries, while the South, Midwest, and border states have fertility rates considerably higher than replacement. States where The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has a strong presence, most notably Utahmarker, also have higher-than-replacement fertility rates, especially among the LDS population.

Other exceptions

Some other developed countries are also experiencing an increase in their birth rate, including Francemarker, which recorded a TFR of over 2.00 in 2008, Australia, where the birth rate rose from 1.73 in 2001 to 1.93 in 2007 and New Zealandmarker, where the TFR was 2.2 in 2008. A few developed Western countries, including Argentinamarker, Israelmarker and Uruguaymarker, have never had sub-replacement fertility for reasons which are as yet poorly understood. Argentina, for example, despite being populated mainly by Spanish, Italian, and German stock, and having a GDP and population similar to Polandmarker, has a fertility rate of 2.4, which is roughly twice that of its people's ancestral homelands.

See also


  1. For example in the United Kingdom in 2001 304,635 boys were born as opposed to 289,999 girls, and some of these girls will not survive to the end of their child bearing years. In future, therefore, the girls born in this year would have to have more than two children each to replace the total population. For a full explanation see ‘Replacement Fertility, What has it been and What does it mean?’ (PDF)
  2. Eberstadt, Nicholas. 2005. Russia, the Sick Man of Europe. Public Interest, Winter 2005[1]
  3. Bongaarts, J. (2004) "The End of the Fertility Transition in the Developed World" in Population and Development Review, Volume 28 Issue 3, Pages 419-443
  4. European Demographic Data Sheet 2008
  5. As Europe Grows Grayer, France Devises a Baby Boom -
  6. Suddenly, the old world looks younger. The Economist, June 14th 2007.
  7. Immigration (Guillemette_Robson).qxp
  8. Table 82. Total Fertility Rate by Race and Hispanic Origin: 1980 to 2006 From: U.S. National Center for Health Statistics, National Vital Statistics Reports (NVSR), Births: Final Data for 2005, annual, Volume 56, Number 6, December 5, 2007, and Births: Preliminary Data for 2006, annual, Volume 56, Number 7, December 5, 2007.
  9. Tableau complémentaire 3 : Taux de fécondité par groupe d'âges
  10. NZ Herald "Baby boom goes against mothers' advice"

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