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Economics influence fertility rates more than other factors
Date:4/30/2013

The world population could top 8 billion in the year 2023 if current growth rates remain constant, according to United Nations figures. However, if global fertility rates slow more quickly than expected, there could be up to half a billion fewer mouths to feed on Earth in 2023. Based on a recent study by a University of Missouri anthropologist, economic changes have the greatest impact on reducing family size, and thus slowing population growth, compared to other factors. Understanding the causes of declining birth rates may lead to improved policies designed to influence fertility and result in reduced competition for food, water, land and wealth.

"Improvements in economic development, such as higher educational attainment, increasing employment in the formal labor market, and the shift away from agriculture, seem to have a doubly-powerful effect because they not only raise individuals' standards of living, but also correlate to declining fertility rates, according to the results of our study," said Mary Shenk, assistant professor of anthropology in MU's College of Arts and Science. "Another important finding of our study was that intervention programs that made changes that really affected individuals achieved the best results. For example, although advertising campaigns encouraging lower fertility may reach a wider audience for less money, face-to-face intervention campaigns providing health services or access to contraception provide better results and are thus a better use of resources."

In their research, Shenk and her colleagues used data collected since 1966 from approximately 250,000 people in rural Bangladesh, along with detailed interviews of nearly 800 women from the region. Sixty-four factors related to family size were considered and organized according to three possible explanations for declines in fertility rates:

  • Risk and mortality Parents have fewer children when they have more hope that children will survive into a
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Contact: Tim Wall
walltj@missouri.edu
573-882-3346
University of Missouri-Columbia
Source:Eurekalert

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