Economics influence fertility rates more than other factors

April 30, 2013, University of Missouri-Columbia

The world population could top 8 billion in the year 2023 if current growth rates remain constant, according to United Nations figures. However, if global fertility rates slow more quickly than expected, there could be up to half a billion fewer mouths to feed on Earth in 2023. Based on a recent study by a University of Missouri anthropologist, economic changes have the greatest impact on reducing family size, and thus slowing population growth, compared to other factors. Understanding the causes of declining birth rates may lead to improved policies designed to influence fertility and result in reduced competition for food, water, land and wealth.

"Improvements in economic development, such as higher , increasing employment in the formal labor market, and the shift away from agriculture, seem to have a doubly-powerful effect because they not only raise individuals' standards of living, but also correlate to declining , according to the results of our study," said Mary Shenk, assistant professor of in MU's College of Arts and Science. "Another important finding of our study was that intervention programs that made changes that really affected individuals achieved the best results. For example, although advertising campaigns encouraging lower fertility may reach a wider audience for less money, face-to-face intervention campaigns providing health services or access to provide better results and are thus a better use of resources."

In their research, Shenk and her colleagues used data collected since 1966 from approximately 250,000 people in rural Bangladesh, along with detailed interviews of nearly 800 women from the region. Sixty-four factors related to family size were considered and organized according to three possible explanations for declines in fertility rates:

  • Risk and mortality – Parents have fewer children when they have more hope that children will survive into adulthood, according to this explanation.
  • Economic and investment – This explanation suggests that rising costs of children and higher payoffs to investing in self and children reduce fertility with the shift to a market economy.
  • Cultural transmission – This explanation holds that social perceptions of the value of children, ideal family size and acceptance of contraception influence fertility rates.

Shenk's team used specially designed data collection and statistical methods to discern that "economic and investment" factors most clearly correlated to lower fertility. However, Shenk noted that the three possible explanations were interwoven. Although economic factors were significantly more influential, other phenomena such as mortality rates and health interventions also affect fertility decline in Bangladesh.

"Few studies have compared those three possible explanations for fertility declines to determine which had the strongest effect," said Shenk. " rates have fallen globally, starting in 18th century Western Europe, but the exact cause was intensely debated because there are so many different explanations in the literature. Our study created a framework by which different explanations could be explicitly compared. Population data from any region could be analyzed using these methods to help researchers, government officials, health workers and others understand the key drivers of demographic change in that region."

Explore further: Low fertility in Europe -- is there still reason to worry?

Related Stories

Low fertility in Europe -- is there still reason to worry?

June 17, 2011
The post-war trend of falling birth rates has been reversed across Europe, according to a new study. However, despite an increasing emphasis on family and fertility policies in Europe, this recent development involves social, ...

Education can offset impact of low fertility trap

April 5, 2013
A smarter, better educated population may help offset the impacts of declining fertility rates in East Asia, and provide lessons for Australia, according to a new report from the Australian National University's Australian ...

Fertility rates affected by global economic crisis

June 28, 2011
The global economic recession of 2008-09 has been followed by a decline in fertility rates in Europe and the United States, bringing to an end the first concerted rise in fertility rates in the developed world since the 1960s, ...

Education - a key determinant of population growth and human well-being

July 28, 2011
28 July 2011 -- Future trends in global population growth could be significantly affected by improvements in both the quality and quantity of education, particularly female education. Projections of future population trends ...

Recommended for you

Number of older people with four or more diseases will double by 2035, say researchers

January 23, 2018
A study published today in Age and Ageing, the scientific journal of the British Geriatrics Society, reports that the number of older people diagnosed with four or more diseases will double between 2015 and 2035. A third ...

Placental accumulation of flame retardant chemical alters serotonin production in rats

January 22, 2018
A North Carolina State University-led research team has shown a connection between exposure to a widely used flame retardant chemical mixture and disruption of normal placental function in rats, leading to altered production ...

Marijuana use does not lower chances of getting pregnant

January 22, 2018
Marijuana use—by either men or women—does not appear to lower a couple's chances of getting pregnant, according to a new study led by Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH) researchers.

Women run faster after taking newly developed supplement, study finds

January 19, 2018
A new study found that women who took a specially prepared blend of minerals and nutrients for a month saw their 3-mile run times drop by almost a minute.

Americans are getting more sleep

January 19, 2018
Although more than one in three Americans still don't get enough sleep, a new analysis shows first signs of success in the fight for more shut eye. According to data from 181,335 respondents aged 15 and older who participated ...

Wine is good for you—to a point

January 18, 2018
The Mediterranean diet has become synonymous with healthy eating, but there's one thing in it that stands out: It's cool to drink wine.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.