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Even Lower Fertility Rates: A Welcome Possibility

Even Lower Fertility Rates A Welcome Possibility
  • February 15, 2023

The human population will likely continue to set records. But there is hope.

One of our recent blog entries detailed our record setting population around the world and at home. In 1997, the population of Utah sat at just over 2.0 million; today, it’s around 3.4 million and is projected to increase to nearly 5.5 million by 2060. The world’s population in 1997 was 5.9 billion. In November 2022, the world population blew past the 8 billion mark. 

To capture our state’s expected growth in slightly different terms, the projected population growth in Utah from today to 2060 augers a 60% increase and an average over 55,000 new people per year for the next 37 years.  

Clearly, Utah’s population has expanded at a breathtaking rate, setting new high records every year, essentially every day. How long can that kind of streak continue?

Perhaps, thankfully, not much longer. Although the trend in our total number of people remains discouraging, there is good news. Fertility rates are down in Utah. Back in 1997, the fertility rate was 2.6. By 2020, it had dropped to 1.9. (A fertility rate of 2.1 child per woman represents the replacement level.) Utah no longer even has the highest fertility rates among the states!  

And there is encouraging news for global population, as well. A recent article entitled “Bending the Curve by 2030,” in the Journal of Population and Sustainability, provides a hopeful, plausible outlook for population. What if the fertility rate across the world approached 1.5 births per woman around the year 2030? If we could reach this mark, the world’s population would peak before reaching 9 billion people and could then decrease to four billion sometime after 2100 — a decrease of over 4 billion people in about 90 years.  

Think about it. Much of the world is already at 1.5 births per woman. If we could achieve these rates worldwide, the global population would decrease naturally.

Very simply, if, on average, four families have 0, 1, 2 and 3 children respectively, then this would be six children among the four families and a fertility rate of 1.5 children. We could reach a more sustainable population while maintaining a vibrant family and community structure.    

We all know how the media likes to spin pending demographic decline. But please don’t believe the hype about a coming “demographic winter” etc. etc. Japan, for example, had a fertility rate of 1.3 children in 2019 and its population is essentially stable (and moving downwards). And its people continue to get richer, as UPEC has documents in its white paper on fertility decline.

As stated earlier, when the Utah Population and Environment Council started 25 years ago, Utah had a bit over 2 million people. Now we are at about 3.4 million. Imagine if, 80 to 100 years from now, we returned to the 1997 level of population of 2 million people? This is not a crazy idea at all! After all, 1997 was not so long ago … And think of how many more (small) families and individuals could thrive when fertility rates hit 1.5. 

And then imagine the decrease in our ecological footprint under such a scenario, and how much closer we could come to living sustainably? We would still face numerous environmental challenges, but lowering population is a key spur to a more sustainable future.  

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