Falling fertility rates could see populations halved by 2100

CAPE TOWN- The Covid-19 pandemic could be a contributing factor to the falling fertility rates as a study has estimated that countries such as Japan, Spain and 23 others are expected to see their populations halve by the end of 2100.

In an article published in the Lancet by researchers at the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, 183 out of 195 countries will have a fertility rate below the replacement level, meaning populations will decrease drastically.

The fertility rate is the number of live births every 1,000 women of reproductive age per year. If it falls below around 2.1, the size of the population could start to fall.

Seventy years ago, women were having an average of 4.7 children in their lifetime. In 2017, the global fertility rate nearly halved to around 2.5 children. The latest study estimates that it could fall below 1.7 by 2100, which could mean that almost all the countries worldwide could have a shrinking population by the end of the century.

“Because of progress in female educational attainment and access to contraception contributing to declining fertility rates, continued global population growth through the century is no longer the most likely trajectory for the world’s population,” researchers wrote in the study.


First author of the paper, Professor Stein Emil Vollset, said that while the population is set to increase in the coming years, it will most likely face a sharp decline of 1 billion people in 2100.

“In 1950, the world’s population was 2.6 billion. In the past 70 years we have grown to close to 8 billion today. Our reference or most plausible forecast shows that the world population will increase by 2 billion in the next 40-50 years and will peak at around 9.7 billion. It will then decline by 1 billion to 8.8 billion in the year 2100,”he said.

Japan’s population is projected to decrease from around 128 million in 2017 to less than 53 million by the end of the century. Italy is expected to see a population crash from 61 million to 28 million over the same timeframe.

How could the pandemic cause a fall in the fertility rate?

The Covid-19 pandemic has brought about economic uncertainty, health concerns for childbirth in hospitals, and constraints for people to meet potential partners in social gathering. All of these factors could have a part to play in women opting not to have children.

Women have greater access to contraception, and are placing more focus in education and work. Home-schooling pressures and safety concerns are also likely to impact number of births.

Not only do people have fewer social opportunities to meet potential partners, but there have been extra constraints of accessing assisted reproductive technologies. Cancellation of elective surgery during the initial outbreak saw some In vitro fertilization (IVF) treatments postponed.

Graphic by Keagan Le Grange.

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