Charted: The Global Decline of Fertility Rates
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Charted: The Global Decline of Fertility Rates

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Chart showing the change in global fertility rates since 1951

Charted: The Global Decline of Fertility Rates

Over the last 50 years, fertility rates have dropped drastically around the world. In 1952, the average global family had five children—now, they have less than three.

This graphic by Pablo Alvarez uses tracked fertility rates from Our World in Data to show how rates have evolved (and largely fallen) over the past decades.

What’s The Difference Between Fertility Rates and Birth Rates?

Though both measures relate to population growth, a country’s birth rate and fertility rate are noticeably different:

  • Birth Rate: The total number of births in a year per 1,000 individuals.
  • Fertility Rate: The total number of births in a year per 1,000 women of reproductive age in a population.

As such, the fertility rate is a more specific measure, which as Britannica highlights, “allows for more efficient and beneficial planning and resource allocation.” Not including immigration, a given area needs an overall total fertility rate of 2.1 to keep a stable population.

Global Fertility Rates since 1952

For the last half-century, fertility rates have steadily decreased worldwide. Here’s a look at the average number of children per woman since 1952:

YearAverage # of children per family% change (y-o-y)
19515.0-0.5%
19525.0-1.4%
19534.9-0.7%
19544.9-0.5%
19554.9-0.3%
19564.9-0.1%
19574.90.1%
19584.90.3%
19594.90.4%
19605.00.5%
19615.00.5%
19625.00.4%
19635.00.3%
19645.00.1%
19655.0-0.2%
19665.0-0.5%
19675.0-0.8%
19684.9-1.1%
19694.8-1.4%
19704.7-1.8%
19714.6-2.1%
19724.5-2.5%
19734.4-2.7%
19744.3-2.9%
19754.2-2.9%
19764.0-2.8%
19773.9-2.7%
19783.8-2.4%
19793.8-2.1%
19803.7-1.7%
19813.6-1.3%
19823.6-1.0%
19833.6-0.8%
19843.6-0.7%
19853.5-0.8%
19863.5-1.0%
19873.4-1.4%
19883.4-1.7%
19893.3-2.1%
19903.2-2.4%
19913.1-2.6%
19923.1-2.6%
19933.0-2.4%
19942.9-2.2%
19952.9-1.8%
19962.8-1.5%
19972.8-1.3%
19982.8-1.1%
19992.7-1.1%
20002.7-0.9%
20012.7-0.9%
20022.7-0.7%
20032.6-0.6%
20042.6-0.6%
20052.6-0.5%
20062.6-0.5%
20072.6-0.5%
20082.6-0.5%
20092.6-0.5%
20102.5-0.5%
20112.5-0.5%
20122.5-0.5%
20132.5-0.5%
20142.5-0.4%
20152.5-0.4%
20162.5-0.4%
20172.5-0.4%
20182.5-0.4%
20192.5-0.4%
20202.4-0.4%

Why are women having fewer children? There are a number of theories and empirical research studies to help explain this decrease, but according to Dr. Max Roser, the founder of Our World in Data, most of the literature boils down to three main factors:

  • Women’s empowerment, particularly in education and the workforce
  • Lower child mortality
  • Increased cost to raising children

Research has found that higher education in women is correlated with lower fertility. For instance, in Iran in the 1950s, women had an average of three years of schooling and raised seven children on average.

But by 2010, when Iranian women had nine years of schooling on average, the average fertility rate in the country had dropped to 1.8.

This theory is further supported when you look at countries where women’s education is still relatively lagging. For instance, in 2010, women in Niger had 1.3 years of education on average, and an average of more than seven children—more than double the global average at that time.

The Societal Impact

Lower fertility rates, coupled with increased life expectancies around the world, are creating an aging population. Since 1950, the global median age has grown from 25 years to 33 years.

An older population comes with a number of economic risks, including rising healthcare costs and a smaller global workforce.

share of population that's working age is shrinking

According to a report by the World Bank, the world’s working-age population peaked back in 2012. Since then, it’s been on the decline.

A smaller working population puts more pressure on those who are working to support those who are collecting pensions. This could ultimately lead to an economic slowdown if countries don’t prepare and alter their pension systems accordingly, to account for our aging population.

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This article was published as a part of Visual Capitalist's Creator Program, which features data-driven visuals from some of our favorite Creators around the world.

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Demographics

Ranked: The Most and Least Livable Cities in 2022

Which cities rank as the best places to live worldwide? This map reveals the world’s most and least livable cities.

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livable cities

Ranked: The Most and Least Livable Cities in 2022

Pandemic restrictions changed the livability of many urban centers worldwide as cultural sites were shuttered, restaurant dining was restricted, and local economies faced the consequences. But as cities worldwide return to the status quo, many of these urban centers have become desirable places to live yet again.

This map uses annual rankings from the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) to show the world’s most livable cities, measuring different categories including: stability, healthcare, culture and environment, education, and infrastructure.

A Quick Note on Methodology

The ranking attempts to assess which cities across the globe provide the best living conditions, by assigning a score on 30 quantitative and qualitative measures across the five categories with the following weightings:

  1. Healthcare (20%)
  2. Culture & Environment (25%)
  3. Stability (25%)
  4. Education (10%)
  5. Infrastructure (20%)

Of the 30 factors within these categories, the qualitative ones are assigned as acceptable, tolerable, uncomfortable, undesirable, or intolerable by a team of expert analysts. Quantitative measures are given a score based on a number of external data points. Everything is then weighted to provide a score between 1-100, with 100 being the ideal.

Ranked: The 10 Most Livable Cities

Of the 172 cities included in the rankings, many of the most livable cities can be found in Europe. However, three of the top 10 are located in Canada: Vancouver, Calgary, and Toronto.

Vienna has been ranked number one many times, most recently in 2019. According to the EIU, the Austrian capital only fell out of the top slot during the pandemic years because its famous museums and restaurants were shuttered.

RankCityCountryScore
#1Vienna🇦🇹 Austria99.1
#2Copenhagen🇩🇰 Denmark98.0
#3Zurich🇨🇭 Switzerland96.3
#3Calgary🇨🇦 Canada96.3
#5Vancouver🇨🇦 Canada96.1
#6Geneva🇨🇭 Switzerland95.9
#7Frankfurt🇩🇪 Germany95.7
#8Toronto🇨🇦 Canada95.4
#9Amsterdam🇳🇱 Netherlands95.3
#10Osaka🇯🇵 Japan95.1
#10Melbourne🇦🇺 Australia95.1

Only one Asian city, Osaka, makes the top 10 list, tying with Melbourne for 10th place. Notably, not a single U.S. city is found in the top ranks.

Editor’s note: Two cities tie for both the #3 and #10 ranks, meaning that the “top 10” list actually includes 12 cities.

Ranked: The 10 Least Livable Cities

Some of the least livable cities in the world are located across Africa and Central Asia.

RankCityCountryScore
#163Tehran🇮🇷 Iran44.0
#164Douala🇨🇲 Cameroon43.3
#165Harare🇿🇼 Zimbabwe40.9
#166Dhaka🇧🇩 Bangladesh39.2
#167Port Moresby🇵🇬 Papua New Guinea 38.8
#168Karachi🇵🇰 Pakistan37.5
#169Algiers🇩🇿 Algeria37.0
#170Tripoli🇱🇾 Libya34.2
#171Lagos🇳🇬 Nigeria32.2
#172Damascus🇸🇾 Syria30.7

Many of the least livable cities are within conflict zones, contributing to the low ratings. However, these regions are also home to some of the world’s fastest growing cities, presenting many opportunities for ambitious residents.

The Biggest Changes in Ranking

Let’s take a look at the cities that moved up the global rankings most dramatically compared to last year’s data.

Moving Up: The 10 Most Improved Cities

CityCountryOverall RankRank Change
Frankfurt🇩🇪 Germany#7+32
Hamburg🇩🇪 Germany#16+31
Dusseldorf🇩🇪 Germany#22+28
London🇬🇧 UK#33+27
Manchester🇬🇧 UK#28+26
Paris🇫🇷 France#19+23
Brussels🇧🇪 Belgium#24+22
Amsterdam🇳🇱 Netherlands#9+21
Athens🇬🇷 Greece#73+19
Los Angeles🇺🇸 US#37+18

Here’s a look at the cities that fell the most in the rankings since last year’s report.

Moving Down: The 10 Cities That Tumbled

CityCountryOverall RankRank Change
Wellington🇳🇿 New Zealand#50-46
Auckland🇳🇿 New Zealand#34-33
Adelaide🇦🇺 Australia#30-27
Perth🇦🇺 Australia#32-26
Houston🇺🇸 US#56-25
Reykjavik🇮🇸 Iceland#48-25
Madrid🇪🇸 Spain#43-24
Taipei🇹🇼 Taiwan#53-20
Barcelona🇪🇸 Spain#35-19
Brisbane🇦🇺 Australia#27-17

According to the report, a number of cities in New Zealand and Australia temporarily dropped in the ranking due to COVID-19 restrictions.

It’s also worth noting that some Eastern European cities moved down in the rankings because of their close proximity to the war in Ukraine. Finally, Kyiv was not included in this year’s report because of the conflict.

Urbanization and Livability

As of 2021, around 57% of the world’s population lives in urban centers and projections show that people worldwide will continue to move into cities.

While there are more amenities in urban areas, the pandemic revealed many issues with urbanization and the concentration of large populations. The stress on healthcare systems is felt most intensely in cities and restrictions on public outings are some of the first measures to be introduced in the face of a global health crisis.

Now with the cost of living rising, cities may face pressures on their quality of life, and governments may be forced to cut spending on public services. Regardless, people worldwide continue to see the benefits of city living—it’s projected that over two-thirds of the global population will live in cities by 2050.

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Demographics

Ranked: The 20 Countries With the Fastest Declining Populations

Population decline is a rising issue for many countries in Eastern Europe, as well as outliers like Japan and Cuba.

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Visualizing Population Decline by Country

Since the mid-1900s, the global population has followed a steep upwards trajectory.

While much of this growth has been concentrated in China and India, researchers expect the next wave of growth to occur in Africa. As of 2019, for example, the average woman in Niger is having over six children in her lifetime.

At the opposite end of this spectrum are a number of countries that appear to be shrinking from a population perspective. To shed some light on this somewhat surprising trend, we’ve visualized the top 20 countries by population decline.

The Top 20

The following table ranks countries by their rate of population decline, based on projected rate of change between 2020 and 2050 and using data from the United Nations.

RankCountryDecline 2020-2050
1🇧🇬 Bulgaria22.5%
2🇱🇹 Lithuania22.1%
3🇱🇻 Latvia21.6%
4🇺🇦 Ukraine19.5%
5🇷🇸 Serbia18.9%
6🇧🇦 Bosnia and Herzegovina18.2%
7🇭🇷 Croatia18.0%
8🇲🇩 Moldova16.7%
9🇯🇵 Japan16.3%
10🇦🇱 Albania15.8%
11🇷🇴 Romania15.5%
12🇬🇷 Greece13.4%
13🇪🇪 Estonia12.7%
14🇭🇺 Hungary12.3%
15🇵🇱 Poland12.0%
16🇬🇪 Georgia11.8%
17🇵🇹 Portugal10.9%
18🇲🇰 North Macedonia10.9%
19🇨🇺 Cuba10.3%
20🇮🇹 Italy10.1%

Many of these countries are located in or near Eastern Europe, for reasons we’ll discuss below.

The first issue is birth rates, which according to the Peterson Institute for International Economics (PIIE), have fallen since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Across the region, the average number of children per woman fell from 2.1 in 1988 to 1.2 by 1998.

Birth rates have recovered slightly since then, but are not enough to offset deaths and emigration, which refers to citizens leaving their country to live elsewhere.

Eastern Europe saw several waves of emigration following the European Union’s (EU) border expansions in 2004 and 2007. The PIIE reports that by 2016, 6.3 million Eastern Europeans resided in other EU states.

The Outliers

There are two geographical outliers in this dataset which sit on either side of Europe.

Japan

The first is Japan, where birth rates have fallen continuously since 1970. It wasn’t until 2010, however, that the country’s overall population began to shrink.

By the numbers, the situation appears dire. In 2021, 811,604 babies were born in Japan, while 1.44 million people died. As a result of its low birth rates, the island nation also has the world’s highest average age at 49 years old.

The Japanese government has introduced various social programs to make having kids more appealing, but these don’t appear to be getting to the root of the problem. For deeper insight into Japan’s low birthrates, it’s worth reading this article by The Atlantic.

Cuba

The second country is Cuba, and it’s the only one not located within the Eastern Hemisphere. Cuba’s fertility rate of 1.7 children per woman is the lowest in the Latin American region. It can be compared to countries like Mexico (2.2), Paraguay (2.5), and Guatemala (3.0).

Cuba’s immigration is also incredibly low compared to its neighboring countries. According to the International Organization for Migration, immigrants account for just 0.1% of its total population.

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