Declining fertility rates are confounding demographers

Village women and slum families in some of the world's poorest countries are proving demographers – who once predicted that the earth's population would reach 12 billion – wrong. The experts have abandoned their old belief that culture and religion would thwart efforts to cut fertility. But rates are plunging toward or below replacement levels in countries both poor and prosperous.

  • A few decades ago, in certain countries like Brazil, Egypt, India and Mexico fertility rates were as high as five or six children per woman.

  • But now rates are racing toward replacement level – defined as 2.1 children per woman.

  • Even in Roman Catholic Italy, family size is shrinking faster than anywhere else in Europe.

  • As a result, United Nations demographers predict a world population peak of 10 billion rather than 12 billion before 2200 – from 6.2 billion now.

    In 1900, 86 percent of the world's population lived in rural areas. By 2000, urban communities were home to 47 percent of the population – with 53 percent still in the countryside.

    Between now and 2030, almost all of the growth will be in cities, demographers predict.

    But their forecasts have been off the mark before: they didn't anticipate the baby boom, and they didn't foresee the subsequent decline in fertility in industrialised Western democracies.

    Source: Barbara Crossette, Experts Scaling Back Their Estimates of World Population Growth, New York Times, August 20, 2002.

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    For more on World Population

    FMF Policy Bulletin\27 August 2002

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