Charted: The Global Decline of Fertility Rates
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:
|Year||Average # of children per family||% change (y-o-y)|
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.
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.
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.
Comparing Population Pyramids Around the World
Population pyramids can show a country’s demographic advantages and challenges at a glance. See how different parts of the world stack up.
Understanding and Comparing Population Pyramids
Demographic data can reveal all kinds of insights about a population, from the country’s fertility and mortality rates to how certain events and policies have shaped the makeup of a population.
Population pyramids are one of the best ways to visualize population data, and comparing the pyramids of various countries and regions side-by-side can reveal unexpected insights and differences between groups.
This graphic uses population data from the United Nations to compare the demographics of some select nations and regions of the world, showcasing how much age distributions can vary.
Three Types of Population Pyramids
Although population pyramids can come in all shapes and sizes, most generally fall into three distinct categories:
- Expansive Pyramids: Recognized by their traditional “pyramid-like” shape with a broad base and narrow top, expansive pyramids reflect a population with a high birth rate along with a high mortality rate which is most common in developing countries.
- Constrictive Pyramids: With a narrow base and thicker middle and top sections of the pyramid, constrictive pyramids often occur in developed economies whose populations have low birth rates and long life expectancies.
- Stationary Pyramids: These pyramids showcase an evenly distributed population across age groups, often found in newly-developed countries which have stable birth and mortality rates.
Each population pyramid is essentially a visual snapshot of a nation’s current demographic breakdown, shaped by fluctuating birth and mortality rates as well as changes to immigration and social policies.
Understanding the inherent risks associated with different pyramid types can help give insight into the challenges these populations face.
The Risks of Different Population Pyramid Types
Each type of population pyramid structure has unique challenges and advantages often characterized by the country or region’s current stage of economic development.
Populations with expansive pyramids, such as the one representing the continent of Africa, have the advantage of a larger youth and working-aged population, however this advantage can be rendered null if job growth, education, and health care aren’t prioritized.
Countries with constrictive pyramids like Japan face the challenge of supporting their outsized aging population with a diminishing working-aged population. While immigration and increasing birth rates can help in both the short and long term, due to the working population being outnumbered, countries with constrictive pyramids must find ways to increase their productivity to avoid potential declines in economic growth.
China and India’s Demographics Compared
After the world’s population reached eight billion people last year, 2023 brought a new population milestone as India overtook China as the world’s most populous country.
When you compare the two nations’ population pyramids, you can see how India’s population has a strong base of young and working-aged people compared to China’s more constrictive population pyramid that also features a higher median age.
This demographic difference is largely shaped by China’s one-child policy which since 2021 was loosened to be a three-child policy. As a result, China’s total fertility rate is around 1.2 today, in contrast to India’s total fertility rate of 2.0.
While India is set to ride the productivity boom of its large working-age population, the country will have to ensure it can keep its population pyramid stable as the majority of the population ages and total fertility rates continue to decline.
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