“Demographic winter is coming”: how the sharp drop in birth rates will affect the world

“Demographic winter is coming”: how the sharp drop in birth rates will affect the world
“Demographic winter is coming”: how the sharp drop in birth rates will affect the world

“The demographic winter is coming,” warns Jesús Fernández Villaverde (Europa Press).

At an unprecedented demographic milestone, The world is approaching a point of no return at which the global fertility rate could fall below the level required to keep the population constant.. This phenomenon, which could be happening already, is observed almost everywhere, regardless of women’s income, education, and labor participation.

“Demographic winter is coming”he warned in dialogue with The Wall Street Journal Jesús Fernández-Villaverde, economist specialized in demography at the University of Pennsylvania. The decline in the birth rate has profound implications for the way we live, economic growth, and the geopolitical power of nations.

In the current panorama, humanity finds itself at a demographic crossroads that could redefine the social and economic structures of the future. The global fertility rate is declining at a rate that could soon take it below the level needed to keep the world’s population constant, a phenomenon that generates alarms in multiple spheres.

Faced with this situation, government leaders around the world have expressed their concern about shrinking workforcess, slow economic growth and unsustainable pension systems; not to mention the decline in social vitality that comes with a society with fewer and fewer children. “The number of births that national registries are reporting is between 10% and 20% below what the UN projected”says Fernández-Villaverde, indicating the magnitude of the discrepancy with previous expectations.

According to the most recent estimates of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, the world’s population is expected to peak at around 9.5 billion in 2061, and then begin to decline. These updated projections suggest a more serious reality than previously anticipated by the UNwhich in 2017 forecast a population of 11.2 billion by the year 2100, a figure revised downwards to 10.4 billion, with an expected peak in the 2080s.

The decline in fertility is a global phenomenon – (illustrative image infobae)

The decline in fertility It is not limited to a specific region, but is a global phenomenon that spans from high-income nations to developing countries.. Traditionally, wealthier nations have experienced a drop in fertility rates since the 1970s, but this phenomenon has accelerated and spread during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Today, even countries with emerging economies such as Indiawhich recently surpassed China As the most populous country, they are reporting fertility rates below replacement level, which is about 2.1 children per woman to keep the population stable.

The reduction in the birth rate entails profound economic and social implications. On the one hand, economies face an aging population and a declining workforce, which puts economic growth and the sustainability of pension systems at risk.

On the other hand, social dynamics are altered by an increasing proportion of the elderly population compared to the young. This poses challenges not only in terms of tax burden and productivity, but also in the cultural and social vitality and renewal of societies.

Given this scenario, various world leaders have elevated the issue of fertility to a matter of national urgency. Countries like Japan, Italy and, more recently, USAwith comments from political figures such as Donald Trump, have initiated or intensified programs aimed at encouraging births. These range from direct subsidies to deeper reforms in child care and parental leave policies. However, so far, these efforts have failed to significantly reverse the declining trend.

According to projections of the United NationsIn 2017, the world population, then 7.6 billion, was expected to continue growing to reach 11.2 billion in 2100. However, these estimates have been revised and the population is now expected to peak at 10.4 billion. billion in the 2080s and then begin to decline.

Institutions like the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) from the University of Washington suggest an even earlier peak, around 9.5 billion in 2061, followed by a decline. That adjusted trend reflects not only a change in demographic expectations, but also a new reality to which governments and societies must adapt.

Economies face an aging population and a declining workforce – (Illustrative Image Infobae)

Various factors are contributing to the decline in global fertility. Among them, economic changes play a crucial role, urbanization, increase in educational levelespecially among women, and greater participation in the labor force are some of the elements that have led couples to choose to have fewer children.

Furthermore, aspects such as access to contraceptive methods and the decision to postpone motherhood to prioritize career or economic stability significantly influence birth rates.

Interestingly, a study of the University of Maryland in 2021 found that factors such as parental notification laws about abortionshe unemployment or the cost of living, explained very little of the decrease. That suggests that broader, harder-to-measure changes in social preferences and perceptions may be at play.

Access to contraceptive methods and the decision to postpone motherhood significantly influence birth rates (AP Photo/Matias Delacroix)

The impact of global culture and technology on fertility rates is notable, especially in developing countries. Urbanization and the spread of the internet have exposed traditionally isolated communities to new lifestyles and social expectations, where smaller families and a higher standard of living are seen as the ideal.

This “connection to global culture” redefine social norms in many places, which means that even in countries with lower incomes and where many women do not traditionally work, fertility rates are falling.

Demographic history teaches us that transitions in fertility rates are not new phenomena. The “demographic transition” refers to the historical shift initially observed in industrialized countries in the 18th century, where mortality and fertility began to decline, and more children survived infancy, reducing the need for large families.

This process was linked to improvements in living standards, education and health. Some demographers suggest that what we are seeing today could be part of a “second demographic transition”, where values ​​towards individuality and less emphasis on procreation are leading to even lower birth rates. This new phase is marked by a readjustment in personal and family priorities towards individual fulfillment rather than reproduction.

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