Why the birth rate keeps falling and the world population is (still) growing

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One billion more people in 11 years. The global population is growing by staggering numbers, confirms a UN report released today. World citizen number 8 billion is expected in November. But zooming in on birth rates, the great stagnation of world population growth has long since begun.

On average, women have far fewer children than before. Even in sub-Saharan Africa, where the birth rate is more than double that of Europe and North America, that number has been steadily declining since 1980. It has dropped from almost seven children on average to 4.5 today.

According to the UN, the global average is now below 2.5 births per woman:

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In this article, four questions and answers about the UN’s latest population growth.

Why is the world’s population rising so fast?

This is due to a combination of the fact that people on average live (much) longer and that relatively many children are still born in certain parts of the world. The aforementioned 4.5 babies per woman in sub-Saharan Africa is historically a low average, but it still represents strong population growth.

In the graph above, you can imaginatively draw a horizontal line at 2.1 births per woman. This is the minimum number of babies needed to sustain a population, according to the United Nations.

Europe and North America have been under it for almost half a century. Therefore, the population here can on average only grow as a result of immigration and further extension of the average life expectancy.

But in Africa and parts of Asia, the birth rate is still above the 2.1-tipping point. At the current rate, the UN expects the world population to stabilize at around 10.4 billion people by the end of this century.

Why is growth leveling off so fast?

Between 1960 and 1970, one can see almost all lines in the graph go down significantly. This is partly due to the advent of birth control pills and other contraceptives. But it is also related to the decline in child mortality that has already started and the increase in education, explains Emeritus Professor of Demography Pieter Hooimeijer.

“Where children used to be a kind of social security for parents and contributed to income, children became more and more expensive because they also had to have education. In addition, it also became less necessary to have many babies because many more survived than before.”

In short, the more affluent and educated a population becomes, the fewer children are born on average per capita. family. And it has been happening on a large scale for years. The percentage of the world’s population living below the poverty line has more than halved since 1990. The UN goal is that by 2030, only 3 percent of the population will live in extreme poverty.

To what extent does religion play a role in birth rates?

In Judaism, Christianity and Islam, there has always been traditional opposition to contraception, Hooimeijer continues. “We still see that Muslims in East Africa, for example, have more children on average. But that only applies to the poorer part of the population. And this is also seen in the Christian population, which also has more children than the average.”

UN statistics reinforce the image that a higher level of education and income has a greater impact on birth rates than religion. In predominantly conservative-Muslim Saudi Arabia, the average number of babies per woman has dropped from just over 7 to just over 2.

What are the expectations for the Netherlands?

While the population is shrinking in some European countries, this is not yet the case in the Netherlands. However, the current birth rate is below the tipping point of 2.1 births per woman. For the time being, the Dutch population will continue to grow as a result of migration and an increasing life expectancy.

Statistics Holland expects that by 2070 somewhere between 18.8 million and 22.2 million people will live in the Netherlands. These figures are far apart because it is difficult to predict the number of migrants over such a long period of time.

The increasingly aging population brings with it problems. This phenomenon will further exacerbate the already acute shortage of staff. Health care spending will also continue to rise because more and more elderly people are dependent on medical care for longer periods of time. But global statistics suggest that all countries will sooner or later have to deal with this.

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