The global total fertility rate (the average number of children born to a woman during her reproductive life, at present rates) is now 2.4.

According to Sarah Harper, former director of the Royal Institution, falling fertility is to be encouraged. She believes that artificial intelligence, automation (mechanisation) and a healthier, older population reduces the need for a large workforce for economic growth. In a post-industrial country (and even in industrial countries) machines do much of the work that manual labour used to provide. Changes in technology also mean that large armies are no longer necessary (but useful) to engage in war.  There are some benefits of a declining fertility rate: a parent’s carbon footprint is reduced by 58 tonnes a year by having one less child.

However, a number of countries have tried to increase their fertility rate by introducing pro-natalist policies. These include South Korea, Italy and China. China replaced its one child policy with a two-child policy in 2016. However, fertility rate remain low in all three countries.

Harper argues that it is easier to keep old people healthy and in the workforce, that it is to encourage women to have more children. Germany admitted around one million Syrian refugees to offset its declining workforce, caused by low fertility rates.


In 2018 Japan experienced its biggest one-year fall in population. The number of births was 921,000 (the lowest on record) and there were 1.37 million deaths (the largest since World War 2). This led to an overall decline in population by around 448,000.  2018 was also the third year in a row in which the number of births was less than one million.

Japan’s TFR of 1.43 is well below the replacement level of 2.1. Although the government is trying to increase pro-natalist strategies, they are not having much effect. Waiting lists for childcare have increased rather than decrease.

Life expectancy is 87 years for women and 81 years for men, and over 20% of the population are aged over 70 years. By 2040 more than 35% of the population will be aged over 65 years.


Falling total fertility rate should be welcomed, population expert says

Japan shrinking as birthrate falls to lowest level in history