Globally, women today are only having about half as many babies as they did in the early 1970s. An important new report from the United Nations provided documentation of fertility changes between the early 1970s and the most recent years, averaged across the world and separately for eight different regions of the world. Data were based on the average number of live births to women between the ages of 15 and 49. (Statistics on adoptions were not reported.)
Average Number of Children (Live Births) for Women, 15-49 Years-Old, Data Available Since 2015
2.4, worldwide: decreased from 4.4 children between 1970-1975
4.7, Sub-Saharan Africa: decreased from 6.8 children between 1970-1975
3.4, Oceania: decreased from 5.8 children between 1970-1975
2.9, Northern Africa and Western Asia: decreased from 6.1 children between 1970-1975
2.4, Central and Southern Asia: decreased from 5.6 children between 1970-1975
2.0, Latin America and the Caribbean: decreased from 5.0 children between 1970-1975
1.9, Australia and New Zealand: decreased from 2.6 children between 1970-1975
1.8, Eastern and South-Eastern Asia: decreased from 4.6 children between 1970-1975
1.7, Europe and Northern America: decreased from 2.1 children between 1970-1975
(Examples of countries in the 8 regions are listed below.)
Averaged around the world, women in recent years (since 2015) have had an average of 2 fewer babies than they had between 1970 and 1975. In all 8 regions of the world, women are having fewer children now than they did in the early 70s, though the number of children was not always at an all-time low for the most recent time period.
The decrease was most remarkable for the Northern African and Western Asia region, as well as the Central and South Asia region. Women there had an average of 3.2 more babies in the early 70s compared to now. In Europe and North America, the decrease was smallest (and started from the smallest number), from 2.1 babies in the early 70s to 1.7 babies now.
The U.N. Report made predictions for the years 2025-2030. Worldwide, the report predicted a continued decrease in the number of children women would have, to an average of 2.3 (instead of the current average of 2.4). Further decreases were also predicted for 6 or the 8 regions. For Eastern and South-Eastern Asia, the report predicted that the number of children would level off at 1.8, staying the same as it was between 2015 and 2020. Only for Europe and North America was the number of children predicted to increase, from 1.7 children (between 2015 and 2020) to 1.8 (between 2025-2030).
Declining Birth Rates: Implications for Women
Because the focus of the UN report was on the progress of the world’s women, declining birth rates were discussed in terms of the implications for women. The report pointed out both positive and negative aspects.
- The declining birth rate “indicates that women are exercising greater agency and voice in decisions regarding whether and when to have children, and how many.”
- “…smaller families can be less costly to maintain…”
- “women’s care and domestic burden within them [the smaller families] may be smaller.”
In some regions, the declining birth rate indicates that “women and men may be having fewer children than they desire.”
Reasons for having fewer children than they might wish include:
- “…economic conditions that make child-rearing financially challenging”
- There are not sufficient “quality long-term care services”
- They are already caring for others, such as older parents.
- Women may be reluctant to have more children “because men still do not do their fair share of unpaid care and domestic work.”
Examples of Countries from the 8 Regions
Europe and Northern America: UK, US, Canada, Germany, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy, Greece, Russian Federation, Ukraine, Norway, Sweden, Finland, etc.
Sub-Saharan Africa: Ethiopia, Nigeria, Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Africa, etc.
Eastern and South-Eastern Asia: China, Japan, Indonesia, Mongolia, Myanmar, Thailand, etc.
Latin America and the Caribbean: Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, Cuba, Costa Rica, Haiti, Bahamas, etc.
Central and Southern Asia: India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Afghanistan, etc.
Northern Africa and Western Asia: Egypt, Israel, Lebanon, Iraq, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, etc.
Oceana, excluding Australia and New Zealand: Fiji, Micronesia, and Papua New Guinea, etc.
Australia and New Zealand: Australia and New Zealand only