B. Patterns of change in TFR

At present, there are basically 3 kinds of nations with respect to total fertility rates (TFR) and patterns of change in these rates.

1) EUROPE AND N. AMERICA. In nations in these regions, and in most of the industrialized world, TFR is now < 2.1 (actually, considerably below that for most such countries). Because these rates are at (or below) RLF, populations in these nations have either stopped growing (in the case of many of the European nations) or will soon, after passing through the lag introduced by their age structures . These regions of the world are not expected to contribute significantly, if at all, to future population growth. Most populations in Europe were expected to grow slightly for another ~ 15 years beyond the year 2003, but then to begin declining (Lutz 2003, Science); as we saw previously, many of them do now have negative growth rates. Japan's population began decreasing by about 2005, and, as of mid-2011, it was projected that its population in 2050 will be ~ 26% smaller than it was in mid-2011. The population of the developed nations of the world is, overall, expected to be only slightly larger in 2050 than it is now (~ 5% increase projected as of mid-2013).

By 2001, 65 countries and territories had TFR's that were less than RLF, including 40 of the 42 countries and territories in Europe. By the year 2006, ~ 40% of the world's population lived in nations where TFR is < RLF (Science 30 June ' 06). In fact, 31 countries (in 2011) had TFR's that were < 1.5.

The primary force driving these low birth rates seems to be economic; economic systems often provide more "rewards" for women not having children than the reverse (they feel the need to stay in the work force for financial reasons, and are often not paid well enough to afford quality daycare). In some countries, men seem less willing than in the US to help out with child care as well, which doesn't encourage women to have more children. (In many regions of the world of course, men do not help with child care, but women in these regions also have limited ability to control births!) Shrinking populations, and large numbers of old people relative to fewer young persons, are of increasing concern to the governments of many of these nations, including the ZPG nations of the world. Who will comprise the work force? Who will take care of the elderly? A declining population rapidly acquires an age structure that establishes momentum for further population decline, which would (obviously) become unsustainable if it continued -- and the longer it continues, the harder it is to reverse it. A variety of these nations, have in fact begun policies aimed at encouraging some population growth -- including things like providing paid maternity and paternity leaves (in some cases for 2 - 3 years), providing free child care and family housing allowances, and even cash payments for raising a child [Science 30 June 2006]. (Seems amazing, doesn't it, that some parts of the world can be struggling to control population growth, while others are concerned about shrinking populations?) I have noticed a tendency towards small upward changes in Sweden's TFR and r% over recent years, and while I am not certain, I think this trend is attributable in large part to enactment of government policies encouraging people to have more children.

East and West Germany provide an interesting contrast. These were the first two nations to reach ZPG. In 1976, shortly after ZPG had been reached, the East German government became concerned about the possibility of a shrinking population and instituted policies to attempt to change this trend. These included making improved childcare available and providing financial benefits and government-supported housing if a woman became pregnant. Fertility had been decreasing in East Germany in parallel with that in West Germany, but then began to rise again in East Germany after these programs began. Similarly, the age of first child bearing continued an upward trend in West Germany but stayed < 25 years in East Germany.

The European Union is concerned about shrinking populations (and the possibility that waves of immigration into member countries will occur in response to labor shortages). If present patterns continue, the EU is projected to lose 24 - 40 million people per decade for the upcoming decades (Science, June 30, '06). Various nations within the EU have instituted policies to encourage couples to have more children (as described above) and also to decrease the age of first reproduction, which effectively decreases negative population momentum. Included also are efforts to diminish barriers to earlier births, which include inflexible higher education systems, youth unemployment, and career patterns built around traditional male life course models. In addition, educational campaigns emphasize the health benefits of giving birth relatively early for both the mother and the baby (not TOO early, of course!) Singapore, Taiwan, and South Korea have also instituted policies to encourage couples to have at least two children, including a subsidy for each child [Science 29 July 2011].

The US has the highest TFR in the developed world; 1.9 births per woman here, compared to an average of 1.6 births per woman across all developed nations (that average includes the US, which probably raises it...). There are several factors at play here, one of which involves the fact that patterns of TFR differ by ethnicity and race. Foreign-born women tend to have higher TFR's than do U.S. born women, and the largest U.S. minority groups also tend to have higher fertility than the majority white non-Hispanic group. This can be seen in the fact that, in 2001, racial and ethnic minorities in the US contributed 42% of all births but only 31% of the population (PRB booklet on US population situation in 2002). This is partly because a larger proportion of minority women are in their child bearing years, and partly because they tend to have higher fertiity rates, on average, than do white non-Hispanic women in the U.S.

For example, in 2005, TFR's by ethnicity in the US (according to Time magazine, 10/30/06) were:

It is important to note, however, that the TFR for white non-Hispanic women in the U.S. is high in itself compared to TFR's for other developed nations. Further, it increased slightly in recent years; it was 1.8 children per woman for most of the 1990's, was 1.9 by 2000 and 1.85 in 2006.

Thus, we have higher fertility in the U.S., in part, because our population is diverse racially and ethnically, but for some other reason(s) too! These include the fact that women in the US tend to have children younger than is the case in most developed countries, and that we have higher rates of unplanned pregnancies here than in other developed countries. Uncertainties about patterns in TFR for U.S. women make it difficult to project future population trends for our country.

2) DEVELOPING NATIONS WITH HIGH AND RELATIVELY UNCHANGING TFR'S. Such a situation prevails in much of sub-Saharan Africa and the Mideast, but is also found in areas of Indonesia and Latin America as well. For example, the TFR for Africa as a whole was 4.8 in mid-2013, with some individual nations having TFR's as high as 7.

These nations also have markedly triangular age structures (for Africa overall 41% / 4% = younger than 15/over 65 years old). With such age structures, a continuation of high fertility will result in continued explosive growth. (Note that in some regions, low life expectancy contributes to the unbalanced age structure. For example, in Africa, the average life expectancy was only 59 years as of mid-201. This, of course, contributes to explaining why such a small percentage of the population is over 65 years!)

Such age structures contrast with those found in nations whose population is stable (such as Europe as a whole where the percentages less than 15 versus over 65 years of age are 16 % and 16 %, respectively).

Many of the nations with high and relatively unchanging TFR's have several features in common:

That is, all of the pressures to have large numbers of children still exist. In addition, people in such nations often do not understand that more children in their families and societies is actually an impediment to progress, feeling instead that many children constitute an advantage. Finally, some of these regions still have a large unmet demand for contraception, and relatively high rates of infant and child mortality.


TFR's in these nations are not necessarily all down to RLF yet, but have been decreasing rapidly.

Examples of rapid decreases are Singapore and Taiwan. These nations experienced over 70% decreases in TFR's between 1960 and 1987 -- from mid 6's to upper 1's. (Now, by 2013, to 1.3 for each.) Decreases were mainly due to very aggressive governmentally-supported family planning programs.

Programs were so successful that in 1994, Singapore launched a program encouraging couples to have at least two children! One major concern was that there would be too few young people to support a bulge in the older, post-retirement age classes if TFR's remain < RLF. (Pat confesses that she doesn't see why a bulge in the old age classes is more difficult to support, economically, than is a bulge in the age classes that are too young to be part of the labor force...) South Korea and Taiwan, as mentioned above, also now have programs encouraging couples to have at least two children -- subsidies for each child, advertising campaigs, government-sponsored online dating sites.....

Mexico and Indonesia have also had very aggressive and successful programs in family planning, as have some nations in Africa. Notable are programs in some sub-Saharan nations, whose governments have traditionally been very pronatalist (encouraging of high birth rates). For example, in Kenya, TFR decreased 20% in 12 years (from 7.9 to 6.3 children per woman; now in 2013, it is down to 4.5 children per woman). Marked decreases have also taken place in Botswana and Zimbabwe (but see the bottom of this section of notes for a grim factor that may be contributing to the lowering TFR's in sub-Saharan Africa...).

(It is important to realize that, while these TFR's still sound very high to us, they are decreasing, which is crucial if stabilization is to be achieved.)

By convention, among demographers, any change in TFR > 10% is considered to be the onset of an "irreversible" transition.

Programs in these nations have included not only access to contraception, but also improved access to education for women and general education on the connection between large numbers of children and lack of resources.

While it may seem odd at first, soap operas have been very successful at spreading messages about contraception and the connection between continued (and worsening) low resource availability and having large numbers of children. Such programs reach huge numbers of people. (There's approximately one TV per 12 people world wide!) These soap operas portray people having all kinds of difficulties as a result of having too many children. Many of the "soaps" are government sponsored, but some are private. Soap operas with family planning themes have been run in nations as diverse as Mexico, Turkey, Brazil, Kenya, and Nigeria. In Nigeria, the government-run network sponsored such a "soap," and visits to family planning clinics increased by 47% during the 2 years that it aired . Two thirds of visitors to the clinics reported that the TV show gave them the idea!

Thailand provides a nice example of the apparent connection between educational levels, particularly of women, and fertility rates. Over the last 30 years or so, female literacy increased to 90% and nearly half of the work force is now female. While TFR for Thailand in the 1960's was 6, it is now (as of mid-2013) down to 1.6, or lower than replacement level!

Iran provides another recent example of dramatic decreases in TFR. In 1989, TFR in Iran was 5.2, while in mid-2013, it was down to 2.3 (it rose by 0.2 between 2011 and 2013...; see last sentence in this paragraph for an explanation). The Iranian government had been aggressive in advocating that women have no more than three children. This was pushed, in part, through a system of disincentives for having more than three children, including the termination of family allowances, health benefits, and maternity leaves. In July of 2010, however, President Ahmadinejad declared that the country's family planning program was "ungodly," and announced that the government would pay couples to have children and deposit money in each child's bank account until age 18 [ZPG Reporter, May 2011].

India reached 1 billion people in the year 2000. The government there is now offering incentives for women to stop at two children and to delay marriage (and hence delay childbearing). The goal (as of 2001) was achievement of population stabilization by ~ 2045. The Indian government was strongly criticized for earlier family planning programs, which were strongly coercive, and it planned a different strategy this time around. Its intention was to emphasize "promotional and motivational measures" such as improved access to reproductive and child health care services and supplies, keeping girls in school for longer, increasing the legal marriage age, improving childhood vaccination percentages to help decrease child mortality, and changing the method by which seats are allocated to Parliament so that a region doesn't lose seats if its population stabilizes while others increase.

As you can see, nations experiencing decreases in TFR are nations that are very different from each other racially, religiously, and politically, implying that the drive to stabilize populations is a sweeping movement.


China is particularly interesting in terms of changes in fertility rates. The interest arises in part because she is so huge that changes in her population trends make a huge difference globally. In addition, patterns there have been of interest because the changes have been dramatic; TFR dropped from 5.5 in 1960 to 1.5 in 2013 (a 73% drop)!

Following is a brief summary of events in China. Please read also the assigned reading on "Transitions in World Population" -- available in Course Documents on the Blackboard site -- for great information on the doings in China.

By the early 1970's, the government in China realized that they had population problems, and they began to urge couples to limit themselves to two children.

They used the motto: "later, longer, fewer."

This motto addresses three ways to decrease birth rates:

Later – to delay reproduction until later in life (enforced in part by increasing the legal age for marriage)

Longer – to spread your children farther apart

Fewer – to have fewer children overall

The first two act to slow recruitment into the young age classes (diminish that good old population momentum term). I first realized how delaying reproduction could be important in influencing population growth rates when I realized, at my 20th high school reunion, that one of my classmates was a grandfather.

Check Yourself #4: How important is delaying the age of first reproduction? Does it really make much difference if the average person has their first child at 20 versus at 30 years? Why or how would it matter? (Answers .)

As a concrete example, for the developing nations of the world, a 2.5 year delay in the age of first reproduction would decrease population growth by 10%, assuming other age-specific rates remained constant!

As we discussed when describing the influence of age structure on population growth, it is a matter of accounting: If more people are coming in than are going out, the population will grow (more being born than dying); delaying births allows the death side of the ledger to catch up a bit.

The "later, longer, fewer" campaign involved education and the expansion of rural health services, and also involved establishment of national and provincial targets for births.

By the late 1970', however, the Chinese government realized that these steps weren't going to slow the rate of population growth as rapidly as they felt necessary. The nation had an extremely triangular age structure (rates or reproduction had been much higher than replacement level for generations). This meant that the lag between the time that they dropped TFR's to at or below replacement levels (RLF ) and the time that they achieved population stabilization would allow for the addition of too many people! They felt it necessary to decrease the rate of population growth faster than simply achieving RLF would allow.

Thus, in 1980, the Chinese government launched the one child per couple policy, which "encouraged" each couple to have no more than one child. Couples were required to apply for official approval before conceiving a child. The policy was enforced by a system of incentives (some say that coercion was also involved, including human rights abuses such as forced sterilizations and abortions and large financial fines; Science 22 Aug 2008). For incentives, couples that complied with the policy were given priority access to housing and education and the government made cash payments to couples who signed a pledge to have only one child. In addition, extreme peer pressure was brought to bear, and contraceptive information and devices were made readily available. Disincentives for not complying with the policy included extreme peer pressure, and the possibility of losing one's job (as well as the rumored coercive measures mentioned above).

In some rural areas, during the 1980's and again starting in the early 2000's, couples are sometimes allowed to have two children (particularly if the first child is a girl, they are allowed to try again for the wonderful boy; as of about 1988 the policy in some regions became the "one son policy"). Some Chinese ethnic minorities are also exempted from the one-child policy. As of 2010, the policy was still very much in place, however there are ~ 22 exceptions that allow couples to have more than one child (Science 17 Sept 2010); about 63% of the population, however, is not included in these exceptions. The central government allows local governments some decision making power about how to implement the one child policy, including exceptions that are specific to particular provinces; Shanghai, for example, allows some couples who are both divorced from previous marriages with one child to have a child together (that being the second child for each of them; this as of 2004). In November 2013, the Chinese government announced further relaxation of the policy. One change is that couples with at least one member having come from a one-child family are allowed to have two children. The government has become increasingly concerned both about the shortage of labor that might result from low birth rates and about an inbalanced sex ratio (significantly more males than females in the population). In addition, psychological studies reveal that only children in China tend to be significantly less trusting, trustworthy, competitive and conscientious and more risk-averse and pessimistic than are children from families with more than one child (e.g., Science 22 Feb 2013). These qualities are so undesirble that some job advertisements in China now include phrases such as "no single children." (op cit.)

Why are boys so precious? There are several reasons, the most important of which include:

As you may have heard, the sex ratio (ratio of males to females) among Chinese babies and children is significantly imbalanced. A 1995 survey showed 118 boys to every 100 girls aged 0 - 4 years, while the normal ratio should be about 106.5 boys for every 100 girls of that age. By the year 2011, the sex ratio at birth was about the same -- 118 boys per 100 girls -- one of the highest ratios in the world. Several forces are probably at work here including: (1) selective infanticide (killing girl babies), (2) selective neglect leading to death, (3) failing to report girls to census takers to reserve an "official" space in the family for a boy, and (4) sex-selective abortion. While there is uncertainty, it is believed that # 3 and 4 are most important. While sex-detecting ultrasound and abortion are technically illegal in China, officials often "blink" at such procedures in an attempt to meet their Provinces birth targets (Science 17 Sept 2010).

There is much speculation and concern about the consequences within China of this excess of males, and some neighboring nations are also concerned that Chinese males, unable to find wives in China, will marry their women and take them away to China. A campaign is currently underway that tries to convince people that girls are OK too, and it begins to seem that the boy preference is diminishing, particularly in the younger generations.

The government hoped to be able to ease back to a two children per couple policy by the turn of the century (that is, by the year 2000 or so), after the momentum given to their population growth by the bulge of young people had diminished. We are now past that turning of a century and the policy has continued, by and large, although change is underway as of 2013, as noted above. While in 2008, the Chinese government announced that it planned to keep the one-child policy for at least another 10 yrs (with exceptions noted above), this seems to be changing. The rationale behind the 2008 decision to retain the policy (with exceptions) was that there was still a large population base, with nearly 200 million people expected to come into childbearing years over the next decade (starting in 2008) (Corvallis G-T 3/11/08) -- so the fear was that, if they relaxed the childbearing rule now, there could be a huge population surge…. Increasingly loud voices from within China calling for the policy to be re-visited, citing concerns about shrinking labor force, aging population, and imbalanced sex ratios (Science 17 Sept 2010) seem by 2013 to be making a difference, given the announced additional relaxations to the policy.

The rapid and dramatic drop in "r" in China has been impressive in part because that nation has a traditional and strong preference for large families, and particularly for large numbers of sons.

Note that "r" for China in mid-2012 was the same as that for the US (0.005 or 0.5% for both)! Astonishing....

China's population grew by "only" 5.8% in the 2000-2010 decade, but by 11.7% in the previous decade! (Science 6 May 2011).

China now adds fewer people to her population yearly than does India, despite China's much larger population.

Check yourself #5: How large is the difference between the number of people added yearly to China versus India? Use the following data (for mid-2013) to answer this question, which is a review of use of demographic parameters:

India "N" = 1.28 billion and "r%" = 1.5%

China "N" = 1.36 billion and "r%" = 0.5%

Click on Answers to check yourself.

So, we've seen that there are several dramatic success stories around the world, in terms of nations that have decreased their growth rates. Common denominators in these success stories include:

-government commitment to decreasing population growth

- programs that are locally designed and that include information on family planning and access to contraceptives

- educational programs that emphasize the connection between family planning and social good

Such policies contrast with traditional government policies which are often pronatalist (that is, encourage rapid growth).

Check yourself #6: Can you think of policies in the U.S. (or other nations) that are effectively pronatalist (implicitly or explicitly)? Click on Answers to check yourself.

Traditionally, governments and families have believed that the way to get their nation powerful and to foster economic growth is to increase their population, under the notion that larger is better and more powerful. Increasingly, it is being realized that more people now means less of everything else now and for generations to come, and that more people simply cause additional strain on already-strained resources.

Even sub-Saharan Africa, which has traditionally been very pronatalist, is changing. Almost 40% of the nations there now have explicit population policies aimed at slowing growth, and there is improved access to and information about contraception. Three fourths of Africans live in countries whose government perceives the population growth rate as being too high.

These nations have realized, as have others such as Mexico, that money spent on family planning is rapidly repaid. With effective family planning, less money must be routed into maternal and infant care. This money can instead be spent elsewhere, as on housing, education, and economic development.

The realization has come that, in fact, decreasing fertility is an important part of an economic development strategy, whereas the traditional assumption was that increasing fertility was important for fostering economic development. For the US, it was estimated in 2009 that every dollar spent on publically-funded family planning efforts saved $4.00 in neonatal care for unintended pregnancies of women on Medicaid.

To return to our examination of the two schools of thought about how to control population growth; through family planning programs or through fostering economic development, it seems clear to me that:

(1) Both are important, and that

(2) Economic development will be much easier if family planning is underway, because effective family planning frees resources (such as money!) that are needed for economic development.

This dual philosophy was prevalent at the UN Conference on Population and Development, held in Cairo way back in 1994. At that conference, 182 nations tried to come to consensus on global population issues, and related them to goals involving human rights, gender equality and economic and social justice.

Most delegates to the conference agreed that improving the status of women is a key to achieving population stabilization. A call was put out to enhance educational opportunities for women, a group for whom, as we've seen, illiteracy in some parts of the world is staggering. Advancing women's education is likely to be a tremendously cost-effective investment in terms of slowing population growth and improving quality of life for many people. A study of 100 nations conducted by the World Bank in 1999 found that when the number of years of schooling for women increased by 4 years, TFR's fell by one child per woman!

Delegates also emphasized the need for improved access to family planning advice and tools. It was also recognized that men need to be encouraged to support of family planning efforts in many areas of the world in which a man's status rises as he fathers more children. Participants urged increased focus on quality of care given to the children that are born, rather than on having large numbers of them.

The 1994 UN Conference on Population and Development produced a "Programme of Action," intended to serve as a 20 year blueprint for action. The Programme's central goals: stabilize world population at about 8 bill by 2050, and improve living conditions.

It remains to be seen whether nations will actually implement the Programme of Action! In February, 1999, delegates from 177 governments met in The Hague to see what had been done to implement it up to that point. It was clear that several of the developing nations had actually implemented policies that supported the Programme of Action, while some had not. At the conference in 1994, governments pledged to contribute money to a fund that would be used for assisting implementation of the Programme. As of Feb, 1999, the developing nations had fulfilled 70% of their commitment to come up with 2/3 of the $17 Billion that was called for by 2000, while the developed nations were only 1/3 of the way to their commitment to contribute 1/3 of that total.

(As you can imagine, some nations were unable to support the Programme, largely because of religious beliefs. For example, some Catholic nations boycotted the conference, this despite the fact that the Vatican endorsed much of the Program of Action. (Endorsement from the Vatican came in spite of the Pope's intense displeasure with attitudes of many participants towards abortion, contraception, teen sex and the family.) While some Islamic nations, such as Iran, did attend and sign the Program of Action, others boycotted the conference.)

The United Nation's eight "Millenium Development Goals" are viewed as a primary path to alleviate world poverty. Family planning can advance progress towards six of these goals: Development (money spent on family planning saves money on prenatial and infant care and the savings can be used to advance development); Education; Empowerment for women; HIV prevention; Environmental Conservation, and Partnerships across diverse ideologies (Science 24 Sept 2010).

In addition, slowing the rate of population growth will also be an important means to diminish emissions of the greenhouse gases that are driving global climate change!


In 2006, the UN announced updated population projections (WorldWatch July/Aug 07). Estimates for 2050 range from ~7.3 to 12.8 bill with a mid-line estimate of 9.2. (in mid-2013, the midline projection was 9.7 billion.) These projections are lower than the UN's 1995 projections, largely because:

In the 29 nations hardest hit by AIDS, the average life expectancy at birth was, in 1999, 7 years lower than it was projected to be without the AIDS phenomenon. (Later we'll see the potential for water and land shortages in some of these regions to increase mortality rates still further.)

What do I mean by the AIDS epidemic having potential to be "devastating?" Well, in industrial nations, less than 1% of the adult population is infected with the HIV virus. In Swaziland, 26% of adults were infected as of 2011-2013, and in Southern Africa overall, ~ 16.5% of adults were infected as of mid-2012!! (Note that data on infection rates are given on the Population Fact Sheet that was distributed in class; "adult" population is that between 15 and 49 years of age.)

Several other nations have HIV infection rates ranging between 15 and 20%, and infection rates are rising rapidly in India and many other Asian countries. Because many of those who are infected don't know that they are, infection rates are likely to increase. Barring a medical miracle, it is estimated that countries with these terribly high infection rates will lose at least 20% of their adult population in the next few decades.

Globally, someone dies from AIDS every 11 seconds, and the total death toll up through 2005 was ~ 25 million deaths (PRB 2005). Deaths due to HIV/AIDS exceed the 20 million Europeans who died during the plague epidemic of 1347-1351 (WorldWatch Sept/Oct. 04).

In Swaziland, which has one of the highest HIV-infection rates in the world, life expectancy has decreased to 49 years, while for Southern Africa overall, life expectancy was 57 years as of mid-2013. (Here's a place where I am able to do relatively cheerful revisions in these notes year-to-year -- these life expectancy numbers have increased slightly recently!)

Fertility rates in areas with high infection rates are likely to decline as well, as many infected women do not live for their full reproductive life span, and often conceive less than non-infected women even while living.

Another side to this tragedy is the huge number of AIDS orphans -- by the end of 1997, there were 7.8 million AIDS-orphans in Africa. The medical costs associated with treating persons affected with AIDS and the costs of caring for the orphans place a huge strain on financial and medical systems in these nations.

(To move to the next section in these notes (which is answers for the "check yourself" questions), click the box at the bottom of the page labeled ">>." To return to the previous section on ways to decrease population momentum, click the box labeled "<<" and to return to the master directory for the BI301 web site, click the box labeled "CONTENTS.")

This page is maintained by Patricia Muir at Oregon State University. Page last updated Nov. 15, 2013.