Fertility rate to fall below replacement level in almost every world region by 2040: report

An expectant mother stares out the window as she holds her pregnant belly.
An expectant mother stares out the window as she holds her pregnant belly. | Bethany Christian Services

Fertility rates are expected to fall below the replacement rate in every region of the world except Sub-Saharan Africa by 2040, a new report reveals. 

The comprehensive demographic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study was published in the peer-reviewed medical journal The Lancet on March 20. Based on research led by the University of Washington, the report analyzes global fertility in over 200 countries between 1950 and 2021 and provides forecasts on future fertility rates to the year 2100.

The statistics in the report, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, were compiled by multiple authors. 

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"Fertility rates have declined dramatically around the world since 1950 and will continue to decline in almost all countries and territories up to 2100," the report states. "While human civilisation is converging on a sustained low-fertility reality, comparatively high fertility rates in some lowincome countries and territories will result in a clear demographic divide between a subset of low-income countries and the rest of the world."

The global fertility rate has dropped from 4.83 in 1950 to 2.23 in 2021. The total fertility rate is measured as the number of children born per woman. The report defines the replacement-level fertility rate, referring to the "minimum rate necessary for generational replacement of the population," as 2.1. The global total fertility rate is projected to drop below replacement level in 2040 in all but one region: Sub-Saharan Africa.

As of 2021, only two regions of the world have total fertility rates above replacement level: North Africa and the Middle East (2.53) and Sub-Saharan Africa (4.29).

The region classified as "high income," which includes the United States, has a total fertility rate of 1.51. Fertility rates in South Asia (2.07), Latin America and the Caribbean (1.98), central Europe, eastern Europe and central Asia (1.81) and southeast Asia, east Asia and Oceania (1.55) are also below replacement level as of 2021. 

By 2100, the global fertility rate is projected to be 1.59, well below the replacement level. Even in Sub-Saharan Africa, where total fertility rates are expected to remain above replacement level through most of the rest of the century, the total fertility rate is expected to drop to 1.82. 

The report elaborates on the consequences of declining total fertility rates worldwide, predicting that "sustained low fertility rates — and a resulting contraction and [aging] of the population — will lead to serious economic challenges and increasing pressure on health systems, social security programmes, and the labour force." 

Comparatively high fertility rates in poorer regions of the world will lead to "serious challenges related to sustaining and supporting a growing young population in some of the most heatstressed, politically unstable, economically vulnerable, health system-strained locations," researchers note. 

Implementing policy changes in the immediate future, especially in countries where the total fertility rate is at 1.75 or lower, may help prevent the total fertility rate from falling to the projections outlined in the "reference scenario," the report states.

Another set of projections is included in the event that countries with total fertility rates below 1.75 implement "pro-natal policies" that "create supportive environments for those who give birth." 

Examples of "pro-natal policies" include "childcare subsidies, extended parental leave, [and] insurance coverage expansion for infertility treatment." The implementation of "pro-natal policies" in countries with total fertility rates below 1.75 will lead to a global total fertility rate of 1.68 by 2100 as opposed to 1.59. 

The projections in the report show that the scenario with "pro-natal policies enacted" will result in slightly higher total fertility rates in all seven regions of the world even as they remain below replacement level. The total fertility rate in central Europe, eastern Europe, and central Asia will be 1.64 as opposed to 1.57 in the reference scenario. 

Implementing "pro-natal policies" in high-income countries, where total fertility rates are already below replacement level, will have a more noticeable impact. While the reference scenario shows a total fertility rate of 1.37 in such countries, that figure rises to 1.56 if "pro-natal policies" are enacted. 

In Latin America, a scenario with "pro-natal policies enacted" will result in a total fertility rate of 1.50 as opposed to 1.31. North Africa and the Middle East would have a total fertility rate of 1.75 rather than 1.64 while South Africa would boast a total fertility rate of 1.28 instead of 1.10 and southeast Asia, east Asia, and Oceania would have a total fertility rate of 1.49 rather than 1.30. Sub-Saharan Africa's 1.82 total fertility rate under the "reference scenario" would balloon to 1.89 with "pro-natal policies enacted." 

Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at:

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