Stats on birth rates around the world reveal a dominant trend; lots of money means a lot less babies. This is known in social and economic theory as the ‘demographic-economic paradox’ – or, if you will, most people are too busy making and spending their money themselves to make time-and-money consuming babies. The ‘paradox’ part of this theory lies in the fact that greater wealth would – or, should – imply an ability to support more children more easily. According to evolutionary theory, our purpose is to procreate – and a bigger community is, in this traditional sense, a stronger community – so where there’s money there ought to be more child births per person. But the correlation is going the other way, showing us that there are notably less births in richer countries. There are numerous theories for this phenomenon, but the fact is that our industrialized societies don’t need a massive population to advance. The richest countries of the 21st century have advanced technology, streamlined time-saving utilities and comprehensive, efficient service industries that require comparatively few personnel to function. On the other side of the same counter-intuitive coin, poorer countries have reduced access to birth control or family planning education, and are dependent on power in numbers for manual labour.
For this reason, we’ve developed a perception of wealthy nations as having low birth rates and poor nations having very high birth rates. But there are nations going against that trend, reverting – it seems – to the traditional evolutionary pattern. What’s that about? We’ve selected ten of the top twenty richest in the world based on nominal GDP who are going against the grain, according to their recorded fertility rates. This provides a more up-to-the-moment picture of birthing trends than birth rates, so it’s an accurate measure of comparison. The lowest, average, and highest fertility rates worldwide are 0.79, 2.47, 7.03 respectively – a useful point of comparison.
We’ve excluded countries like China and India because – while they may have both high fertility rates and high GDPs – they’re relatively new to the industrialized world, and so they wouldn’t quite qualify for the standard paradox yet. We’re only looking at the truly surprising top 10. For that reason, France isn’t on the list either: Sure, a fertility rate of 2.08 for such a developed nation is high, but not in France… For obvious reasons!
10 – Japan (Fertility Rate: 1.39)
1.39 is a low birth rate in any country, so at face value this fits well into the typical demographic-economic paradox we’d expect, given that Japan has the third largest economy by nominal GDP in the world. What is surprising, though, is that this figure isn’t even lower. Japan is fast becoming one of the major world players in industry and technology, but it has only the 17th lowest birth rate in the world. Compared with two of Japan’s major economic competitors – South Korea, which has the 5th lowest infertility, and Singapore which has the 1st- Japan’s 1.39 is a little curious.
9– Italy (Fertility Rate: 1.41)
Though Italy, like many countries in Europe and the rest of the developed world, exports mostly electronics and services, it’s recently become a top exporter of renewable energy. As a country in the Eurozone, and one in the top ten for both GDP and purchasing power parity (PPP), Italy has a surprisingly high fertility rate near the higher end of the average for developed nations. Though we’d hesitate to say this birth rate is explicitly high, it isn’t low either. Point in fact, 1.41 puts Italy higher than most Eastern European countries, and even a few of the more developed Asian countries such as South Korea.
8 – Germany (Fertility Rate: 1.42)
Germany falls into the same category as Italy and Spain insofar as it has an average fertility rate on a world scale, but an unusual birth rate given its context. Germany’s fertility rate is higher than either Italy or Spain while its GDP ranks twice as high. We can’t help being a bit shocked, too, that the Germans are having more between-the-sheets baby making action than the fiery Latins. But seriously, Germany’s case does seem to throw the accepted theory of the paradox: 1.42 is not a low fertility rate, and Germany’s economy is almost entirely modernized with very little employment outside of the highest service and tech sectors. A counter-intuitive situation.
7 – Spain (Fertility Rate: 1.48)
Spain is an almost identical case to Italy in terms of where it falls on both the economic and fertility scales. One major difference, however, is that Spain has shifted its economic focus outwards over recent decades. Focusing more and more on international trade, Spain now owns a number of wide reaching multinationals, -most notably Iberdrola, the largest producer of wind power in the world. Given these economic developments, 1.48 seems pretty high. It looks like the Spaniards must be making the most of those afternoon siestas…
6 – Canada (Fertility Rate: 1.59)
Canada is a bit of a curiosity… Economically, of course. Though its economy is mainly service-industry based, just like almost all other industrialized countries, it still remains a chief international exporter of natural, primary resources such as lumber and oil. It’s these vast natural resources which make it one of very few developed nations which is a primary exporter of energy. Despite having one of the strongest economies in the world – its GDP is higher than Spain and Australia’s – its fertility rate remains higher than Italy and even Spain’s. Their wealth and fertility rate is ostensibly surprising, but the Canadians are still a heavily manually labouring population; so, the rural tradition of the large families working the land might still ring true for our Maple-syrup loving friends. They have more than enough space for all the babies though; despite the high fertitlity rate, Canada’s still one of the most sparsely populated developed countries in the world.
5 – Australia (Fertility Rate: 1.77)
Australia’s economy has boomed massively in recent years. Australia is largely self-sufficient, with huge reserves of natural resources from steel to rare earth metals, in addition to its prime location on the doorstep of growing economic giants like India and China; this makes it one of the most sustainable and largest economies in the world; Australia remained almost unscathed during the Global Economic Crisis. With this in mind, it’s more than a little surprising that the fertility rate of this very prosperous nation is higher than most of Europe, China, and a fair few Caribbean countries too.
4 – Brazil (Fertility Rate: 1.81)
It may not be surprising in and of itself that Brazil ranks fairly high on the fertility scale given the size of its cities and its famously large population. In fact, one might even expect it to be higher, but what’s really surprising is that despite the population trends being more typically those of a poorer country, Brazil in fact has one of the largest and fastest growing economies in the world with a greater nominal GDP than Russia. Brazil is now a developed country with strong service sectors, but it retains its large population and manufacturing sectors, too. Unfortunately, this surprising mix of economy and fertility may just be due to its massive wealth inequality.
3 – The United Kingdom (Fertility Rate: 1.90)
The UK, in its entirety, is smaller than Oregon. Despite this and its position as the 6th largest economy by nominal GDP in the world, its fertility rate is higher than most of the world’s wealthiest nations. As the first nation to ever fully industrialize, the UK, like Germany, depends heavily on its service sector, in particular the finance sector. Like Japan, a country of this size and economic make-up would be expected to have fairly low fertility rate. The UK has seen a surge in birth rates in recent years, and England have even said they’re so unprepared for this that there’s a midwife shortage. However, there could be a cultural side to his phenomenon: data from the UK Office for National Statistics shows that foreign mothers in the UK account for a quarter of the total, and births to UK nationals appear to be remaining static.
2 – The United States (Fertility Rate: 2.06)
The US has the largest economy by nominal GDP in the world and one of the highest fertility rates of any developed nation. With vast natural resources, massive industrial and service sectors, and strong trade relations across the globe, it is not difficult to understand why the US sits where it does economically. Like Brazil, this confusingly high fertility rate may be the result of gross economic disparity. Though we we’re more willing to guess that poor family planning education and the resultant teen pregnancy might play a part.
1 – Mexico (Fertility Rate: 2.25)
In recent years, Mexico has been taking huge steps towards modernizing its economy both in terms of importing and exporting. Though it was one of the countries most gravely impacted by the Global Financial Crisis (especially in the Americas) agriculture is playing an increasingly diminished role in Mexico and its industrialisation means it has one of the largest economies in the world. Mexico comes in at number four because, while all of this development gives it 14th largest economy in the world, it’s tradition of a high birth rate remains unchanged. Mexio has an almost above average birth rate, the 99th highest in the world, just behind Peru – a country nowhere near the top 20 GDPs in the world.