Birthrates in industrialized nations are falling worldwide. In the 21 nations that reported the lowest birthrates, 17 are in Europe and four are in Asia . The United States’ birthrate is maintaining itself at the replacement rate, or 2.1 births per woman. There are several reasons for the drop of births in both the United States and around the world: more women are remaining single than ever before, by choice; those women who are marrying are doing so at an older age; and more women are pursuing an advanced education. These factors are all contributing to having more women in the workforce and women having longer, better-paying careers, than at any previous time . By the late 1980’s, the publication Population and Development shifted its primary focus to the population explosion in third world nations to the low birthrates in many industrialized nations .
The ability for women to participate and drive their reproductive choices in these nations also has led to fewer unintended pregnancies as gender equality is reached. This trend has been consistent among nations where the percentage of females earning post-secondary degrees has occurred. Whereas, in nations where the primary focus is on agriculture, which includes many African and some Asian nation, this change has not occurred. There are some who are concerned about the lower birthrates and others who see that there is nothing wrong in a decrease in the world’s population. By having fewer children and using fewer years for child-rearing, a woman also has the ability to pursue a professional career. The demands of childcare would not be non-existent, but would be far less than women who have many children spread over a greater period of time .
An area where the decrease has not occurred is in the highly patriarchal countries of Muslim faith. In these countries, there has not been a decrease in the number of children to which each woman gives birth. Rather, in these countries where the roles of women are limited by law, the more traditional role of motherhood and the expectations are followed more often than not. The subordination of women remains strong and intact in these Middle Eastern nations and roles do not look likely to change anytime soon. These same traditional cultures also influence the rates in other European nations. Their relatively high number of births per woman, about 6.7, helps to offset the declining rate of the European nationalist nations. The increased birth rate of women previously from the Middle East but now living in European nations helps to raise the European birth rate closer to 2.0 per woman, but not quite .
The same decrease is also seen in Japan, by choice, and in China, by law. Japanese women are averaging just over to 1.0 births per woman, and by the middle of this century, analists can forecast, that at this current rate, Japan’s population will dip to 50% of what it was a century before. In China, where politicians made a one child per family rule, the numbers decreased drastically over the past 50 years, and now the country has put aside that policy in some instances, after seeing the nation’s population plummet .
Within only one generation in the United States, the average age for giving birth to a first child has had the largest increase in history. Now, the average age for a woman to give birth to her first child is 24.5 years old. Only one generation ago, it was only 21.9 years old. This is an enormous jump in time for such a short timeframe. Some of this change is due to increased availability and use of contraceptives. Other reasons women are delaying having children are that they are being educated longer and want to begin their careers. Other women do not feel bound to the traditional role of needing to marry and become a parent to at least two children in order to fulfil the norms of society. The choice of being a mother is now decided by a woman’s preference on the issue. It is increasingly acceptable to pursue a career or other activities and not become a parent .
In nations that have seen a decreased birthrate, the numbers of births per woman is highest in the counties that have the best national policies in place for childcare and other supports for working mothers. This is most notable in France, which has the most generous offerings to new mothers, up to two years off of government supported leave after bearing a child, and the best childcare subsidies, which means many mothers receive free childcare for their children until they reach preschool age. Of course, once a child is of preschool age, the child can then be in school for some if not all of the mother’s workday, with the school acting in the role of childcare provider .
A trend that does not seem to have added to the decreasing birthrates is unmarried women having children. In the United States, 39.7% of all children born in 2007 were born to women who were not married. Another aspect that has helped to keep fertility rates in the United States at the 2.1 births per woman replacement rate is that parents that have a child outside of marriage are more likely to have children with a second or subsequent partner. This is significant because the number of children for each married couple is barely at the replacement rate of 2.1%, and any societal changes or pressures that would decrease this number would greatly affect the population in the United States. Cohabitation has also become more prevalent in the United States, and is nearing 50% of married couples having cohabitated before their union .
The emphasis on child and parental obligations has also shifted under these new circumstances of population growth and decline. It used to be that the child was forever indebted to his or her parents. This line of thinking has now switched to what the parent owes the child. There is a weakened bond between parent and child in the current generation when compared to the generations of the past. There is less interdependence between parent and child. There is less significance of what the parent does to the child and less to the child’s future based on the parent. With such lack of dependency, is there any wonder why the rate of births in many nations continues to decline ?
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