It might seem like everyone’s having babies right now, but surprisingly, we’re having fewer kids than ever before.
Declining global birth rates are now a problem not only for laid-off baby-delivering storks but also for the future of our gene pool.
In all seriousness, babies are cute, and they’re excellent stress relievers (except when you’re on nappy duty). But being childless also affects the population.
Aside from the emotional benefits, humans are hardwired to produce offspring to balance the world population. That’s a scientific way of saying maybe the planet could use more inhabitants.
Despite the previous panic about overpopulation, which many now consider an alarmist myth, demographic studies suggest the global population will stabilise in about 80 years.
It turns out, environmental degradation and poverty are due to improper resource allocation, not lack of resources.
The world’s wealthiest 10% account for up to 50% of the planet’s consumption-based CO₂, and according to the world’s farmers, we have enough food to feed 10 billion people.
So why are we worried about underpopulation now?
Experts predict that there are 23 nations — including Spain and Japan — whose populations will be halved by 2100. That’s one cost of being child-free. No daycare fees, though.
China, the world’s most populous country, is expected to peak at 1.4 billion over the next four years and then nearly halve by the turn of the century.
Whether you’re a first-time parent or a veteran of many tantrums, childcare presents various problems beyond midnight nappy changes, the never-ending YouTube rabbit hole and Legos strewed around the house.
You need to be ready for just about anything, and that amount of responsibility intimidates some people. There’s nothing wrong with not wanting to be a parent, especially when you feel you aren’t prepared. Raising children affects not only your physical but also your mental health and that’s nothing to scoff at.
It’s difficult to know precisely what caused the slowdown in population growth, but there are a few possible culprits.
Differences in culture and economic growth can be a factor, but that doesn’t explain how countries like Japan and Andorra have similar birth rates. Geography doesn’t make sense, either, as places separated by thousands of kilometres face the same problem. Is the stereotypical family life being phased out by one with no kids?
Is a future with fewer children that bad?
While it’s not precisely end-of-the-world levels of scary, fewer births could be a reason for concern. We’re not exactly mathematicians here, so let’s keep it simple, shall we?
The crude birth rate is a ratio between live births and the existing population in any given year. It allows statisticians to determine an increase in the former and the number of deliveries required to sustain population levels.
Combining those numbers, we see that fewer live births might soon be a problem.
We may have a longer life expectancy than any other generation before us, but it’s important to weigh that against the dwindling average number of children. Replacement level fertility sits around 2.1 children per woman in her lifetime.
Many assumed that there would be a baby boom due to couples being stuck inside during lockdown last year. So why is a baby bust on the horizon?
Millennials and baby fever
As an age group, millennials are familiar with being handed the blame for everything from the decline in homeownership to the “death” of just about every industry.
Some accuse them of being lazy, if we’re going off the plethora of memes and stereotypes.
Products of Gen X and Baby Boomers, millennials themselves are showing less inclination to being parents themselves. It’s not only for lack of enthusiasm, though.
Witnessing two economic crises in your lifetimes does that to a generation. It’s easy to see why having a baby with financial instability looming is a frightening concept.
Unlike their parents, inspired to put in extra work after World War II, baby boomers slowed the birth rate, likely due to the sexual revolution and the availability of the contraceptive pill in the 60s.
And when Generation X started becoming parents in the 90s, there was a rise in fertility for those aged 27 and above, and a decrease in teen and early-twenties pregnancies.
Young people of today worry about things beyond their control. That tends to be a mood-killer in the fertility department. To be fair, not having the know-how when it comes to the well-being and health care of your first child and all the fear that entails is a downer.
Factor in increased sexual education, the widespread use of contraceptives and other forms of birth control, and you have the perfect recipe for a record low number of live births.
The lack of pressure to start a family among people of childbearing age means most millennials see no incentive to add a baby to the mix.
Will that change? Your guess is as good as ours.
Slight Chance of Baby Showers
Gen Z may be too young to remember the sheer terror of the world “ending” in 2012, or even the Y2K bug before that, but the uncertainty of the Earth’s future is enough to make them question if they actually want kids.
Demographers indicate that age-specific fertility rates are at an all-time low.
There’s nothing that kills the vibe when making a life-changing decision quite like the thought of the planet submerged in water or engulfed in flames.
Worrying about the environment isn’t pessimistic; instead, it’s an acceptable reaction to climate change news. It’s not too late to turn things around, though.
Making lifestyle changes, slowing down on our emissions and finding alternatives for plastic are some of the ways we can contribute. If we don’t, future generations will have nothing to look forward to.
Budget Problems Aren’t Child’s Play
Babies are adorable but boy, are they expensive. Nappies, clothes, paediatrician visits and formula don’t grow on trees.
Prospective parents that aren’t financially prepared are in for a rude awakening. Cost is one reason why millennials and Gen Z are shying away from becoming parents.
We can’t blame them.
According to a recent study, people born after 1997 are more financially literate than previous generations. Knowing and understanding how much you earn is quite an effective mode of contraception; who knew.
When you’re worried about student loans, mortgages and uncertainty in the job market, it’s understandable that you might be wary about having babies.
A New Perspective on Womanhood
Another factor behind lower birth rates is improvements in gender equality, and we’re all for it!
Women have more career opportunities than ever before. Ideally, the workplace should accommodate mothers, but climbing the professional ladder is now seen as an acceptable reason for delays in starting a family.
Aside from being the absolute boss in their respective offices, women are now free to explore possibilities outside of family and the home without being labelled with sexist insults.
This freedom also includes self-expression and hobbies that could prove difficult with a child to worry about.
Relegating women to household duties and childcare is dated and unnecessary.
It seems there’s a lot more out there that women want to experience before or rather than settling down. The average age of new mothers has climbed from 21 to 26 in four decades.
Numbers Don’t Lie, Mostly
Demographic data tables and stats form part of the picture but can’t tell the whole story.
Germany turned its birth rate problem around by prioritising welfare. In turn, citizens took to procreation, which resulted in them having the best fertility replacement level in the European Union.
These solutions may not work for every country. Despite financial incentives, many parts of the world are still experiencing a bust, and even Scandinavia, known for its progressive policies, is undergoing a decline.
It seems that falling birth rates is something that not even the sauciest of Marvin Gaye songs will change anytime soon.
The fact that experts haven’t sounded alarm bells on birth rates yet is a good sign.
That means there’s still a chance for humanity, and with economic opportunities, climate action, parental leave and other protections in place, we might start making babies.
No one should pressure you into becoming a parent. Since you know yourself better than anyone, you will know if and when it’s time to have a baby. Being a parent is a HUGE responsibility, and it’s something that requires a lot of thought and planning.
Statistics don’t lie, but they don’t paint the full picture either. Bringing a baby into the world is still your call to make.