In most parts of the world, fertility exceeds both mortality and migration. It is therefore the moain determinant of population growth. Its importance has increased over time with the worldwide fall in mortality. Several African countries (e.g. Niger, Liberia, Mali) have very high birth rates of 50 and over per 1,000 per year. At the other end of the scale, Austria, Germany, Belarus, Bulgairs, Slovenia and Ukraine have birth rates of 9 and under per 1,000 per year. Why does fertility vary?
· The relationship with death rates can be important. Countries in sub-Saharan Arica have high birth rates that counter the high rates of infant mortality (often over 100 per 1,000 live births). One study of sub-Saharan Africa concluded that a woman have, on average, eight or nine children to be 95% certain of a surviving adult son. In contrast, in Europe, the average falls short of two children. Improvements in healthcare sanitation and diet have led to a drop in rates of child mortality and reduce the need for large numbers of children as forms of security for the future. The USA has some of the highest birth rates among the developed countries, with a total fertility rate of 2.0. Other developed countries have fertility rates lower than 2.0.
· In many parts of the world, tradition demands high rates of reproduction. Intense cultural expectations may override the wishes of women. One useful indicator of women’s ability to limit the number of children they have and of the prospect of future fertility decline, is their desire to cease child-bearing. In Vietnam, 92% of women who had two children said they did not wish to have any more children. In Nigeria, by contrast, the figure was only 4%. Fertility among women aged 15 to 19 presents a special concern, as these young women may lack the physical development, and social support needed and child-bearing may curtail a young woman’s education. In some countries, such as Chad, Bangladesh and Mozambique, more than one in four adolescent girls has given birth.
· Education for women, particularly female literacy, is a key to lower fertility. With education comes knowledge of birth control, more opportunities for employment and wider choices. Contraceptive use is becoming more widespread in developing countries, to help women avoid unwanted pregnancies and to lower birth rates. A clear prerequisite is the availability of modern contraception for couples with both the knowledge
and desire to use it. This objective have generally been achieved in much of Latin America and the Caribbean, but often falls short in sub-Saharan Africa and parts of Asia and Oceania. For example, in Rwanda, only 10% of women practice a modern method of family planning while at least 70% do in Brazil. Obstacles such as the lack of funds and supplies, and the lack of comprehensive programmes to educate couples with their choices, are significant issues.
Young age structures
These lead to developing countries far outplacing developed countries in population growth. Large proportions of youn people, as there are in Mali (48%) and Bolivia (39%), ensure future population growth even when births per woman decline. This is because the ‘youth bulge’ is about to move through the child-bearing years. Conversely, countries with smaller proportions of young, such as Poland (17%) and Japan (14%), face population decline even if births per women increase.
Social class is important. Fertility decreases from lower to higher classes or castes.
This is of major signifiance because both Islam and the Roman Catholic Church oppose the use of artificial birth control. Hoever, adherenceto relihious doctrine tend to lessen with economic development. This is particularly well illustred in Italy. Although it is the location of the Vatican – the home of the pope – the fertility rate in Italy is very low. This suggests that some form of artificial birth control is taking place.
These are important, particularly in less developed countries, where children are an economic asset. They are viewed as producers rather than consumers. In more developed countires, this is reveresed. The length of time children spend in education makes them expensive, as does the cost of childcare if both parents work. In eastern Europe, economci uncertainity is a major factor in causing low fertility rates.
There have been several cases in recent years of countries seeking to influence the rate of population growth. Such political influences have been either to increase the population (as in 1930s Germany and Japan, and more recently in Russia and Romania) or to decrease it (as in China, with its one-child policy.
Changes in population characteristics