Fertility In More Developed Countries


This week’s readings focus on fertility rates in more developed populations (mainly Western countries) and also the impact of the second demographic transition on these populations. The authors discuss how more developed countries fertility rates have shifted as a response to the second demographic transition. They also focus on the impact these shifts will have on future population trends. Family policies are also mentioned as to how they shape childbearing choice and outcome.
Morgan (2003) discusses evidenced low fertility rates alongside aging populations and how these realities shift the demographic crisis (that was thought to be due to huge rates of population growth which were the result of high fertility levels across populations). At this time the focus was on poorer countries. While poorer countries provided evidence for the population bomb, more developed countries were in effect showing the aftermath of a population decimation which included fertility levels that barely reached replacement level. The impact of low fertility rates contributes to a number of socioeconomic issues across populations. This can lead to the opinion that poorer populations may not have as much fear for their aging populations due to having large family numbers that serve as a built in care mechanism. When countries do not have high levels of fertility, there is concern as to who will care for the aging population. Various countries use a number of systems that provide care to the aging population to circumvent their current fertility levels.
As is the case when we discuss countries with high fertility rates, the case could be made that countries with low fertility rates are just exercising their fertility choice. The determinants of low fertility rates, referred to as contrasts by Lesthaeghe (2010) are similar across populations. These determinants include later age of first marriage, later age of first birth, cohabitation practices, and women entering the labor force. The link between women entering the workforce and fertility rates were also mentioned in last week’s readings (Bhattacharya, 2006). The political climate of populations is also a factor in low fertility levels. These determinants are a larger factor in the lives of women of childbearing years. As a result, the decisions that women make (or are able to make) regarding their fertility in the context of the political or social environment that constitutes their current realities have longer reaching impact on society and the global community as a whole. Lesthaeghe (2006) looked at the relationship between the fertility rate of women and the percentage of women who voted conservatively in the 2004 elections. It would have been interesting to see the correlation between fertility rates and voter turnout in general (as opposed to voting for a particular candidate).
Many of the authors (Morgan, 2003; Lesthaeghe, 2006, 2010; Kertzer 2007) made correlations between low fertility levels and the second demographic transition. The second demographic transition is characterized by low fertility rates and a variety of socioeconomic deficiencies that impact society in a negative manner. In the readings, the second demographic transition is not discussed in a positive light, quite the opposite in fact, it is seen as a cause for the breakdown of societies. Lesthaeghe (2010) described the economic conditions required to enter the second demographic transition and by economics alone, it would be considered a transition that only existed for developed countries.
When women are making fertility choices, they may be focused on their immediate future and not on the potential limits that the consequences of their choices can lead to. This idea is prevalent in Kertzger’s (2007) discussion of low fertility rates. In the case of Italy, Billari (2003) finds that often times women are the sole determiner of their fertility choices (as opposed to women in less developed countries who have less agency and more rates of having more children than they would have liked to have). Neyer (2008) broadens the discussion of family policies to include the broader determinants that are intertwined in the creation, function, and implementation of policies that may or may not be effective for populations.
Morgan (2003) used Bongaarts’ framework as a point of foundational reference for his discussion of the factors that affect fertility rates. Looking at the various determinants and their effects on low fertility outcomes allowed for a broader view of the populations discussed. Morgan (2003) also included the value of continuing to look at non-Western countries as well. This would serve to provide for a richer understanding of the second demographic transition. If a wider framework such as Bongaarts’ conceptual model of the factors for fertility and is applied to various countries, a more layered answer will be presented as non-Western countries are also included in the discussion.
The readings showed that the impact of fertility decisions will have an impact on the population for generations to come. It is only with education, communication, and finding a balance between individual rights and the societal will, that there will be concerted effort to change the outcomes for the future so that all components of society are positively affected. It wasn’t mentioned but it seems as if in cultures where women have less reproductive freedom, more children are produced and in cultures where women have more reproductive freedom, less children are produced and the populations as a whole continue to expand and grow economically and technologically. As a result, even though less children are being produced in developed countries, they continue to progress forward, while less developed countries continue to struggle to provide even the basic necessities for the number of children in the population and lag in areas that would lead to societal progress(as seen in the video on population dividend).
Another issue that the readings did not aggressively address is the cultural bind that individuals are placed in and how the ties of culture can also shape a person’s thoughts on their ideal fertility but also their fertility outcomes if their government enforces those cultural ties. Lesthaeghe (2010) alludes to this idea when he discusses the nuptial regimes of countries.
Discussion Questions:
1. What would the impact be on populations if all countries had a child care/advocacy policy similar to Sweden?
2. What would be required for high fertility countries to have a shift in their population dividend in order to reduce their overall fertility?
3. What would be some ideas related to fertility that low fertility countries could learn from high fertility countries regarding the care of children?


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