The global fertility collapse

Brink Lindsey
Date of Publication: 
February, 2023
Source Organization: 

In this essay, Brink Lindsey, former Vice-president for Research at the CATO Institute, examines the effects of declining global fertility rates on both the future of the capitalist system and the rise of authoritarian populism. Noting that roughly half the world’s current population resides in countries with sub-replacement fertility, he traces the decline in fertility rates to the advent of capitalist mass production in the late 19th century. While it took 82 years for the fertility rate in the U.S. to fall from 6 children per woman to fewer than 3 children, now these declines are happening at a much more rapid pace. It took China, for example, only 11 years to reach this same level. Even countries with fertility rates above the replacement rate of 2.1 children per woman, such as India and Indonesia (2.3), are experiencing such steep declines in fertility that they will likely fall below the rate of replacement in the near future. The author references a 2020 paper that estimates that the world’s population will peak at 9.7 billion in 2064 and then fall to 8.8 billion by the end of the century. Although declining population might be considered a favorable development from an environmental point of view, Lindsey takes a dimmer view. He argues that a declining working-age population will result in “boarded-up downtowns, closed schools, empty playgrounds, (and) an increasingly geriatric population” deprived of services. Fertility declines also reduce business innovation, dynamism, and productivity. He also points out that “those parts of the advanced democracies now in the grip of demographic decline have become hotbeds of authoritarian populism.” Examples include counties in the U.S. with declining populations, 90 percent of which Trump won, and countries of eastern Europe like Hungary and Poland, where low birth rates combined with high rates of emigration, have fueled the rise to power of populists who “have exploited fears of out-of-control immigration – even though immigration in the east (of Europe) is all but nonexistent.”

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Lindsey, B. (2023, February). The global fertility collapse. Niskanen Center.