While concerns with overpopulation - correlating with a worsening lack of resources, climate change and growing worldwide poverty - continue to stir political agendas, it may come as a surprise to learn that about 60 percent of the world’s total population lives in countries that are currently experiencing a considerable decline in fertility rates. What this means for the 7 billion individuals that inhabit this planet remains to be seen, but investigating the factors contributing to this phenomenon may lead to a better understanding of our global future.
The fact is, no single theory can explain why or how countries experience a decline in birth rates (i.e. the number of children being born relative to number of persons who pass away). Some sociologists have pointed to a modern surge in feminism and secularism: This affects the politics of home and family life and the changing values of a country's demographic. This, in turn, contributes to the way couples structure their views on marriage and sex and influences their prioritisation of career and family. All these aspects of modern life are potential influencing factors on individuals' decisions to produce less offspring, but not one of these factors can precisely explain why so many countries just aren't having as many babies.
A simple comparison between countries with low birth rates will reveal how complex the issue really is - countries with widely varying cultural and economic systems are simultaneously experiencing this decline. Some may see a decline in birthrates as merciful since, according to a UNICEF report, there are between 143 million and 210 million orphans worldwide. Doubtless this harrowing reality, paired with apocalyptic fears of overcrowding and overrun resources, will convince some that fewer children born into a world of shrinking resources may not be such a bad thing.
But, of course, making babies matters; not just for the security of a nation’s economic future, but also for new generations to care for the older population and to ensure the preservation and evolution of a nation’s heritage and culture. Also, perhaps most importantly, to birth new generations of innovators.
High birth rates can be problematic, too, however. The countries with some of the highest birth rates in the world are typically also some of the poorest countries in the world - and, consequently, these are the nations least well-placed to provide for a large and increasing population. Niger, for example, has a birth rate of around 46.8 i.e. an average of 46.8 births per 1000 people in the population.
The following countries are those listed as having the lowest birth rates in the world, according to international statistics as per the CIA World Factbook. What sort of external factors are influencing these extraordinarily low birth rates? We've had a look at each country case-by-case to get an idea as to why the citizens of these nations are choosing to have fewer children.
10 Slovenia: 8.66
Located in South Central Europe between Austria and Croatia, Slovenia has 8.66 births per 1,000 Slovenes. The country first began experiencing a decline in birth rates in 1993 and since then, increases in the Slovene population has been mainly due to immigration. In Slovenia, women on average pursue higher education more than men. This may explains why Slovene women choose not to have children, or to have fewer children; since they view motherhood as hindering the achievement of their educational and professional goals. Childbearing may also be less attractive here because of the perceived high cost of raising children, as well as insecure employment opportunities in the country - the unemployment rate in Slovenia has recently been creeping over 10% - that would make anyone wary of having another mouth to feed.
9 Taiwan: 8.61
8 Czech Republic: 8.55
At 8.55 births per 1,000 Czechs, the Czech Republic is experiencing the repercussions of the late childbearing trend that began in the 1990s. Researchers at Demographic Research explain this trend as a reaction to the increased use of contraception coupled with less traditional views on child bearing, resulting in the formation of fewer marriages and less traditional forms of partnerships.
7 Germany: 8.37
In Germany, 8.37 babies are born for every 1,000 people. These figures mark Germany with the lowest birth rate of all the Western European countries. The estimated population drop from the current 81 million to 66 million by 2060 is spreading the fear of an "Schrumpf-Nation Deutschland", or ‘shrinking Germany’. The German government now promotes child rearing initiatives aiming to encourage women to remain as housewives outside of the work force. This fear and the consequent shift back to more family-oriented values has led to German women who balance work and family life being dubbed as “raven mothers” - a statement accusing working women of neglecting their children.
6 South Korea: 8.33
With 8.33 births per 1,000 people in South Korea, the country has seen a steady decline in birth rates since the 1990’s. There a few influencing factors at work. For one, the burden of child-rearing is heavily on the mother's side in South Korean culture, meaning that the careers of women who have children are typically forced to take a backseat - but more and more women are prioritising their careers. In the capital Seoul, it’s speculated that a child’s expensive and often unaffordable education is the greatest determent for families to have children. More and more couples are dissuaded from starting a family because of this expense. The low birth rate in South Korea is causing fears for the future of the country's economy, and the country is aiming to subsidise education more heavily in order to reduce costs and encourage women to have children.
5 Japan: 8.23
Japan is known for its exceptional care and respect for its senior citizens - and, indeed, it’s the country with the highest ratio of elderly people . There are 8.23 births per 1,000 people in Japan, which is leading to an inverse population pyramid weighed down by the elderly. Women have a low employment rate in Japan and so the low birth rate can’t be directly related to an issue with balancing home and family life. Experts say it’s more a question of individuals marrying late into adulthood or preferring to stay single and remaining childless that’s the cause of this ongoing trend. Recent studies have shown that the Japan's population reports having sex less frequently than any other country, and apps and computer programs allowing for online relationships are booming here. Of course, babies can't be made with virtual partners... At least, not yet.
4 Singapore: 7.91
There are 7.91 births per 1,000 people in Singapore. According to founding father Lee Kuan Yew, this low birth rate is due in part to changing attitudes regarding the traditional female role and the classic family unit. Since more and more women are full time workers, they have little time to dedicate to raising children. Meeting the balance between work and family life often proves too difficult and many couples prefer not to have children at all.
3 Saint Pierre and Miquelon: 7.79
There isn't much to say about the birth rate in this very small nation - given its size, the birth rate is unsurprising, and isn't necessarily representative of a larger social trend. Located in the northwestern Atlantic Ocean, south of Newfoundland, Canada, this set of eight islands - of which two are inhabited - totals only 242 square kilometres. It's a self-governing French colony, and here there are 7.79 births for every 1,000 people. As the population isn't much over 6000 people, that means about 50 people are born on this island annually. Every birth must be a special event!
2 Hong Kong: 7.58
As one of the most densely populated places in the world, Hong Kong has a total population of 7.15 million, with as many as 6,000 people for every square kilometer. There are 7.58 births for every 1,000 people in Hong Kong and it’s no mystery why many families are dissuaded from raising large families because of the tight quarters they live in . But shrinking families will result in a shrinking workforce that will reduce the country’s efficiency and competitiveness in the global economy that, as a free market, which relies heavily on international trade, could suffer if this trend continues.
1 Monaco: 6.79
Monaco is located in Western Europe, on the southern coast of France, bordering Italy. It's relatively tiny: only about three times the size of the National Mall in Washington, DC. 30, 500 people make up its total population and there are 6.79 births for every 1,000 people. 95 percent of the population identify as practicing Roman Catholics, and with Monegasque society placing an emphasis on the value of family and traditional gender roles, it’s certainly not religious factors contributing to the country’s low fertility rates. The unemployment rate here is 0%, so while economic instability isn't a contributing factor to the low birth rate it's quite possible people here are so busy focusing on their careers that they're reluctant to switch focus to family life.
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