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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

Mapped: The Population of China and India in Perspective

We compare the populations of India and China to other top countries and regions for a unique perspective on the world’s demographics.

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The Population of China and India in Perspective

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.

China and India, the world’s two most populous countries, each boast populations exceeding 1.4 billion people.

To put this into perspective, we visualized populations of China and India beside other leading countries and regions. All figures are for 2023, and were accessed via Worldometer.

Data and Key Takeaways

All of the data we used to create this graphic is listed in the table below.

Country / RegionPopulation (2023)
🌍 Africa1,460,481,772
🇮🇳 India1,428,627,663
🇨🇳 China1,425,671,352
🌎 Latin America & the Caribbean664,997,121
🇪🇺🇬🇧 EU plus UK516,659,018
🇺🇸 U.S.339,996,563
🇮🇩 Indonesia277,534,122

From these figures, we can see that the entire population of Africa (currently the fastest growing region in the world) barely surpasses that of China and India.

The populations of China and India are each more than double the size of Latin America and the Caribbean, and nearly triple that of the European Union (including the UK).

Fast Facts on Global Population

Here are some important figures to know regarding the world’s population:

  • China accounts for 17.7% of the world’s population, while India represents a slightly larger 17.8% share.
  • Africa is the fastest growing region in the world, with annual growth of about 2.4%.
  • Europe is the only region in the world that is shrinking, at about -0.17% annually.

Learn More About Demographics from Visual Capitalist

If you enjoy graphics like these, be sure to check out Population Projections: The World’s 6 Largest Countries in 2075.

It reveals a startling contrast between the trajectories of China and India, with the latter peaking at 1.7 billion in the mid-2060s.

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