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High Costs of Low Fertility in Industrial Countries

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at St. Andrews chapter.

In the last 70 years, as women’s education and empowerment in business continue to rise, global fertility rates have decreased by 50%. Industrial countries around the world are suffering fertility shortages due to increasing costs of childbearing and childrearing. To many, a reprieve from the burden of parental pressures and financial stressors may seem appealing. However, the popularity of straying from motherhood also has far-reaching consequences on the development and productivity of economies in these industrial countries.

Conflicting demands between motherhood and career also delay the process of starting a family. More often than not, childbirth results in work disruptions that have lingering consequences on later employment. From concerns such as career stagnation or burnout, these interruptions can spoil the allure of family life for women with professional aspirations. Meanwhile, those who cannot afford the luxury of maternity leave must reduce working hours, putting further strain on their job security and mental health. 

The working mom conundrum has resulted in an unprecedented fertility decline. Longer life expectancies and an aging population are now weighing on the economy by driving demand for more healthcare and social care services. These demands pressure a shrinking workforce of young people to compensate for the needs of retiring elders. Additionally, lower fertility rates can negatively impact both consumption and potential productive capacity in industrial countries.

According to the World Economic Forum, in the 1960s there were six people of working age for every retired person. That ratio has now fallen to three-to-one, and is predicted to plummet further with time. These effects have profound implications for tax revenues and government spending, in terms of providing state pensions and health care. Investments in social services are also essential for emotionally supporting and providing companionship to elders.

Government attempts to offset economic pressures resulting from low fertility rates are taking form in various countries. South Korea, for example, has established a monthly child stipend of 1 million won (645 pounds) for every family with a newborn, in an effort to encourage reproduction. Similarly, Italian governments have taken measures to implement a monthly “baby bonus” for families with an annual income below 25,000 euros. 

While these initiatives seem promising in their attempts to combat the phenomenon, fertility rates continue to drop year over year throughout the industrial world at record pace. Like putting a bandage over a bullet wound, these temporary solutions fall short in creating a systemic change to promote fertility to a desirable level.

Erin Yip

St. Andrews '24

A fourth-year student pursuing English and Psychology at the University of St. Andrews who loves literature and writing!