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Lottery of birth
Lottery of birth

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3 A good time to be born?

There remains considerable debate about the causes and end points of the current demographic transition (in which a fall in mortality rates is quickly followed by a fall in birth rates, and full control over fertility results in fertility declining below replacement levels). But the big story is that a dramatic change has taken place right around the world – people are choosing to have fewer children.

Low fertility is becoming a feature of both rich and poor countries alike. In Western Europe, most countries are below replacement level and a similar feature is emerging in Asia led by Singapore and Korea. Even countries such as Pakistan and Afghanistan are predicted to halve their current rate and reach just above replacement levels by 2050 (Harper, 2013).

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Figure _unit5.4.1 Figure 4

Although the steady and unrelenting fall in the number of children being born frequently makes the headlines (particularly the unprecedented decline in Europe’s population), this is a varied picture with the most severe decline projected for Eastern Europe, more modest declines in Western Europe and slight increases in Northern Europe (Coleman and Rowthorn, 2013).

Study note _unit5.4.1

If you’re interested to find out more, you can explore the Telegraph’s interactive population growth map [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] showing how European countries’ birth rate are much lower than other countries across the world. (Click on each country to find out the rate and the population growth percentage, according to data from World Bank and CIA).

Whether a government can, or should, interfere with fertility rates raises profoundly troubling ethical and political issues.

You have looked briefly at these issues already in Week 2 when you read about, for example, state support for families.

Whether population policies actually increase or decrease fertility will become an easier question to answer with the increasing data collection and analysis of the past couple of decades.

It seems that, according to the evidence we have at present, it is easier to reduce fertility levels than to increase them, and pro-natalist policies only marginally improve fertility rates (Gauthier, 2013). However, that doesn’t mean nation states won’t continue to be concerned about this issue and how to respond to it.

Of equal importance, of course, is a response to the next generation: the quarter of the global population growing up now. This next generation, while they are the healthiest and most educated generation ever, will still experience the distorting effects of inequalities of birth on their lives, priorities, aspirations and choices. The report by the UN Population Fund at the link below highlights some of the key issues.

My body my life my world UNPFA