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Centre talk: Why has fertility more than halved?

Earlier this week, the Centre welcomed Norwegian demographer Vegard Skirbekk for a fascinating talk on the social and biological drivers of low fertility.

Vegard Skirbekk, senior researcher at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health and a Professor at Columbia University, offered a broad discussion on the evolution of childbearing across different populations.


Globally, women are having half as many children as they had just fifty years ago. The vast majority of current research tends to be disciplinary specific, and few studies seek to understand fertility change from an interdisciplinary perspective.



Why have birth rates fallen?

Vegard’s research into Norwegian fertility has found an increase in the population not having children, with more than 30% of men childless at age 40 compared to 15% of women. While most individuals in Europe still want to have children, he suggests a number of factors are at play for people choosing to postpone childbirth. These include higher house prices, longer education and later fertility norms.


Fertility is therefore related to (changes in) our reproductive capacity, contraception, education, religion, partnering, policies, economics, assisted reproduction, and catastrophes to name a few.



Will fertility recover?

Global fertility has been cut in half in the last 50 years, and is continuing to fall. Vegard suggests that many of the underlying factors that lead to late or low fertility are unlikely to go away, with fertility likely to fluctuate at fairly low levels in more and more world regions. He also added that fertility is unlikely to recover if it falls below 1.5 children per woman.



How will low fertility affect our shared future?

Vegard concluded his talk by exploring the future of family size and its impact on human welfare, women's empowerment and the environment.


He discussed the impacts of falling fertility rates on society, recognising the challenges of population aging and "coincidental" childlessness, and seeked to give an integrative examination of one of the most important issues of our time.



Vegard expands on these points in his latest book Decline and Prosper!


Vegard Skirbekk is a Norwegian population economist and social scientist specialising in demographic analysis and cohort studies. He is a senior researcher at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health and also Professor of Population and Family Health at the Columbia Aging Center at Columbia University. He has published as a lead/senior author in journals such as Science and Demography; received larger grants, including from ERC and NIH. His research has received broad media attention across the world, including the New York Times, The Economist and Financial Times.

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