It is hard to believe that People born in the 1990s are already in their 30s. it feels just like yesterday when we attended our first prom, graduated and even had our first fancy dinner at a restaurant. It feels like we grew up too fast. But as they say, time flies.

Our generation has been caught up in work and attaining success to such an extent that we even in our 30s refuse to get married and have kids. And why not, every individual has the right to live his life on his own terms, especially women. 

After centuries of oppression and just being degraded to the status of “baby-making machine”, women have had to face adversity to reach the heights they have scaled today. We, as women are limitless and refuse to cling to the labels attributed to us by society.

However, this mindset has drastically impacted one crucial parameter imperative for the sustenance of humankind: Reproduction.

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Declining fertility rate:

Amid toiling lifestyles and detrimental diets, the world has seen a drastic decline in the average fertility rate of nearly 50% in the past 70 years globally. The average fertility rate (number of children a woman on average has in her lifetime) currently stands at 2.3, which for comparison sake stood at 5 a few decades ago. United Nations further projects the average fertility rate to reach 2.1 by mid-millennia. 

If you turn to history, you might notice that people in the past had way more children than us and that is the reason the world population now stands at 8 Billion. This phenomenon was prominent in the 19th and 20th centuries and hence the massive boom in the population was seen from the 1950s to 2000.

As per the 2011 census, the world population stood at 7 billion and in just 12 years, there were a billion more of us.

On the contrary, the global fertility rate declined at the same time the world population was bombarding. What fascinates us is the underlying factors that led to a massive decline in the fertility rate and how our future will look if it continues to decline the way it has been projected.

What are we talking about? 

The fertility rate is the average number of children a woman bears in her “childbearing age”. For most nations, 15-45 years is defined as the appropriate age to bear a child. So, when we say, the fertility rate is 2.3, it means, on average, a woman gives birth to 2-3 children in her lifetime.

What is the state today?

With the global fertility rate standing at a mere 2.3 as of 2021, the numbers are even lower for most of the nations. The top twenty nations with the lowest fertility rate have numbers ranging from 1.07 (Taiwan) to 1.48 (Hungary). This data clearly demonstrates the depth of the issue.

Ageing population: 

Shrinking fertility and swelling life expectancy have created an ageing population. The median age now stands at 33 rather than 25 in 1970. The data shows that during the 1960s, the fertility rate was highest in China and the world average was standing at 5.3. That was the time when massive population growth is seen worldwide, however, population control means in developing countries such as the “one-child-policy” in China and the “hum-do-hamare-do” (we two, our’s two) policy in India minorly contributed to the steady decline in the birth rate.

What led to the decline in the fertility rate:

While many intellects propose different theories of the decline in fertility rate, all of them boil down to the following three points:

  • Modernization and women empowerment
  • Escalated costs of raising children
  • Increase in life expectancy

Modernization and women empowerment

Empowerment of women is inversely associated with declining fertility rates. (Ushma D. Upadhyay, 2014). Ever since the mutual agreement on promoting gender inequality and women empowerment in 2000 by more than 189 nations, women's education and overall upliftment of women in society have been the focal point of many nations. Furthermore, the UN’s global agenda signed BY global leaders in 2015 included funds for the development and improvement of girls’ education.

The women’s fertility rate is adversely impacted by women’s education. (Esso-Hanam Atake & Pitaloumani Gnakou Ali, 2019). In nations where the average women's education lasts for less than 5 years, the fertility rate rested even above 7. (Our World Data), whereas, where women were educated for more than 9 years, the fertility rate was as less as 2 children per woman in her lifetime.

Increasing life expectancy

Life expectancy is the age by which an average human would die. At present, male life expectancy is 70.6 years whereas, for women, the number rests at 75.1 years. To put this into perspective, the graph on the right shows the average increase in life expectancy from 1970 to 2019. (Statista). This shows that in merely 50 years, the average age of humans in India, for example, rose by 22 years!

Escalated cost of raising children:

In recent years, the cost of living has gone up drastically and so has the cost of raising a child. For 17 years, $310,605 is the average cost of raising a child in the United States. In Australia, the number is even higher costing $131,040 for the first 18 years of life. 

In China, raising a child is a hefty business costing more than US or Japan, an analysis released by Chinese demographers in spring this year.

What the future holds:

The countdown is on:

As per multiple sources, including “United nations research” and “Our World data”, we have till the end of the century to recover from “irreversible fertility rate levels.”

Rapid decrease in fertility rates, a nearly stable mortality rate and inflation scaling heights, the world population would witness a dip in numbers by the end of the century (United Nations Data) (Wikipedia Statistics). The fertility rate is already declining and what the future would hold if people truly became infertile to produce off-springs? 

One theory is creating an artificial womb facility. Recently, with collaborative efforts of scientists from around the world, we might have just discovered an “artificial womb” and a way to fully nurture a fetus (an underdeveloped infant in a woman’s womb) without a mother, biotechnologist Hashem Al-Ghaili said. The company called “Ectolife” in a video features the vision to provide extracorporeal pregnancy (growing fetus outside the mother’s womb) in near future.

Humans have advanced in the arena of assisted conception techniques, some of which include Intrauterine insemination (IUI), Intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI), surrogacy and In vitro fertilization (IVF). However, all these methods rely on and depend on the female body. Be it surrogate mother or artificial conception, by far there is only one way of development of the human fetus: the Mother’s womb.

This technology will facilitate unfertile parents to become biological parents to children and would even allow genetic manipulation of the child. From adjusting the height of the child to hair colour, all the traits would be modifiable. This would truly be a groundbreaking invention if it ever comes into existence.

The second opinion: 

Opposing the “Demographic transition theory”, which states that human fertility decline is non-reversible, Oskar Burger and John P. DeLong 2016 wrote a research paper concluding that assumption is “ill-founded” and future will naturally select people with high fertility rates. 


In our conclusion, one thing is clear: fertility rate is declining and would continue to decline under the present circumstances of ageing population and modernization and in order to combat the issue, artificially or naturally, we must load our cart and maybe even start running since we have till the end of the century to recover from drastically low fertility rate! 

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