What’s happening: The world is experiencing a precipitous drop in birthrates, potentially setting the stage for a bleak future. Prior to the 1980s, the world fertility rate was a stable 4-5 children per woman. It’s now a little over 2.3 per woman. Data scientist Stephen J Shaw has some answers regarding the causes behind the falling birth rates.
What’s the cause? The issue is what he calls "unplanned childlessness." It is estimated that 30-40 percent of the total population of developed countries is now childless, with only 5 percent of these individuals choosing this path voluntarily. Shaw attributes the decline to societal and cultural changes, such as delayed childbearing due to career and educational pursuits, difficulties in finding the right partner, and overreliance on assisted reproductive technologies. This makes it a societal issue as women are choosing other things over having children.
The effects: The repercussions of this trend are far-reaching, with potential negative impacts on economies, healthcare systems, and welfare provisions. Decreasing birth rates coupled with aging populations may lead to deserted cities and increased loneliness among the elderly, contributing to a rise in suicide rates (happening in Japan). South Korea faces an extreme situation as its birth rates are so far behind its death rates that it experiences a net decrease of one person every 14 minutes.
Possible solutions: While the governments of various countries—Hungary, Russia, Denmark, Japan, South Korea, Italy, China, and soon, possibly America—are attempting to fight the problem with financial incentives, extended parental leave, or tax reductions, these have not proven significantly effective in the long term. Shaw proposes heavily advocating for starting families earlier in life while revamping education and employment structures to accommodate later-in-life career advancement.