Revealed: The Real Reason Fertility Rates are Crashing
The plummeting fertility rate is being described as “jaw-dropping” by researchers who are attempting to analyse the consequence of fewer children being born around the world and the effect on societies everywhere.
The research indicates that most countries around the world are in line to experience a monumental decline in the number of children being born. Furthermore, the sharp decrease is set to reduce the global population, with nations around the world prepared to see as many new-born children as they do residents turning 80-years old.
When considering mortality rates and the number of people needed for fertilisation, if the average number of children birthed to a woman declines below 2.1, then the total population will begin to fall. This average number is following a downward trend. In 1950, there were 4.7 babies born to each woman. By 2100, it is expected to fall to 1.7. These falling numbers over the past 200 years suggest that we should expect a continual reduction in fertility rates. Whilst this data is clear, the reason for this decline is less obvious.
You may speculate a scientific reason for the fall of global fertility rates. P.D James’ novel, The Children of Men, points to a deteriorating sperm count in men. But the real reason is less dystopian and even less to do with men. This is about women.
Jobs now, kids later
You may consider the decline of fertility rates as negatively correlating the freedoms of women. The increase of women in the workplace, the ability to access contraception, and the freedom to decide how women intend to plan a family (or not) are all contributing factors. It’s no huge surprise that as the number of female CEOs increases, the fertility numbers fall—women are simply focusing on themselves and their careers more than ever before.
In America, the number of female CEOs is steadily increasing, with Fortune 500 indicating that this year there was a record 37 female CEOs in the top 500 largest corporations. This number has increased over 17-fold since the year 2000.
These figures are emulated across the world, not just in the United States. In Japan, for example, the percentage of women in the labour force was reported to have reached 44.02 per cent in 2019—a record high. Meanwhile, the fertility rate in Japan is one of the most dramatic declines, with the population expected to fall from a peak of 128 million in 2017 to below 53 million by the end of the century. For women everywhere, opportunities are beginning to present themselves more frequently, and glass ceilings are being shattered. Although many women around the world are still deciding to focus on having children and starting a family, they now have the alternative option to put their career goals first.
Learning about birth control
Women are increasingly able to access contraception and sex education, allowing more women across the globe to understand how their bodies work and allowing them to make informed decisions about sex and childbirth. Education is vital for childbirth, and we’re always sure to be prepared for when children arrive by attending classes, preparing a hospital bag checklist, or attending regular health checks. Whether people decide to have children or not, they are now at least presented with the facts and offered a greater level of information about what they can expect. Thanks to increased educational resources, those who do decide to get pregnant are more equipped than ever to deal with unexpected difficulties such as postpartum bleeding and postnatal depression, while those who choose not to, have a better understanding of birth control methods.
While this has been available in most western countries for a good length of time, it is the spread of education to low-income countries that is having the strongest impact. Areas which have traditionally seen higher birth rates now have more access to contraception than ever before.
The Family Planning Association published a report that indicates that 314 million women and girls in 69 low-income countries have access to and use modern contraception. This is a record number. On top of this, around four in ten women of reproductive age in India are now accessing family planning.
These figures are impressive. However, it should be recognised that millions of women are still not able to access contraception and practice basic human rights. This could be one contributing factors in Sub-Saharan Africa, which is set to go against the declining fertility trend and actually see its population treble in size by 2100.
Your choice and your right only
Still, society is not the only factor when deciding to not have children. It’s also a personal decision. Now that women do have access to contraception and can see other paths that their lives could follow, many are making a personal choice to not have children, breaking down taboos. In a recent series by the Guardian US, a number of adults were interviewed about their personal reasons to remain childless. The reasons given were both moving, powerful, and diverse.
Challenging the traditional perception of family life and marriage, these women attempt to maximise the value of their own lives by choosing to not have children. Their varied reasons included “solitude doesn’t scare me”, “my climate crisis anxiety”,” society isn’t built for motherhood”, “I cherish my freedom”, and “I don’t have enough money,” showing a great plethora of personal incentives to not have children.
Janice Reed, a 64-year-old women who chose not to have children, said: “I would rather be single and happy and independent than be married to someone I didn’t totally respect, even if it meant having more money or having children.” This statement wonderfully demonstrates women’s new-found agency and a true sense of self in regard to having children.
After considering the increasing number of factors that incline women to not have children, whether for societal or personal reasons, the prescribed “jaw-dropping” decline of fertility rates shouldn’t surprise anyone. They certainly do not need to be considered a medical disaster waiting to happen. Instead, this is evidence of increased empowerment and agency of women across the globe, who finally feel able to break taboos, choose their careers, and focus on themselves, rather than putting childbirth at the centre of their universe. As for those who do still want children, the choice is theirs entirely! And with better access to education, medication, and resources, they also have the ability to make pregnancy their choice rather than an expectation, no matter what society may have previously told them.