Ultra-Low Fertility: Is reproductive sustainability possible in the 21st century?

Anthropologist Ayo Wahlberg contributes to a day of insights and discussion on falling fertility rates. The event is organized by the University of Copenhagen’s Sustainability Science Centre.

For the first time ever, over half of the world’s population now live in low-fertility countries, where fertility rates are below replacement level. In many countries, ultra-low fertility rates are approaching on average one child per woman with South Korea even having fallen below to 0.98.

The causes are complex, a combination of biological, social and psychological factors. Rising childcare and education costs, economic precarity, stress of work life and concerns about climate changes all factor into people’s reproductive decision-making. Some couples end up waiting until their 30s and 40s when chances of being able to reproduce have fallen considerably. An important question is how big a role conscious family planning versus involuntarily low fecundity play in the observed low fertility rates. Many countries have observed declining sperm quality in the general population over recent generations. Moreover, exposure to industrial chemicals surrounding us in our daily lives has been shown to impact on reproductive health and fertility in the lab as well as in many wildlife species.
 
But is this a problem? Aren’t there too many people on the planet anyway, each with a growing carbon footprint? What consequences will falling fertility rates in Europe, America and Asia have on employment, welfare, ageing populations, national economies, migration and more? What about Africa and Latin America? And how much should we be concerned about the impact of industrial chemicals on human fertility and bio-diversity?
 
Join the University of Copenhagen’s Sustainability Science Centre for a day of insights and discussion on falling fertility rates as we ask: Is reproductive sustainability possible in the 21st century?

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