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Why are world birthrates falling?

Why are world birthrates falling?

Birthrates in most countries around the world are falling according to the Washington Post. The reason seems to be access to television and other media:

…many developing countries now have lower birthrates than even some European nations. “Chile (1.85 children per woman), Brazil (1.81), and Thailand (1.56) have lower birthrates than France (2.0), Norway (1.95), and Sweden (1.98),” Lewis writes.

The same goes for India. Back in 1968, biologist Paul Ehrlich famously warned about a coming population explosion in India that would lead to mass famine and catastrophe. Yet today, India’s fertility rate (2.5) is only slightly higher than the United States’ (2.1). In India’s southern states, the birthrate is actually below replacement level, meaning that the next generation will be smaller than the current one.

So what happened? Lewis examines a number of hypotheses, from rising incomes to growing female literacy. Those are all moderately correlated with the decline in birthrates and could help explain the shift. But, curiously enough, nothing seems to match up with the trends as neatly as the growth in TV ownership and media exposure:

Peak Oil also notes these changes in life for women:

. . . A 2009 paper (pdf) by Robert Jensen and Emily Oster found that the introduction of cable television “is associated with significant decreases in the reported acceptability of domestic violence towards women and son preference, as well as increases in women’s autonomy and decreases in fertility.” It’s far from certain that television alone is driving these changes, but the evidence is suggestive.

A separate 2008 study (pdf) by Eliana La Ferrara found that the popularity of soap operas seems to have had a similar effect in Brazil, where birthrates have dropped from from 6.25 to 1.81 in the past 50 years. The idea here is that television helps alter certain cultural norms that, in turn, lead to women choosing to have fewer kids. (Again, though, it’s possible that soap-opera exposure is simply an outgrowth of some other factor, like rising incomes.) . . .

h/t to Murdoch Matthew


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@JC Fisher: Or it was snowing!

-Cullin R. Schooley


Probably a lot of us (Americans) under age 60 are only here because “there was nothing on.”


JC Fisher

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