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.
Charted: Retirement Age by Country
We chart current and effective retirement ages for 45 countries, revealing some stark regional differences.
Charted: Retirement Age by Country
The retirement landscape can look completely different depending on what country you’re in. And charting the retirement age by country reveals a lot of differences in the the makeup of a labor force, both for economic and cultural reasons.
This graphic delves into the current and effective retirement ages across 45 nations in 2020, based on comprehensive data from the OECD 2021 report.
Defining Retirement Ages
Before we dive into the numbers, let’s clarify the measurements used by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD):
- The current retirement age is the age at which individuals can retire without penalty to pension after completing a full career starting from age 22.
- The effective retirement age refers to the average age of exit from the labor force for workers aged 40 years or more.
Many countries have seen workers effectively retire earlier or later than the current retirement age. This variance can arise due to a multitude in factors including differences in career start ages, some industries offering earlier retirements or benefits for later commitments, or countries facilitating different workforce exits due to market demands and policies.
Some people also choose to retire early due to personal reasons or a lack of available work, receiving a smaller pension or in some cases forgoing it entirely. Likewise, some people choose to stay employed if they are able to find work.
Retirement Age by Country in 2020
Here’s a snapshot of the current and effective retirement ages by country in 2020:
|🇨🇷 Costa Rica||62||67||62|
|🇨🇿 Czech Republic||64||63||62|
|🇰🇷 Korea, Republic of||62||66||65|
|🇳🇿 New Zealand||65||68||66|
|🇬🇧 United Kingdom||66||64||63|
|🇺🇸 United States||66||65||N/A|
|🇪🇺 European Union (Average)||64||63||N/A|
|🇨🇳 China (People's Republic of)||60||66||61|
|🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia||47||59||N/A|
|🇿🇦 South Africa||60||60||56|
Three countries had the highest current retirement age at 67 years, Iceland, Israel, and Norway, but all had slightly lower effective retirement ages on average. On the flip side, Saudi Arabia had the lowest current retirement age at only 47 years with full pension benefits. Only Türkiye at 52 years was close, and notably both had much higher effective retirement ages on average.
Discrepancies between different regions are clear across the board. Many Asian countries including China, India, and South Korea have official minimum retirement ages in the early 60s and late 50s, but see workers stay in the workforce well into their late 60s. Meanwhile, most European countries as well as the U.S. and Canada have more workers retire earlier than minimum retirement ages on average.
Almost all of the countries with measured effective retirement ages for women also saw them exit the workforce earlier than men. This can be the result of cultural gender norms, labor force participation rates, and even the setup of pension systems in different countries.
The five exceptions in the dataset where women retired later than men? Argentina, Estonia, Finland, France, and Luxembourg.
Looking to the Future
In 2023, France sparked controversy by raising its early retirement age by two years. This decision triggered widespread strikes and riots and ignited debates about the balance between economic sustainability and individual well-being.
Given aging demographics in many developed countries and a continued need for labor, this isn’t expected to be the only country to reassess retirement. The OECD projects a two-year increase in the average effective retirement age by the mid-2060s.
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