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The economics of declining birth rates

U. MISSOURI (US) — Economic changes have the greatest effect on reducing family size, and thus slowing population growth, compared to other factors, a new study shows.

Researchers say 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 educational attainment, 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 fertility rates, according to the results of our study,” says Mary Shenk, assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Missouri.

“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 contraception provide better results and are thus a better use of resources.”

For the study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers 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.
  • Economic and investment—Rising costs of children and higher payoffs to investing in self and children reduce fertility with the shift to a market economy.
  • Cultural transmission—Social perceptions of the value of children, ideal family size, and acceptance of contraception influence fertility rates.

Shenk and colleagues used specially designed data collection and statistical methods to discern that “economic and investment” factors most clearly correlated to lower fertility.  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,” says Shenk. “Population growth 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.”

The National Science Foundation funded the study.

Source: University of Missouri

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  1. nerf herder

    Pretty much what I had thought – on a farm, children are useful with chores and never far from sight. Off the farm, where the parents are away at work, children are not an asset but a liability – they need somebody to watch them, and take money to be educated. And in some societies, weddings are prohibitively expensive for the parents.

    What would be interesting is if they had a prediction for the maximum population we will reach, and when.

  2. scruff

    No one seems to care that teen birth rates have declined at an unnatural rate since 1993. If anything, there are more teens today having more sex, and no teens aren’t all having safe sex either trust me. Teens **** like rabbits and there is nothing you can do to stop them, so then why has the teen birth rate gone down soooo much in the past 20 years? It’s a god damn conspiracy for subtle population control, that’s the only logical explanation because I know damn well teens aren’t practicing safe sex 50% more now than they were 20 years ago, the rates should have gone up if anything, but go ahead and google “teen birth rates”. Every image of a graph is a straight decline. The best explanation I’ve found so far is that MONSANTO, the company who controls over 75% of all our food, which they aren’t even a food company, they started as a PESTICIDE company. They have been putting a pesticide on corn with a certain chemical that attaches itself to male sperm, subtley increasing its weight so it’s harder for it to reach the egg on its already difficult journey. Think about it. Corn is in literally every single food product out there. High fructose corn syrup, xantham gum, baking powder, glucose, margaraine, chips, tortillas, etc…If all corn products slightly increased the weight of male sperm, it would be the perfect ingredient to balance the scales of teen birth rates, slowing down population growth enough to give us a little more time, but not too much as to freak everyone out.

  3. Brian K

    Isn’t the reason for declining birth rates due to people not being open to life, in other words, being atheistic in their thinking. People are going against Nature for short term gain at the expense of long term misery for our children and grand-children in the so called developed countries. What I mean by this is, if this trend continues, which it likely will, the dependency ratio will flip. This will mean the number of older retired people will begin outnumber the younger workers. The reason why this trend will likely not stop is, that the younger workers will continue to have to pay in a higher and higher amount of their earnings to support the greatly expanded elderly. The elderly will vote in these tax increases as they become a larger and larger voting block. This will further motivate a young married couple not to have children as they will able to less afford children due to the higher taxes to support the entitlements of the older folk.

    Read Pope Paul 6th predictions in 1968 on how the widespread use of contraception were prophetic, yet has been dismissed, laughed at by the secular public at large. It is a mistake when us humans think we know better than God. Europe may be the first pay for ignoring this advice. It would be delusional denial if the rest of the world followed suit and repeated the same mistakes. But it looks like the rest of the world is going to follow suit. Look at Greece and yet people still vote in politicians that continue the borrow now pay later policies. But there will be fewer and fewer of the younger to pay later. The policies society seems to prioritize are promoting contraception, pre-marital sex, same sex marriage, abortion. All of these policies are Anti-Life and accelerate us and our grand-children down the path to misery.

    Remember our wrong doings and sin just don’t affect us but everyone around us as a whole. The politicians are a reflection of the society that elects them. Make the first step in changing the society by making the change yourself. Even if you think it will not make a difference to the society as a whole, God will know. And He will reward you eternally in Heaven for your virtuous deeds.

  4. Anonymous

    Actually, more teens are having safer sex. Contraception use is way up, thanks to evidence-based public policy (aka “comprehensive sex-ed”) in a number of regions. However, geographic areas clinging to “abstinence-only” education maintain teen pregnancy rates far above the national average.
    Teens will have sex. Definitely not all, but enough. Demanding abstinence doesn’t work. Comprehensive sex-ed not only lowers teen birthrates, but also greatly reduces abortions. Yet, it’s still opposed despite these fantastic results?

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