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Visualizing the World’s Plummeting Fertility Rate

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A line chart tracing the world's falling fertility rates to 2.3 in 2020 along with a heatmap of countries with higher (darker) or lower (lighter) fertility rates

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Visualizing the World’s Plummeting Fertility Rate

At the dawn of the 19th century, the world population hit a big milestone: 1 billion people.

Over the next 220 years, the number grew to eight times that, or the 8 billion people who live on the planet today, with half of the growth occurring since 1975.

This continuous climb in global population has been possible thanks to advancements in healthcare and nutrition. However, the UN forecasts that rapid growth will slow down—and may even stop entirely by 2100—because of falling fertility rates.

What does that mean for modern nation states conditioned to expect a constant influx of new citizens and labor to power their economies? And how can those changing economies adapt to a shrinking population?

To understand that, we need to first untangle fertility rates, and why they’re falling.

Explained: Fertility and Replacement Rates

The total fertility rate is the average number of births per woman over a lifetime. This measurement makes two key assumptions, however:

  • The woman will live to the end of her childbearing years
  • The woman will bear children according to the age-specific fertility rates currently observed

Both assumptions add some uncertainty to future fertility rate projections. However, decades of past data collected by the World Bank help show some overall trends around the world, and in many countries.

ℹ️ The age-specific fertility rate (ASFR) “measures the annual number of births to women of a specified age or age group per 1,000 women in that age group,” according to the UN.

The world fertility rate (expressed as the number of children per woman) has been falling steadily since the 1970s.

In 2020, the world’s fertility rate stood at 2.3, slightly above the replacement rate of 2.1 births per woman, which allows for one generation to replace itself. This is down more than two times from 4.7 in 1960.

But the world’s average hides the vast disparities between the fertility rate of countries. We dive into the differences below.

Which Country has the Highest Fertility Rate?

According to the UN, nearly two-thirds of the world’s population lives in a region where the fertility rate is below the critical 2.1 threshold. In the table below, countries are ranked from the highest to lowest average births per woman in 2020.

RankCountry Name19601975199020052020
1Niger7.537.547.817.626.89
2Somalia7.257.037.447.486.42
3Chad6.256.887.227.136.35
4Dem. Rep. of Congo6.086.426.706.606.21
5Mali7.007.247.256.726.04
6Central African Republic5.815.896.055.855.99
7Angola6.717.497.276.465.37
8Nigeria6.366.776.466.075.31
9Burundi7.007.247.376.715.18
10Benin6.286.856.735.685.05
11Burkina Faso6.256.917.016.184.87
12Tanzania6.737.006.205.614.80
13Gambia6.256.416.225.724.78
14Afghanistan7.287.547.576.914.75
15Mozambique6.326.696.225.614.71
16Uganda6.947.237.046.574.69
17Cameroon5.656.396.395.414.54
18South Sudan6.726.927.996.174.54
19Sudan6.656.936.175.044.54
20Guinea6.116.376.635.704.49
21Cote d'Ivoire7.697.916.735.464.47
22Mauritania6.356.686.065.194.46
23Senegal7.007.256.405.194.45
24Zambia7.127.396.535.714.38
25Equatorial Guinea5.655.795.995.564.35
26Togo6.727.156.135.074.32
27Ethiopia6.887.147.245.974.24
28Rep. of Congo6.096.365.214.664.23
29Liberia6.396.746.375.524.17
30Guinea-Bissau5.926.156.515.454.09
31Sierra Leone6.186.556.575.814.08
32Comoros6.797.126.505.034.05
33Solomon Islands6.977.075.664.484.04
34Samoa7.656.684.934.374.00
35Malawi7.037.406.815.914.00
36Eritrea6.486.596.344.933.93
37Madagascar7.307.106.165.103.92
38Sao Tome & Principe6.246.535.834.963.89
39Yemen7.948.408.615.583.89
40Rwanda8.198.226.875.443.87
41Vanuatu6.866.095.034.163.78
42Ghana6.856.775.714.543.62
43West Bank & GazaNANA6.784.843.57
44Pakistan6.806.816.364.643.56
45Iraq5.306.885.884.483.55
46Gabon4.425.395.464.213.55
47Zimbabwe7.226.984.873.673.55
48Kenya7.637.886.134.783.40
49Namibia6.216.545.323.563.35
50Kiribati6.555.034.643.803.33
51Papua New Guinea6.026.075.184.223.27
52Tonga6.895.434.644.183.27
53Timor-Leste6.325.195.815.713.25
54Tajikistan6.556.605.343.443.24
55Tuvalu4.783.503.913.633.19
56Kazakhstan4.533.392.722.223.13
57Lesotho5.825.904.763.443.05
58Kyrgyzstan5.384.663.632.503.00
59Egypt6.795.804.483.152.96
60Algeria7.507.374.562.562.94
61Israel3.873.552.822.842.90
62Mongolia6.837.134.232.032.90
63Uzbekistan6.615.894.072.362.90
64Eswatini6.756.755.253.682.89
65Jordan7.677.895.483.782.87
66Haiti6.215.695.483.832.87
67Djibouti6.836.775.983.992.85
68Botswana6.636.584.493.082.84
69Syria7.497.475.383.812.80
70Philippines7.155.604.353.492.78
71Micronesia6.696.684.963.602.75
72Turkmenistan6.595.904.242.662.70
73Oman7.257.756.613.052.69
74Bolivia6.365.794.893.562.65
75Guam5.913.913.052.762.59
76Lao6.296.296.083.672.54
77Libya7.377.964.972.772.51
78Paraguay6.505.214.553.042.50
79Fiji6.464.103.412.892.50
80Guatemala6.966.415.483.972.48
81Saudi Arabia7.637.375.833.242.47
82Guyana6.374.503.072.842.42
83South Africa6.165.193.722.512.40
84Honduras7.466.865.293.552.39
85Cambodia6.254.105.643.242.38
86Suriname6.614.733.272.752.37
87Morocco7.046.274.022.572.35
88Nicaragua7.166.504.602.772.35
89Panama5.844.423.102.672.34
90Dominican Republic7.565.243.412.612.30
91Faroe IslandsNA2.902.802.602.30
92World4.704.083.312.602.30
93SeychellesNANANA2.202.29
94Venezuela, RB6.364.693.452.632.23
95Peru6.945.713.912.692.22
96Indonesia5.555.043.102.432.19
97Myanmar5.985.293.542.552.17
98Kuwait7.166.093.322.662.14
99Tunisia6.946.033.471.982.11
100Lebanon5.824.563.302.202.10
101Nepal6.035.755.213.142.06
102Ecuador6.725.433.742.802.05
103India5.925.204.052.962.05
104New Caledonia6.283.703.182.202.04
105Virgin Islands5.453.632.992.242.03
106Grenada6.744.023.492.342.02
107GreenlandNA2.352.442.382.02
108Bangladesh6.786.744.482.812.00
109Sri Lanka5.473.792.522.282.00
110Belize6.506.284.703.132.00
111Georgia2.942.532.311.611.97
112Vietnam6.285.643.601.961.96
113Turkiye6.385.073.132.221.92
114Argentina3.083.303.032.431.91
115Cabo Verde6.896.775.392.931.91
116Mexico6.765.793.452.501.91
117Gibraltar3.012.622.441.701.86
118Bahrain7.155.623.762.621.83
119France2.852.091.771.941.83
120El Salvador6.635.683.952.461.82
121Malaysia6.414.523.372.331.82
122North Korea3.573.052.351.961.82
123Qatar6.656.104.182.581.82
124St. Vincent & the Grenadines7.294.982.832.071.81
125Brunei Darussalam6.844.993.292.021.80
126Moldova3.332.532.391.531.77
127Montenegro3.502.401.941.691.75
128Colombia6.744.403.082.261.74
129Iceland4.292.652.302.051.72
130Maldives6.807.196.092.241.71
131Czechia2.092.431.901.291.71
132Iran7.306.014.861.781.71
133French Polynesia5.894.713.442.191.71
134Azerbaijan5.884.182.742.001.70
135Denmark2.571.921.671.801.67
136Sweden2.171.772.131.771.66
137Brazil6.064.422.911.971.65
138U.S.3.651.772.082.061.64
139Trinidad and Tobago5.353.242.381.681.63
140Ireland3.783.372.111.861.63
141Barbados4.332.391.741.791.63
142New Zealand4.242.332.181.971.61
143CuracaoNANANANA1.60
144Romania2.342.591.831.401.60
145Slovenia2.192.181.461.261.60
146Australia3.452.151.901.811.58
147Estonia1.982.042.051.521.58
148Armenia4.792.962.711.541.58
149Slovak Republic3.042.552.091.271.57
150Antigua and Barbuda4.602.772.251.831.57
151Isle of Man2.882.051.921.851.57
152Bulgaria2.312.231.821.371.56
153United Kingdom2.691.811.831.761.56
154Hungary2.022.351.871.311.56
155Costa Rica6.713.803.212.041.56
156Belgium2.541.741.621.761.55
157Latvia1.941.962.021.391.55
158Netherlands3.121.661.621.711.55
159Chile4.703.182.581.801.54
160Germany2.371.451.451.341.53
161Kosovo6.365.253.652.611.53
162Russia2.521.981.891.291.51
163Cuba4.132.851.801.471.50
164Croatia2.231.961.631.501.48
165Lithuania2.562.182.031.291.48
166Norway2.851.981.931.841.48
167SerbiaNANANA1.451.48
168Uruguay2.833.022.432.101.48
169U.A.E6.726.264.542.201.46
170Switzerland2.441.611.581.421.46
171Austria2.691.831.461.411.44
172Mauritius6.173.202.321.881.44
173Bhutan6.706.625.602.801.43
174St. Lucia6.975.463.401.681.41
175Albania6.464.522.901.801.40
176Canada3.811.821.831.571.40
177Portugal3.162.751.561.411.40
178Bahamas4.823.262.532.051.39
179Belarus2.672.171.911.251.38
180Poland2.982.272.061.241.38
181Finland2.721.681.781.801.37
182Luxembourg2.291.551.601.631.37
183Bosnia & Herzegovina3.912.361.791.201.36
184Jamaica5.584.502.852.061.36
185Thailand6.254.402.091.591.34
186Greece2.232.331.391.341.34
187Japan2.001.911.541.261.34
188Cyprus3.512.112.411.481.33
189Aruba4.822.512.301.781.33
190BermudaNANANA1.761.30
191North Macedonia3.972.592.191.501.30
192China4.453.572.511.621.28
193Italy2.402.171.331.341.24
194Spain2.862.771.361.331.23
195Ukraine2.242.021.851.211.22
196Malta3.622.272.021.381.13
197Singapore5.762.071.831.261.10
198Macao SAR, China4.931.601.740.831.07
199British Virgin Islands5.163.361.591.340.98
200Puerto Rico4.802.772.381.770.90
201Hong Kong5.072.671.270.960.87
202South Korea5.953.431.571.090.84

The African country of Niger currently has the highest fertility rate, at 6.9, which means on average, a woman in Niger will have seven children in her lifetime.

With the exception of Afghanistan (14th), all of the top 30 countries are found on the African continent. In fact, it’s estimated that Africa will add 2.5 billion new people by 2100, while most continents will actually flatline in terms of population growth.

At the bottom of the rankings, the country with the lowest fertility rate is South Korea, at 0.84.

Interestingly, many of the current most populous countries of the world—including China, India, and the U.S.—are all below replacement levels of fertility, with parts of Europe and North America having had persistently low fertility levels since the 1970s.

However, even the countries that currently have high fertility rates have seen a steep decline over the last 60 years. Why?

Why are Fertility Rates Falling All Over The World?

Declining fertility rates are a consequence of a confluence of many related factors, including (but not limited to):

  • Better access to contraception
  • Improving opportunities for women, outside of childbearing
  • Robust healthcare that lowers mortality rates of children

In the past, a larger number of children meant more chances of some making it to adulthood since infant mortality was so high. Women were also restricted to childbearing and rearing, and lacked access to contraception which led to increased—and sometimes unwanted—pregnancies.

Declining fertility rates are thus a triumph of improved socioeconomic development for many countries.

Consequences of Declining Fertility Rates

Although there are obvious issues with our large global population today, a different set of issues arise when fertility rates fall below replacement levels.

Dropping fertility rates can lead to shrinking populations and a higher ratio of the elderly to working adults—which will have unwanted economic consequences like increased healthcare costs and a reduced tax base.

Short-term solutions like immigration can help until populations are shrinking in every country. Longer-term solutions—reducing the cost of raising a child, and providing better support for families with children—are common strategies deployed to ward off demographic disaster.

The current crop of humanity has never had to contend with shrinking populations on a global scale. How will this reshape human livelihoods, priorities and expectations from life? We might soon find out.

Source: The World Bank.

Data note: The World Bank uses a number of sources to aggregate their data including the UN population division, Eurostat, and several national statistics programs. Data for some years is missing and has been marked as “NA.” Please visit their website for more information.

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Countries

Mapped: Africa’s Population Density Patterns

We map out Africa’s population density, spotlighting the continent’s most populous countries and cities.

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A cropped map of Africa’s population density, spotlighting the continent’s most populous countries and cities, and the fastest-growing regions.

Mapped: Africa’s Population Density Patterns

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.

Africa, the world’s second largest continent, spans over 30 million km2, home to the not only world’s biggest desert but also the second-largest tropical rainforest, and of course, approximately 1.4 billion people.

In this infographic, we map out the continent’s population density patterns. It’s a prime example of how humans congregate near fresh water and around the edges of natural obstacles.

This population density data comes from the Gridded Population of the World dataset created by the Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN) hosted by NASA’s Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC).

Ranked: Most Populous African Countries

Africa’s second largest economy, Nigeria, is also its most populous: more than 220 million people live in this diverse West African country with 250 ethnic groups, speaking over 500 different languages.

And the nation is only growing. By 2100, it’s estimated that the Nigerian population could be more than three-fold its current size, at nearly 800 million residents, becoming the second-most populous country in the world.

RankCountryPopulation
1🇳🇬 Nigeria224M
2🇪🇹 Ethiopia127M
3🇪🇬 Egypt112M
4🇨🇩 DRC 102M
5🇹🇿 Tanzania67M
6🇿🇦 South Africa59M
7🇰🇪 Kenya55M
8🇺🇬 Uganda49M
9🇸🇩 Sudan48M
10🇩🇿 Algeria46M

Source: UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, World Population Prospects. (2022)

Across the continent, along its eastern side, Ethiopia, is the second-most populous country on the continent. Unlike Nigeria—which has nearly 20 cities with at least half a million residents—more than three-quarters of Ethiopia’s 127 million people live in rural communities.

Ranked third, Egypt (112 million) is the only North African country in the top five by population. The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) comes in fourth (102 million), with Tanzania (67 million) rounding out the top five.

Ranked: Fastest Growing African Countries By Population

In the year 1900, Africa accounted for 9% of the world’s population. Currently its share stands close to 18%. By 2025, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) expects one in four people in the world to live in Africa, and says the continent’s demographic transition has the power to “transform the world.”

The most populous African countries (DRC, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Nigeria, and Egypt) will contribute the lion’s share to this growth of course, but within the continent, other countries are also seeing relatively rapid population growth.

RankCountryGrowth Rate
1🇸🇸 South Sudan4.78%
2🇳🇪 Niger3.66%
3🇧🇮 Burundi3.59%
4🇬🇶 Equatorial Guinea3.36%
5🇦🇴 Angola3.34%
6🇧🇯 Benin3.31%
7🇺🇬 Uganda3.22%
8🇨🇩 DRC3.13%
9🇹🇩 Chad3.05%
10🇲🇱 Mali2.93%

Source: CIA World Factbook.

In South Sudan, the world’s newest country, the population is growing at nearly 5% every year. The broader sub-Saharan population meanwhile is growing at half that rate. Aside from a higher fertility rate, the country is also seeing an influx of refugees from conflict areas in neighboring Sudan.

While no other African nation is quite matching South Sudan’s population growth, several of Africa’s poorer economies are also posting an annual population increase of more than 3% including Niger, Burundi, and Chad.

Ranked: Most Populous African Cities

About half of Africa lives in urban areas, which is less than the global average of 57%. The 10 most populous cities on the continent together account for about 115 million people, more than 1.5x the UK’s total population.

Egypt’s capital, Cairo, built along the banks of the Nile, is home to more than 22 million residents, and ranks as Africa’s largest city. This bustling metropolis has stood as an important trade juncture between continents for more than 1,400 years—and is still somehow one of Egypt’s younger cities.

RankCityCountryPopulation
1Cairo🇪🇬 Egypt22.2M
2Lagos🇳🇬 Nigeria21.4M
3Kinshasa🇨🇩 DRC 15.0M
4Johannesburg🇿🇦 South Africa14.8M
5Luanda🇦🇴 Angola9.0M
6Khartoum🇸🇩 Sudan6.9M
7Abidjan🇨🇮 Cote d'Ivoire6.6M
8Nairobi🇰🇪 Kenya6.6M
9Accra🇬🇭 Ghana6.4M
10Dar es Salaam🇹🇿 Tanzania6.0M

Source: Urban agglomerates (2023) Citypopulation.de.

Down south, across the Sahara desert, and near the shores of the Atlantic, Nigeria’s former capital Lagos has slightly more than 21 million people. The city’s name comes from the numerous surrounding lagoons, and its original name in Yoruba, “Eko”, also means “lake.” Population estimates for the city are often disputed because of several different administrative regions, but also because of how fast Lagos is growing: it’s estimated 2,000 new residents move in every day.

Kinshasa, the capital of the DRC ranks third with about 15 million residents, and is slated to become the fourth largest city in the world, with 35 million people, by 2050.

Johannesburg, South Africa (15 million), and Luanda, Angola (9 million) round out the top five most populous African cities.

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