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A graph a day… 25 March 2024

Source: Simon shows you maps, Deccan Herald, Bloomberg, OWID

There appears to be an inverse relationship between a country’s wealth measured in terms of GDP and its fertility rate—the number of children per woman. A rate of around 2.1 is needed to keep the population at a constant level (ignoring inward migration). Broadly speaking, the population in any country with a rate below 2.1 is shrinking.

As the graph above is highly skewed, it is better to use a logarithmic scale for the GDP, reflecting the large differences in wealth between the countries. The relationship is even clearer, showing differences between continents, with Africa in the low-GDP-high-fertility area, as compared with Europe and some Asian and American countries in the high-GDP-low-fertility area.

Economic factors could influence fertility directly – poorer countries rely on agriculture and low-tech industries requiring a larger workforce. GDP is also a proxy for other factors, which are known to influence the fertility rate, like lliteracy among women or public health status.

If you can, play the time-lapse of the graph on OWID, and select some country trajectories, like China:

But, on a closer look, this picture is a bit more complicated. European countries are not showing the same type of relationship, possibly because factors other than economics dominate. One such factor could be the share of men helping in the household:

This is an important factor for countries which are now struggling with a rapid population decline, like South Korea, Japan, or some East European countries.

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