August 6, 2009

Baby Boom For Richest Nations?

The idea that the richer the country, the lower its birthrate, is no longer accurate when countries sail past a certain amount of development, says a study published on Wednesday.

The majority of the two dozen nations that have surpassed this goal, like Australia, Sweden, France, the United States and Britain, are currently experiencing baby booms, moving away from a pattern of waning fertility that has lasted for decades.

If the trend continues, it could have optimistic outcomes for current rapidly ageing nations, the researchers wrote.

The US Census Bureau anticipated in July that the population of people over 65 years of age would double from the current 500 million to 1.3 billion by 2040.

"Our findings are highly relevant in the debate on the future of the world's population ... and provide a different outlook for the 21st century," says the study, available in the British science journal Nature.

The issues surrounding the declining birthrates, including health costs for the elderly and a smaller workforce, were considered the price to pay for larger incomes and longer lives.

A lot of wealthy nations have fallen under the fertility rate required to preserve a stable population.

If nothing changes, the 2005 birthrates of countries like South Korea, Japan, Italy and Spain will, without immigration, halve each nation's inhabitants in just 40 to 45 years.

The more these countries move up a commonly used gauge of social development called the Human Development Index, or HDI, the fewer children were born.

The HDI scale considered life expectancy, GDP per capita and literacy rates, and runs from zero to 1.0.

The researchers, led by Mikko Myrskyla from the University of Pennsylvania, reviewed statistics from the majority of the world's countries to investigate new trends.

They found "a fundamental change in the well-established negative relationship between fertility and development."

Overall, national birthrates started declining when the HDI reached 0.86, and grew when the index reached 0.95.

Modifications in society that let women choose when to have children are driving factors behind the baby boom.

Higher education, being in the workforce, and more money imply that "these changes make it likely that women, and couples, will find it easier to pay the high economic price of having children," wrote Stanford University professor Shripad Tuljapurkar in a commentary, also in Nature.


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