Taps Coogan – July 25th, 2022
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The following chart, from the creator of the wonderful website Econimica, shows the number of births globally and the UN’s low and median estimates for births and child bearing age females until 2100.
An increase in the fertility rate today would take 18+ years to change the trend in the childbearing-age female population (the median age of childbirth for mothers in the US is 30), thus population projections tend to be pretty accurate for the next couple decades. To the extent that these UN forecasts are wrong, they have almost always over-estimated fertility rates, meaning that the ‘low variant’ case is likely to be most accurate. Either way, the number of births almost certainly peaked in 2013 at 140 million globally.
While some regions, primarily Africa and the Middle East, still have fertility rates well above the replacement rate of 2.1, every single developed economy in the world except Israel has a fertility rate below 2.1.
Unless there is a unforeseen increase in fertility rates, in a handful of decades, the global population is likely to begin declining for the first time since the Black Death.
Few of our global institutions are structured to properly handle an aging/shrinking population. Notably, the ‘New Deal’ social welfare model adopted by most developed countries in the 20th Century (when working age populations were still growing quickly), whereby workers are taxed in order to support retirement and healthcare for the elderly, simply doesn’t work when the population of workers starts shrinking relative to retirees. That is likely to be the largest sociopolitical challenge of our era.
As far as what could get fertility rates back to 2.1 in developed countries, here is an anecdotal observation. Since 1800, fertility rates in the UK have meaningfully increased just three times: after the Napoleonic Wars, World War I, and World War II. In the case of the Napoleonic wars and World War II, the increase was larger than than the decline during the Wars.
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