Birth rates will fall worldwide by 2100

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The world’s population is still growing, but according to a current forecast, it is likely to shrink again in the long term: by 2100, only six countries worldwide—Samoa, Tonga, Somalia, Niger, Chad, and Tajikistan—will be above the 2.1 children per woman mark. This value is considered the threshold for keeping the population at a constant level.

For the remaining 198 countries, the researchers assume that the birth rate in 2100 will be below the 2.1 mark. The number of people there is likely to fall in the long term unless immigration is used to counteract this writes the team led by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington in Seattle, USA, in the scientific journal “The Lancet”. According to the forecast, 155 countries will already be below the 2.1 threshold by 2050 (2021: 110).

Social change
“We are facing a shattering social change in the 21st century,” said IMHE researcher Stein Emil Vollset, according to the press release. The world will simultaneously be confronted with a baby boom in some countries and a shortage of young people in many others. Co-author Natalia Bhattacharjee added that the development will “completely reshape the global economy and the international balance of power and necessitate a reorganization of societies.” There will be fierce competition for migrants in order to maintain economic growth.

For Catherina Hinz, Managing Director at the Berlin Institute for Population and Development, the new report confirms the trend also assumed by other institutions. However, she points out that such estimates should be treated with caution. “Projections that go more than 25 years into the future are super uncertain,” said Hinz, who was not involved in the report. After all, no one can predict with absolute certainty how the economy, society, and health will develop in different regions of the world.

Falling birth rates
Between 1950 and 2021, the global birth rate fell from around 5 to 2.2, and by the end of the century, it will be 1.6, the team led by the IHME researchers now predicts in the Lancet. By comparison, the estimates of the United Nations (UN) in a report from 2022 were somewhat less drastic, at around 1.8. At that time, the UN assumed that the global population would peak at 10.4 billion people in the 2080s. Currently, it is assumed that the population will be around 8.1 billion. For Western Europe, the “Lancet” report funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation predicts an average birth rate of 1.37 in 2100.

Less than one child
The Lancet report predicts a birth rate of less than 1 in 2100 for 13 countries, including South Korea, Taiwan, and Bosnia and Herzegovina. According to demography expert Hinz, governments in countries that will have low birth rates in the future are faced with questions such as: How do you keep the economy going in the face of a shrinking population? What role should immigration play? And how should it be organized? How should fewer young people finance more senior citizens? “Politicians need to take demographic developments more into account when planning for the future.”

In principle, however, Hinz sees the falling birth rates around the world as positive. Such a decline is usually an indication of longer life expectancy and more education for women. In other words: “Improvements in living conditions go hand in hand with falling fertility rates.”

Populations are still growing in some places
However, the Lancet report states that comparatively high birth rates will continue to exist, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. In these countries, many of which are politically and economically unstable, heat-stressed, and have ailing healthcare systems – the population is likely to continue to grow over the course of the 21st century. The research team assumes that in around 75 years, more than half of all babies born worldwide will be born in sub-Saharan Africa. “This emphasizes the urgent need to improve access to modern contraceptives and women’s education in these countries,” the team writes in a press release.

The researchers used data from the 2021 Global Burden of Disease Report as the basis for their forecasts, which included predictions on mortality, birth rates, education levels, lack of contraceptive options, infant mortality, and urbanization.

German expert Hinz assumes that the general trend in birth rates will continue. It is true that future crises, such as wars and climate-related disasters, could temporarily slow down the trend. “But the big tanker world population is difficult to get out of the water.”

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