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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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Countries with the Biggest Gender Disparities in their Workforces

Tracking the difference between male and female labor force participation rates reveals large gender disparities for women at work.

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A chart ranking the biggest gender disparities in male and female labor force participation rates around the world.

Countries with the Biggest Gender Disparities in Workforces

This was originally posted on our Voronoi app. Download the app for free on iOS or Android and discover incredible data-driven charts from a variety of trusted sources.

This graphic ranks the countries with the biggest gender disparities in their labor forces by contrasting the average male and female labor force participation rate and measuring the gap between them.

Data for this graphic is sourced from the World Bank, which aggregates 2023 International Labour Organization estimates.

ℹ️ A country’s labor force includes people aged 15+ who are working or actively looking for work in exchange for pay, profit, or shared production. Unpaid workers, family caretakers, students, and military personnel may be excluded from this count.

Ranked: Differences in Male and Female Labor Participation Rates

The top 10 countries with the highest discrepancies between male and female labor participation rates are Islamic nations:

RankCountryMale Labor Force
Participation Rate (%)
Female Labor Force
Participation Rate (%)
Gender Disparity
(In percentage points)
1🇦🇫 Afghanistan69564
2🇮🇶 Iraq721161
3🇵🇰 Pakistan812557
4🇴🇲 Oman883256
5🇮🇷 Iran711456
6🇾🇪 Yemen60555
7🇪🇬 Egypt711755
8🇩🇿 Algeria671750
9🇸🇾 Syria641450
10🇯🇴 Jordan631449
11🇲🇦 Morocco682049
12🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia803545
13🇮🇳 India773344
14🇧🇩 Bangladesh803743
15🇧🇭 Bahrain874443
16🇹🇳 Tunisia692742
17🇬🇹 Guatemala814140
18🇸🇩 Sudan682840
19🇱🇰 Sri Lanka723240
20🇰🇼 Kuwait864838
N/A🌍 World734924

Note: Figures rounded and based on International Labour Organization’s estimates as of 2023.

In countries such as Pakistan, Oman, and Saudi Arabia, the male labor force participation rates are higher than the global average. Meanwhile the female participation rates are 50+ percentage points lower than the corresponding male rates, and 15-25 points below the global female average.

For the other countries in the top 10 by labor participation rate differential, the average male participation rate is also below the global average. This could indicate a lack of general economic opportunities with the nation.

Finally, India (#13), Guatemala (#17) and Sri Lanka (#19) are three countries in the top 20 with a non-Islamic majority population.

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