Rising Fertility in Highly-Developed Countries

I’ve always suspected that the link between economic development and fertility is more complicated than the standard story of inverse relationship. Increased economic opportunities increase the opportunity costs of having children, and this decrease fertility. Counterbalancing this, though, is the possibility that kids are a normal good in the sense that demand increases with income: as we get richer, we are more willing to give up income to have kids. Additionally, advances in IT seem to be pushing down the opportunity cost of children by making flexible work arrangements (particularly telecommuting) more feasible. It’s possible that at some point the pro-natal factors could come to dominate the anti-natal.

According to some new research published in Nature, there does seem to be a development threshold above which the standard relationship is reversed [WaPo story, gated nature article, annoying ungated version]. The results indicate that the standard story remains true for most countries, but once countries reach a very high level of development – around 0.85-0.9 on the Human Development Index – fertility begins to increase.


If this trend is real and continues to higher levels of development, the long-term relationship between development and fertility should be U-shaped (or maybe even J-shaped!). As someone who likes people and would like to see as many of them as possible, I think this is great news. The Simonian future of a trillion humans might not be quite so far off, after all.

Hat tip: Contexts Crawler