Presentation for the World Population Council

Environmental Studies
4 pages (1000 words)


According to a report by United Nations, the fertility rate has dropped below three children per woman for the first time in the developing countries. World population rate will continue to grow, albeit slowly, and nearly all the growth will take place in the developing countries. Every country, be it developed or developing, has at some time or the other, experienced “demographic transition” from high to low levels of fertility and mortality. The development of a country depends on various factors like the culture, the economic development and the social mores. Various technological and social changes brought about a steep decline in the fertility rates in the developed nations. Developed countries have completed the demographic transition while in the developing countries the birth rate and the death rate are falling at varying rates. Despite this, it remains significantly high when compared to the developed nations.

History shows that the population grew very little as the mortality rates were very high due to epidemics, malnutrition, wars, famines and chronic infections. With the advent of time better transportation led to availability of food supplies, thereby causing improvement in nutrition. Better hygiene and sanitation reduced the incidence of disease resulting in fall in the mortality rate. With improvement in technology the birth rate started declining.

Fertility rate is defined as the total number of live births regardless of the age of the mother, per 1000 women of reproductive age, between 15 and 44 years (cited NCHS definitions). The causes for decline in the fertility rate in the developed nations started in the late 19th century and the causes were many. Social awareness, delayed marriages as more women started going to college and working outside of home, divorces as more women tried to exert their rights, use of contraceptives – are some of the reasons which led to the decline in fertility rate. This trend continues even today even though the death rate has also fallen.

During the early 20th century when countries like United States, Canada and Europe registered a fall in the fertility rates, Asia, Africa and Latin America continued with a high fertility and mortality rate. In Sweden fertility and mortality declined gradually over 150 years. Mexico’s population nearly doubled in the first half of the 20th century but then measures were taken to curb the fertility rate. Better communication helped spread the family planning measures adopted by the country.

The emergence of different contraceptive methods like the pills, intrauterine devices, simpler sterilization techniques and contraceptives that can be implanted or injected under the skin, led to a drastic fall in the fertility rate in the developed countries. While the awareness of family planning did spread worldwide, its effect was far less in the developing nations. In countries like Ethiopia and Mali the use of family planning techniques is less than 10% while in the developed nations like Mexico and Thailand it is over 70%. In the developing areas social stigma, inhibitions, cultural barriers do not permit the use of contraceptives.  Fear of side effects of the contraceptives also has been detrimental in the use of the family planning methods by the developing nation. Young married women are encouraged to bear a child soon after marriage as there is a belief that delayed child-birth causes complications. In such countries women give birth even before the age of 20.

The fertility rate also largely depends upon the education and income of the people. According to a report by United Nations, the fertility rate has dropped below three children per woman for the first time in the developing countries (Associated Press, Jan 27, 2005). Consequently the fear of population boom would not take place. The key factor here is the drop in the fertility rate. Late marriages, children fewer than before and that too not very early after marriage, women being increasingly conscious of their careers and rights have all contributed towards a drop in the fertility rate.

In the developing nations the family size shrunk faster than that in the developed nations. The smaller family size reflects a change in the attitude towards child bearing. Kenyan women who wanted more than seven children in the 1970s did not want more than three in the 1990s. During the same period the women of Columbia and Indonesia wanted less than three children. The advent of contraceptives helped women to plan their pregnancies.

Another reason for shrinking family size is the migration – not just to other countries but also from the rural to the urban states within the country. This is often due to the lack of basic facilities, available land space, water and sanitation. The cohesiveness within the family that hitherto exists in the developing nations is fast disintegrating with women wanting to work outside the home. This makes it difficult for the woman to manage both home and family and hence smaller family size is convenient. Mounting expenses in the upbringing of a child is another factor for having fewer children.

While mortality rate did come down due to improved healthcare, the death rate has accelerated in the developed nations where AIDS is a very high contributory factor. In such countries the population is very sexually active. This results is no growth in population size even when the fertility has not reduced proportionately.

There are different trends in the fertility pattern as per the report of RAND research briefs. Developed nations like Europe and East Asia face a dearth of youth, low fertility, and negative population growth. Italy and Spain have the lowest fertility rates in the world (1.2 lifetime births per woman) as against countries like Nigeria which have a rate of 6.5 lifetime births per woman. Germany is experiencing a negative population growth of -0.1 percent annually. Britain, Japan, France and Singapore face very low growth.

It can hence be concluded that the major reason for the disparity in growth in the developed and developing nations is the level of education, the disposable income, awareness, health and sanitation. Societal pressures contribute largely too towards high fertility in the developing nations. The mortality rate has declined in both the developing and the developed nations but as there is low fertility in the developed nations, the growth is negative


  • Associated Press, January 27, 2005. website:

  • Population Reference Bureau:
  • RAND research briefs: