The Stunning Collapse in Fertility

When Kim and I began to work on the second edition of the textbook one of the changes that we made was to add more material on demography. Of all trends, demography is perhaps both the easiest to forecast and to ignore. Despite the predictions of the 1970s that the world would face disaster because of over-population the greatest global change today is a global collapse in fertility. It’s difficult to overstate how rapid and sweeping this swing is. One of my favorite blogs is Lyman Stone’s In a State of Migration. Stone has a blog post, “The Great Baby Bust of 2017,” which begins by looking at the stunning drop of fertility in the United States over the last decade, and then moves to place this information in the broader context of the developed world. Canada, Europe, Japan and Russia have all witnessed a stunning fall in their fertility rates. France and Russia have done more than any other countries to reverse this trend, but even so only France is approaching the replacement birth rate. When placed in this context, what is striking is that the decline in the United States’ fertility is equivalent to other great collapses, such as what happened in Japan in the 1970s.

While the U.S. is experiencing a rapid decline in fertility, some parts of the country are undergoing a more dramatic transformation. In particular, Puerto Rico’s population has plunged. Stone has a blog post, “How Low will Puerto Rico’s population go?” which examines his own modeling of Puerto Rico’s demographic future, which matches fairly well with the U.S. census model. Two points stand out. First, Hurricane Maria had a devastating impact on the island’s demography, as population flooded to the mainland. Second, the island’s population will likely decline far into the future, perhaps even reaching numbers so low that they were last seen in the nineteenth century. The total fertility rate in Puerto Rico is 1.43. While much of the discussion of Puerto Rico has focused on its financial crisis, there are also broader forces impacting its finances, and shaping its future. And what is happening in Puerto Rico has many parallels throughout the Caribbean.

Shawn Smallman, 2018

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