This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

If you are a user of my textbook and would like to suggest a blog post idea, please email me at:

Thursday, February 5, 2015

High Fertility is Still With Us

There is a tendency, even among demographers, to assume that the whole issue of high fertility is passé and that we should be moving on to other topics of greater importance. It is my view that fertility is still highly relevant because high fertility anywhere in the world--when coupled with lower mortality--means population growth that will shift the demographic, economic, and political balance of the world. So, I was very pleased to discover today that the United Nations Population Division has put out a new report summarizing the extremes of fertility--both high and low. As always, the middle ground tends to be best in demographic terms, as in most other things.

Here are the top three key findings:
Fertility has declined significantly since the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development, yet 66 countries remain with high fertility levels (more than 3.2 children per woman). The number of low-fertility countries (with 2.0 children per woman or less) has increased from 51 countries at the time of the 1994 ICPD to 70 countries today.

High-fertility countries are increasingly concentrated in sub-Saharan Africa (45 out of 66 high- fertility countries) while low-fertility countries are becoming more diverse geographically, including many more countries in Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean (31 out of the 70 low-fertility countries are from regions outside of Europe).

There have been substantial declines in adolescent fertility in many high-fertility countries, but adolescent fertility remains very high in Middle Africa and Western Africa. Angola, Chad, Mali and Niger stand out with adolescent birth rates of above 180 births per 1,000 women aged 15-19 years in 2005-2010. Adolescent fertility also continues to account for a high proportion of births in many low-fertility countries in Latin America and the Caribbean; in five low-fertility countries, all in Latin America and the Caribbean, 15 per cent or more of all births were to adolescent mothers.
The high fertility countries of Africa help to account for the problems faced by Nigeria, Chad, and Cameroon as they battle Boko Haram. Indeed, all of the political hot-spots south of the Mediterranean involve high fertility countries. On the other hand, the trouble spot in Eastern Europe--between Russia and Ukraine--involve two below replacement countries trying to figure out how to navigate when on the edge of depopulation. Neither demographic extreme seems to be amenable to political stability.

One reason for people thinking that high fertility is behind us is that the UN projections assume that will be the case. These assumptions are unlikely to hold if efforts to provide contraception, along with education to young people, are not supported.


  1. Hi Prof. John,

    Here is an interesting article on Poland. The birthrate has gone up enough such that births>deaths, but out-migration then negates any growth. I wonder how many other countries are in this situation?,2014-demographic-upswing-confirmed

    Abu Daoud

  2. thank you. I continue to believe that the "implosion" in global society in the future (30-50 years) will be driven by events in Africa and south Asia (Pakistan, India, Bangladesh). Demographics are a key driver, but it's a combination of population pressures, resources, economic declines, and human psychology (crisis mentality, wars, riots). We are close enough, that soon any changes in fertility will not matter too much to the outcome. Population numbers can only "stabilize" through significant increases in mortality rates. The mathematics is inevitable.

    Pete, Redondo Beach, CA

    1. Well, my hope is that by some miracle fertility will decline rapidly throughout Africa and south Asia, leading to a demographic dividend that can be turned into an economic lift such as seen in east Asia. It could happen...