The Global Fertility Crisis

Bloomberg BusinessWeek recently posted an article describing the Global Fertility Crisis. As we look at the forces likely to shape our future, we spend a lot of time and media cycles analyzing the exponential progression of science and technology. Our Emerging FutureThis powerful force is having a profound impact on society. But the opposite is also true: society is influencing the path of innovation. Societal Factors play as big a role in establishing the path of our emerging future. I placed societal factors in the middle of the visual I use to connect an overwhelming number of dots. The two curves that surround them are the science and technology foundation; and the future scenarios that it spawns. Societal tension happens in both directions; out towards the curves, and in from the curves.

The global decline of fertility rates is one of those factors. The total fertility rate at which a population replaces itself from one generation to the next is called the replacement fertility rate. At least two children per woman is needed to ensure a stable population from generation to generation. The fertility rate of five live births per woman in the 1960’s dropped to 2.43 by 2017 – close to that critical threshold. Why? Several reasons:

  1. Declining child mortality
  2. Greater access to contraception
  3. More women in education and work: the empowerment of women
  4. The rising cost of bringing up children

Children Per Woman

While the global average fertility rate was still above the rate of replacement, about half of all countries had already fallen below it. For places such as the U.S. and parts of Western Europe, which historically are attractive to migrants, loosening immigration policies could make up for low birth rates. In other places, more drastic policy interventions may be called for.


Declining global fertility rates have reduced the global population growth rate from a peak of 2.1% per year in 1968 to less than 1.1% today. Population growth is vital to the world economy, providing more producers, consumers, sparks of innovation, and citizens to pay taxes and attract trade. It was the very high mortality that kept population growth in check in the past; It is likely low fertility that does so this time.

Ultimately, no country will be left untouched by demographic decline, forcing Governments to think creatively about ways to manage population; or find a different path to sustainable economic growth with fewer native-born workers, consumers, and entrepreneurs. While the world is expected to add more than 3 billion people by 2100, according to the United Nations, falling fertility rates and Aging Populations will mean serious challenges that will be felt more acutely in some places than others.

One might ask: if we are adding 3 billion more people during the balance of this century, why are we concerned about fertility rates and global population growth coming to an end? First, the bulk of that growth will be in developing nations like Africa. Second, it could take time for the fertility crisis to reach its peak due to something Hans Rosling called Population Momentum. This describes the dynamic between the number of women in the reproductive age bracket and the number of children per woman. Population momentum is driven by the increasingly large number of women in the reproductive age bracket. It’s only when both the fertility rate and the number of women level off that population momentum stops. And this is when global population growth will come to an end. Given this, the number of children in the world will not decline as rapidly as the fertility rate. See visual below.

Population Momentum

Here is another example of the overwhelming number of dots connecting on a broad future canvas. All these domains – science, technology, society, economies, business, government, environment, and philosophy are converging at the systems level, underscoring why our world today needs Systems Leadership.

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