Tag Archives: fertility rates

“Religions and Babies”

Baby-Giraffe-Pictures-640x360

Speaking on religion when it comes to fertility rates is touchy. Often individuals and governments do not like to hear the studies that conclude certain religions may be the cause of more or less children per woman. But in a TED talk on Religions and Babies, Hans Rosling argues that religions do not play into fertility rates trends at all. In fact, it is these four factors that lower fertility rates –

“Babies per Woman decrease when…
1. Children survive
2. Many children are not needed for work
3. Women get education and join the labor force
4. Family planning is accessible”

As is often the case, I couldn’t agree more with Rosling. These four factors, particularly the survival of children, have been proven to reduce fertility rates. Not coincidently, these factors occur as countries better develop their healthcare systems and bustling economies. As infant mortality rates drop, the use of child labor in the household becomes less necessary. And as women get proper education and employment opportunities along with accessibility to family planning methods, households feel less pressure and less responsibility to have many children.

Rosling’s theory on a future population plateau aligns with most speculations, arguing in very simple terms (through his favorite visual tool of boxes) that as counties with high numbers of babies per woman further develop, fertility rates will slow and eventually meet those that are already at replacement levels. Thus these dropping rates will create a world population plateau somewhere around 9 billion.

But I must disagree with him that religion and fertility rates have no correlation. While this doesn’t contradict the theory on future replacement levels, it may slow down the timeframe in which Rosling proposes global replacement levels will be reached. The number of babies per woman is weighted by cultural norms and community pressures. When the average number of babies per woman in a small town in Somalia hovers around 7, young women and new mothers see this as the expected standard. And unquestionably in the countries with the highest fertility rates, such as Niger, Mali, Uganda, Afghanistan, South Sudan, etc., religion still has an enormous influence on culture and societal expectations. If practices such as polygamy or the lack of use of contraception remain common conventions in certain religions, areas that densely practice these religions will continue to see higher fertility rates, arguably adding a fifth factor to the above list affecting babies per woman: breaking out of traditional, societal expectations.

And of course here’s Gapminder to replicate the data graphs from the video above and play around with different data sets as well!

The African Spring

Cheetahs running. Namibia

You may notice a trend of this page focusing on fertility rates and population growth. While there isn’t quite the same ‘sky is falling’ syndrome that may have gripped Thomas Malthus’ writing, he was not crazy to worry. Population is increasing at a rate like it never has in human history. In the roughly 5-6 million years that hominini have existed on earth, never had the population exceeded 1 billion until the early 1800s. Since then – explosion. We’ve now rounded 7 billion.

There are expert hopes and reports of a plateau to this growth curve. I would agree with them, for as developing countries have shown, once certain levels of healthcare, social security, and quality of life are reached then fertility rates usually drop to very near replacement levels (2.1). But you can bet there are going to be some bumps in the road before the world reaches stability. Where are these bumps going to come from? The biggest one may be Sub-Saharan Africa.

The Arab Spring (which lasted much longer than a spring) erupted almost entirely unexpectedly to the international community. While politics and deep-seeded resentments helped fuel the region-wide uprisings, it was ultimately the energy, resentment, coordination, and chaos of the youth in these countries that allowed for such tumultuous insurgencies. Often these youth were un- or underemployed and fed up with their nation’s current system of governance.

Because of my current residence in Uganda, it will unfortunately be made the example of. Out of Uganda’s population of roughly 37 million, 60 percent is under the age of 18. Teen pregnancies, recorded for those between the ages of 13 and 17, are at 24 percent. And fertility rates show little sign of slowing, staying steady at 6.4 children per woman. These are astonishing figures. And while relatively high, they won’t sound shocking to most Sub-Saharan Africans. Need more confirmation? Visit Lagos. Then you may start to see into the future.

Africa’s population of over a billion is expected to double in the next 40 years, accounting for half of global population growth. Meanwhile, Sub-Saharan Africa is still home to some of the world’s most questionable and corrupt leaders, many of whom do not strike hope into their citizens for the future.

Economic and social development are absolutely occurring in Uganda and many similar countries in SSA. But currently it seems children are aging faster than progress can spread, resulting in massive unemployment due to lack of proper infrastructure and industrial development. This year the IMF research conference made a point of showcasing the damages and long-term effects of large scale unemployment. The conclusions were that they are severe.  So what happens in Uganda and similar countries in 2020 when these now adults all enter the job market and the crickets are chirping? If government structure doesn’t drastically change to accommodate, then the prediction here is something very similar to the Arab Spring. But on an even greater scale.

It is true that some nations are more vulnerable than others, and in repetition this page is not attempting to say that the ‘sky is falling’ on an entire region. Sub-Saharan Africa has proven to be innovative and surprising when it comes to transitional periods. But expect a few chaotic blips on the radar as half a continent’s youth grow up to a very unfair global division of wealth and powers.