Our planet’s population is constantly growing.  

In the UK alone, 21 new babies are born every minute, causing great concern for those who fear the consequences of overcrowding.  

In a world where resources are increasingly limited and under strain, it is becoming necessary to prepare ourselves for a future of decline.

An Increasingly Mature Population

Experts suggest the dramatic drop in worldwide fertility rates will lead to huge societal and economic challenges.  

The number of children born per woman has halved since the 1960s, from approximately 5 to 2.4 in 2021. As a result, 23 nations — including Spain and Japan — are predicted to halve in size in just 80 years. 

Many scientists believe that smaller populations are better when it comes to maximising opportunities and creating a healthier living environment. However, the numbers tell a different story. By 2100, the over-80s will outnumber the under-5s around the world by two to one. With a general world focus on senior citizens, economic responsibility will fall increasingly onto the shoulders of the younger, working-age population — a minority in comparison.  

The switch will mean a global shortage of care workers to look after the aged and a decline in the need for nurseries and childcare facilities.

The Response

Many high-profile figures have spoken out about the dwindling birth rate. In an unpopular tweet, Elon Musk stated: ‘Population collapse due to low birth rates is a much bigger risk to civilization than global warming.’ 

Though he is not entirely correct, with the effects of global warming now more prominent and action-seeking than ever, the two issues are nevertheless intertwined. As the world eats up more finite resources with larger populations, emissions will only continue to rise and so will the temperature of our planet. Incidents, such as the Australian Bushfires which have become more frequent and grown in severity, demonstrate the destructive potential of a warmer Earth.

The Educated Woman 

The steady decline in birth rates across the world has numerous reasons, with women’s liberation riding at the forefront. In many traditionally-focused countries, education has broken with standards when it comes to women, offering them more than marriage and motherhood. Iran is one example of this break from societal norms. In the 1950s, Iranian women had an average of three years’ education and raised seven children. Flashforward sixty years. Now with nine years of schooling, the average fertility rate dropped to 1.8 by 2010. 

Iran is just one example of the effects of education on fertility rates. Instead of being seen as mere baby machines, more women have been given a foundation to raise their voices. In the empowering words of Angelina Jolie: ‘There is no greater pillar of stability than a strong and educated woman.’

Changing Perspectives 

While better education is undoubtedly a factor in decreasing global birth rates, inflation is perhaps an even bigger one. One in four American millennials said they were still living with their parents in 2022 owing to the increased cost of living. The estate agents Hamptons estimate that people paid a record £85bn in rent last year, and higher interest rates mean many Millennials are unable to afford to move onto the housing ladder. Not only is a whole generation struggling to find their feet, but just 3 in 10 Millennials live with a spouse and child, compared to 40 per cent of Gen X at the same age.  

Children have always been expensive — no doubt about that — but for many they have become an impossible and unrealistic goal.

Perspectives on family have also changed. Centuries ago, children were seen as carriers of a family’s legacy. Why else was Henry VIII so desperate to have a son? Being childless and without a legitimate heir would have destroyed his power and status. In short, children were seen as a necessity.  

This is arguably no longer the case. An increasing number of people have stopped seeing the importance of producing the next generation to continue their ancestral legacy. Leaving one’s mark, in this small way, just doesn’t seem to be on the bucket list of things ‘to do’ before you die. But without children, there is no hope for a brighter future, and that is when our world will likely crumble. 

People justifiably feel immense pressure when asked to bring new life. With the state of the climate, ongoing wars and rising food prices, many of us do not feel ready to have kids with a clear conscience. This could explain why more than half (50.1 per cent) of women in England and Wales were without a child when they turned 30 in 2020, suggesting that many women are delaying having children or choosing not to have them at all.

The Middle Way

In our changing world of opportunities and perspectives, a balance needs to be found. Women should have the chance to become mothers as well as career women, and society needs to encourage both. These two paths do not have to be mutually exclusive or at odds with each other, they are twisted and intertwined, but also incredibly rewarding. Women should have the opportunity to improve the world around them while also raising new life to carry on their good work.

This is a call for governments to step forward and support families; support women in the workplace. Insufficient maternity support has caused too many women in the past to have to choose between raising a family and building their career. This needs to change.

If we can strike a balance and adapt our systems (both economically and socially) to withstand the coming challenges posed by reduced fertility rates and global warming, we may arrive at a better world. In every world, children are needed for a better future. It is the duty of governments to provide us with the best possible world where children can live their best lives.

By supporting present and future parents, we are building bridges to carry us over the hardships towards a brighter day. 

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