Fertility Trends Among Low Fertility Countries

Introduction

Monitoring of levels and trends of fertility covering all countries around the world with reasonably good data has been a subject of interest of the United Nations. Besides, the United Nations study has also focussed on analysis of fertility levels and trends for those countries that have achieved a low levels of fertility. The earliest United Nations study dealing with the fertility behaviour of the low-fertility countries covered the period from about the 1880s to 1953 (United Nations, 1958). A series of such studies has been carried out since then to monitor the levels and trends of fertility prevailing in low-fertility countries (United Nations, 1965; 1975; 1977; 1990). The most recent and comprehensive study on levels and trends of fertility in low-fertility countries was undertaken by the United Nations in the early 1990s, covering the period from 1965 to 1989, culminating into a publication entitled Patterns of Fertility in Low-Fertility Settings (United Nations, 1992).

The primary objective of the present report is to update the last study with the most recent data on levels and trends of fertility and other indicators, such as the mean age of women at child-bearing and the percentages of births by birth order. Also incorporated in this report are countries that have recently achieved low fertility. For the purpose of this study, low fertility countries are defined as those countries where the total fertility rate1/ (TFR) is below replacement level fertility, that is 2.1, in 1996 or the most recent year for which data were available. This study comprises: (a) Armenia, China, Cyprus, Georgia, Hong Kong, Japan, Macau, Republic of Korea and Singapore in Asia; (b) most of the countries in Europe; (c) Bahamas, Barbados, Cuba, Martinique and Trinidad and Tobago in the Caribbean; (d) Canada and the United States of America in Northern America; and (e) Australia and New Zealand in Oceania. Countries with fewer than 150,000 population have been omitted from the study. The period covered in this study is from 1975 to 1996 or the most recent year. It is, however, to be noted that fertility began to decline long before 1975 in a number of countries. The purpose of this study is to examine fertility levels and trends over the past 21-year period.

Levels and trends in total fertility

Table 1 and Figure I present levels and trends in the total fertility rate. It is revealed that with the exception of some countries in Eastern Asia, the Caribbean and Ireland in Europe, all the low-fertility countries examined in this study had a total fertility rate of less than 3 children per woman in 1975. Interestingly, in Western Europe and Northern America, the total fertility rate was already below replacement level in that year. Few other countries had also achieved this fertility level in that year. Among the Asian countries, Cyprus and Japan had the total fertility rate that was already below replacement level in 1975, while Singapore had just reached this level in that year. In 1980, Hong Kong and Macau had lowered their fertility to below replacement level. The Republic of Korea joined them to achieve below replacement fertility in 1985, and China and Georgia reached this level in 1992 and Armenia in 1993. These low-fertility countries in Asia continued to experience a sustained decline in fertility in the 1980s. In many of these countries, such as Hong Kong, Japan, the Republic of Korea and Singapore, fertility appears to have reached a plateau since 1990, while in China, Macau, Armenia and Georgia fertility continued to decline in the 1990s. However, in Cyprus fertility had fluctuated between 2.5 and 2.3 during the period 1980-1992 and had since resumed its declining trend. It is also to be noted that the total fertility rate of Hong Kong (1.2) in 1994 is one of the lowest in the world.

In the European countries in 1975, fertility was relatively very low: there were, however, notable deviations across the countries. The highest total fertility rate of 3.4 was recorded in Ireland. With the exception of Ireland, all the European countries had their fertility reduced to below 3 children per woman in 1975. It is also notable that the Russian Federation and Ukraine in Eastern Europe, Denmark, Finland, Latvia, Norway, Sweden and United Kingdom in Northern Europe, Croatia in Southern Europe and all the countries in Western Europe had the total fertility rate already below replacement level in 1975. The lowest fertility of around 1.5 was reported in the former German Democratic Republic, the former Federal Republic of Germany2/ and Luxembourg in 1975. Despite the low level of fertility in 1975 in all the countries of Europe, the total fertility rate registered a decline over the next decade to 1985. While with the few exception of some countries in Northern and Western Europe, where fertility had temporarily gone up slightly between 1985 and 1990, most of the countries in Europe had sustained their fertility decline through 1996. Finland and Luxembourg are the only two countries where fertility had gone up between 1975 and 1996. In a majority of the countries in Northern, Southern and Western Europe, the total fertility rate appears to have levelled off, while in Eastern Europe fertility has continued to decline during the recent period.

In the Caribbean, Martinique and Trinidad and Tobago had the TFR exceeding 3 children per woman in 1975, while the TFR was 2.5 in the Bahamas and 2.2 in Barbados in that year, and Cuba had a TFR of 1.6, way below replacement level fertility in 1980. In the Bahamas, fertility had gone up slightly in 1980 and then declined thereafter. Cuba also witnessed an increase in fertility to 1.9 in 1985 and later declined to 1.7 in 1991. However, Barbados, Martinique and Trinidad and Tobago experienced a continuous decline in fertility.

In Northern America, Canada and the United States of America both had the TFRs that were below the replacement level in 1975. While Canada had sustained the decline, with some fluctuation, through the year 1993, the United States of America exhibited an increase in fertility up to the year 1990 and it remained almost constant through the year 1994. In Oceania, Australia and New Zealand, which had total fertility rates of a little over 2.1 in 1975, experienced a continuous decline in fertility. However, there was a temporary rise in fertility in New Zealand between 1985 and 1990.

Table 2 and Figure II show a comparative picture of countries by their level of fertility in 1975 and 1996 or the most recent year the data were available. Table 3 gives the trend in total fertility rates between 1975 and the most recent year, in terms of both the total fertility rate index (1975=100) and percentage decline. A summary indicator of the percentage change during the period is given in the last column of table 3. And countries are classified by percentage total decline in table 4. It is apparent that in an overwhelming majority of countries, the total fertility rate declined between 1975 and the most recent year. It is notable that a spectacular decline in fertility was exhibited in the Czech Republic, Hong Kong, Romania and Spain. Hong Kong and Spain registered a drop in TFR by 56 and 59 per cent respectively, while in the Czech Republic and Romania the TFR fell by a little over 50 per cent. Several countries experienced a decline in TFR between 30 and 49 per cent. Among them over two-fifths drop in TFR was recorded in Armenia, China, the Republic of Korea, in Asia; Bulgaria, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Portugal, Slovakia and Slovenia in Europe and Martinique in the Caribbean.

On the other hand, there are five countries, namely Cuba, Cyprus, Finland, Luxembourg and the United States of America which witnessed an increase in fertility between 1975 and 1996 or the most recent year. The largest increase of 17 per cent was observed in the United States of America followed by Luxembourg (16 per cent).

Table 5 presents an overall pattern of fertility change for the five-year periods beginning in 1975 and up to the most recent period, with a summary measure of average annual percentage change during this period. In table 6 countries are classified by average annual percentage decline. During the period 1975-1980, the largest decline in fertility took place in China, exhibiting a dramatic decline by 35 per cent. Bosnia and Herzegovina, Hong Kong, Italy and Spain also experienced a drop in fertility by at least 20 per cent during this period. On the other hand, there was over one-fourth increase in fertility in the former German Democratic Republic, followed by 22 and 13 per cent increase in fertility in Cyprus and the Bahamas respectively. A small rise in fertility was also observed in the United Kingdom (4.4 per cent), the United States of America (3.5 per cent), Trinidad and Tobago (2.6 per cent), France (1 per cent) and Poland (0.4 per cent).

The pace of decline in fertility was slowed down in China during 1980-1985 and even reversed in 1985-1990 and gained momentum of decline again during the 1990s. Hong Kong, Italy and Spain were able to sustain their fertility decline through the 1990s. Additionally, a remarkable decline in fertility was observed in few more countries during the period 1980-1985: in the Republic of Korea the TFR dropped by 38 per cent, Greece (25 per cent), Ireland (23 per cent), Iceland (22 per cent) and Portugal (21 per cent). On the other hand, a rise in fertility of 5 per cent or more during the 1980-1985 period was observed in Cuba (16 per cent), the Republic of Moldova (13 per cent), Latvia (10 per cent), Armenia and the Russian Federation (9 per cent), Estonia and Lithuania (5 per cent).

During the period 1985-1990, the only additional country that had observed a remarkable decline in fertility was Trinidad and Tobago, with 25 per cent decline. It is also to be noted that with a slow pace of decline in fertility during the earlier period, Romania recorded a sizable drop in fertility (19 per cent) during this period. It is interesting to note that most of the countries which had reported a rise in fertility during the period 1980-1985 had in turn experienced a reversal in trend, thereby showing a decline in fertility during the period 1985-1990. Notable among these countries are Bosnia and Herzegovina, Belarus, Poland, the Republic of Moldova, the Russian Federation and Ukraine. On the other hand, a marked rise in fertility during 1985-1990 was observed in several other countries, such as Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore, Sweden and the United States of America.

However, the period between 1990 and 1996 or the most recent year the data were available is marked by a significant decline in fertility in most of the countries. Except for Denmark and Luxembourg, all the European countries recorded a decline in fertility. It is notable that except Hungary and Poland, all the countries in Eastern Europe experienced at least 25 per cent decline in fertility. Among the Asian countries, Armenia, China, Cyprus, Georgia and Macau also observed a significant decline in fertility during this period. On the other hand, the Republic of Korea and Singapore exhibited some rise in fertility during this period.

Overall, it is evident from tables 5 and 6 that during the period between 1975 and 1996 (among countries for which data were available), the average annual percentage decline in fertility was highest in Hong Kong (2.9 per cent) followed by Spain (2.8 per cent), Martinique (2.6 per cent), China (2.5 per cent) and the Republic of Korea (2.5 per cent).

The fertility trends in low-fertility countries have been examined using the indicator, the total fertility rate, that is readily available and most widely used. This indicator, however, is a period measure based on the reproductive performance of a hypothetical cohort of women who experienced over their lifetime the age-specific fertility rates observed in a particular population at a particular time. The total fertility rate is undoubtedly a very useful measure to examine recent fertility, but it does not represent the actual experience of any cohort. Since this measure is influenced by conditions, such as age at marriage and age at childbearing, that change during the period of observation, it may not represent the actual fertility experience of a given population. Hence, the total fertility rate based on a given birth cohort of women is a more practical measure of fertility. At the same time, the data required for cohort fertility are not commonly available. In the following section, the fertility trend is examined using the cohort measure for selected European countries where such data were available.

Cohort Fertility

Table 7 presents the completed fertility of cohorts of women in selected European countries born between 1945 and 1960. The cohort fertility is obtained by cumulating age-specific fertility rates in a given cohort from age 15 to exact age 50 years. Since these fertility data were collected as of end of June 1997, the birth cohorts of women that provide a complete fertility experience are those born in 1945. The cohort total fertility rate based on women born in 1950, 1955 and 1960 gives only a truncated estimates. For example, the women of birth cohort 1950 would be about 47 years, while women in the birth cohort of 1955 and 1960 would be about 42 and 37 years respectively. In view of the fact that fertility is very low among women past 40 years of age, the TFR estimates based on birth cohorts of 1950 and 1955 can be considered more or less complete.

As can be seen from table 7 that in a majority of the countries in Europe, the total fertility rate of the 1945 birth cohort was already at or below replacement level. It is particularly noteworthy that in almost all the countries of Western Europe the TFR for the 1945 cohort was below replacement level. It was only in France that the 1945 cohort TFR was slightly above the replacement level. The highest TFR of the 1945 birth cohort was observed in Iceland, with 2.87 births per woman, and the lowest in the former Federal Republic of Germany, with 1.77 births.

Unlike the period total fertility rates shown in table 1, there are not much fluctuations in the cohort total fertility rates of women born between 1945 and 1960; rather, in general, there is a tendency towards a smooth decline in fertility from 1945 to 1960. Two countries, Greece and Spain, exhibited a relatively faster decline in fertility between the 1945 and 1960 cohorts. In both these countries, fertility experience of the 1960 cohort was over one-fourth lower than that of the 1945 cohort. A sharp reduction in fertility was also observed in Bosnia and Herzegovina, with 22 per cent decline in fertility between these cohorts. Yet in several other countries, such as Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Luxembourg, Malta, Norway, Slovenia, Sweden and Switzerland, the total fertility rate remained relatively stable between the 1945 and 1960 cohorts. Only one country, Estonia, however, experienced a rise in fertility, from 1.85 births per woman in the 1945 cohort to 2.0 births per woman in the 1960 cohort. It is also to be noted that except for Iceland, Poland, Romania and Yugoslavia, in all other countries the 1955 cohort fertility was already at or below replacement level.

Age Patterns of Fertility

Table 8 and Figure III present age-specific fertility rates between 1975 and 1996 or the most recent year the data were available, and table 9 shows the percentage change in age-specific fertility rates during the same period. It is apparent that the age pattern of fertility is invariably distinct in all the countries of Eastern and South-eastern Asia and Cyprus in Western Asia in that women in these countries had the highest fertility in the age group 25-29 in 1975. Although fertility has declined in all the age groups between 1975 and 1996, with few exceptions in Japan and Singapore, women aged 25-29 still have the highest fertility in most of these countries. China is the only country which experienced a shift in the age pattern of fertility, with women aged 20-24 having the highest fertility in 1994. Although Japan and Singapore, with already low fertility in 1975, experienced a decline in the total fertility rate, women in some age groups actually observed a rise in fertility. For example, fertility went up among women aged 30-44 in Japan and those aged 30-39 in Singapore during this period. On the other hand, older women (35 years and above) in these countries, except Japan and Singapore, have substantially reduced their fertility. It is also worth noting that while Japan already had a very low fertility among women aged 15-19, China, Hong Kong, the Republic of Korea and Singapore also recorded a sharp decline in fertility among women in this age group.

It can be seen from table 10 and Figure IV, which presents the percentage contribution of different age groups to the total fertility rate, that the women in the age group 25-29 contributed the most (at least one-third) to the total fertility rate in both the periods. It is only in China that the largest contributor to the total fertility rate shifted from women aged 25-29 to women aged 20-24, contributing over two-fifths births to the total fertility rate. However, women aged 25-29 still contribute close to two-fifths births to the total fertility rate of China in 1994. It is also to be noted that in these Asian countries, in general, there has been a decline in the contribution to the total fertility by women in the younger and older age groups, reaching almost to a negligible level.

Armenia and Georgia in Western Asia and Eastern European countries have maintained a highly consistent age patterns of fertility between 1975 and 1996. In both the periods, women in these countries have the highest fertility occurring in the age group 20-24 followed consistently by the age group 25-29. In these countries, women in all the age groups, except women aged 15-19 in some countries, experienced declines in fertility. Particularly noteworthy are the declines that occurred among women aged 35 and over. A substantial decline in fertility was observed among women aged 15-19 in the Czech Republic and Hungary. However, in some countries, such as Armenia and Georgia in Western Asia and Belarus, the Republic of Moldova, the Russian Federation and Ukraine in Eastern Europe there has been a marked rise in fertility among women aged 15-19.

It is apparent from table 10 that women aged 20-24 contributed at least one-third to the total fertility rate in Armenia and Georgia in Western Asia and in Eastern European countries. The contribution to fertility by younger women in these countries increased between 1975 and 1996, while contribution by women aged 35 and above declined sharply, reaching to a negligible proportion among women aged 40 and above.

The age pattern of fertility in Northern and Southern Europe is not consistent, with fertility peaking at the age group 25-29 in some countries and the age group 20-24 in others. While in Western Europe the peak fertility occurs invariably at the age group 25-29 both in 1975 and 1996. It is also important to note that there has been a precipitous decline in fertility among women in the younger age groups, 15-19 and 20-24 years of age, in most of the European countries. It was only in Lithuania where there has been a marked rise in fertility among women in the age group 15-19. Other countries, such as Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, the former Federal Republic of Germany, Iceland, Luxembourg, Norway, the Netherlands and Switzerland, in general, experienced a rise in fertility among women in the middle age groups, 25-39.

It can also be observed from table 10 and Figure IV that women aged 20-24 and those aged 25-29 contributed the most to the total fertility rate in Northern and Southern Europe, while in Western Europe, women aged 25-29 consistently contributed the most to the total fertility rate. Women in the age groups 40 and over have contributed the least, almost negligible, to the total fertility rate in all the European countries.

It is evident from tables 8 and 9 that in the Caribbean, excepting Cuba, fertility has declined in all the age groups, with the largest decline occurring among women aged 40-44. The peak fertility is seen among women aged 20-24 in the Bahamas, Cuba, and Trinidad and Tobago, while in Martinique the peak fertility occurred among women aged 25-29. However, in Barbados the peak fertility is observed among women aged 20-24 in 1976, while in 1988 the peak fertility is about the same among women aged 20-24 and 25-29. It should also be noted that the Caribbean region, in general, is marked by a relatively high teenage fertility. Table 10 indicates that contributions to the total fertility rate are fairly spread out among women aged 20-24, 25-29 and 30-34, with, however, a larger share being accounted for among women aged 20-24 in most of the Caribbean countries. There is also a sizable contribution to total fertility by women aged 15-19, while the contribution by women aged 40 years and above has been reduced to a negligible proportion.

Canada and Australia are characterized by higher fertility among women aged 25-29, while the United States of America exhibited peak fertility among women aged 20-24 and 25-29 in both the periods. In New Zealand, however, the peak fertility occurred among women aged 20-24 and 25-29 in 1975 and later shifted to only women aged 25-29 in 1995. The United States of America showed an increase in fertility in all the age groups, with the highest increase (62 per cent) among women aged 35-39 between 1975 and 1994. There was also a more than 50 per cent increase in fertility among women aged 30-34 during this period. Although the total fertility rate has declined in Canada, Australia and New Zealand, there was a substantial rise in fertility among women aged 30-34 and 35-39 in these countries. However, the decline in fertility occurred to younger women aged 15-19 and 20-24.

In Canada and Australia, women aged 25-29 contributed the most, at least one-third, to the total fertility rate, while in the United States of America, women aged 20-24 and 25-29 contributed almost the same (around 30 per cent) to the total fertility rate in both the periods. There has been a shift in the age pattern of fertility in New Zealand in that women aged 20-24 and 25-29 both contributed almost the same (about one-third) to the total fertility rate in 1975, but in 1995 women aged 25-29 contributed the most and the contribution of women aged 20-24 reduced to 21 per cent. This is largely due to the reduction in fertility of women in this age group coupled with the rise in fertility among women aged 30-34 and 35-39.

Age at childbearing

The mean age at childbearing is estimated from the age pattern of fertility and it provides a summary measure of average age at which women procreate. The mean age at childbearing for all children may be interpreted as approximating the length of a generation. The mean age at childbearing of first birth can also be estimated based on data for the first child only. Table 11 and Figure V show the mean age at childbearing from 1975 to 1996 or the most recent year the data were available. As can be seen from this table, there is a little variation in the mean age at childbearing between countries, especially within regions. In Asia, the mean age at childbearing in 1975 ranged from 26.8 years in Armenia to 29.1 years in China, and from 24.8 years in Armenia in 1995 to 29.8 years in Singapore in 1995. During this period, the mean age at childbearing increased in Cyprus, Hong Kong, Japan and Singapore, while it declined in Armenia, China, Georgia and the Republic of Korea, and it remained unchanged in Macau.

In Europe, the mean age at childbearing was found to be the lowest in Bulgaria both in 1975 (24.5 years) and in 1996 (24.3 years), while in Ireland it was the highest both in 1975 (29.7 years) and in 1996 (30.3 years). With regard to the direction of change, except in the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia, the mean age at childbearing decreased in all the Eastern European countries. On the other hand, except in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania and Portugal, all the Northern European and the Southern European countries exhibited a rise in the mean age at childbearing between 1975 and 1996. The mean age at childbearing invariably increased in all the countries in Western Europe. Likewise, Trinidad and Tobago has shown a small decrease in the mean age at childbearing, while all other countries in the Caribbean, Northern America and Oceania exhibited a rise in the mean age at childbearing.

Data on the mean age of women at first birth are presented in table 12 for a number of European countries3/. In a majority of countries the mean age of women at first birth has increased from 1975 to 1995. Only in Bulgaria and Estonia has there been a noticeable decline in the mean age of women at first birth during this period. In the Czech Republic, the former German Democratic Republic and Portugal the mean declined slightly from 1975 to 1985 and increased in 1995. It is worth noting that in Eastern Europe, the mean age of women at first birth is consistently low, while it is relatively high in Western Europe. In particular, the higher mean age of women at first birth is found in the Netherlands and Switzerland and the lower mean is observed in Bulgaria and Slovakia in both 1975 and 1995. Between 1975 and 1995 the increase in the mean age of women at first birth of three years or more was recorded in Denmark, France, Germany (both the former German Democratic Republic and the former Federal Republic of Germany), Iceland and the Netherlands.

Number of Births

The decline in total fertility experienced by these countries can be examined in terms of annual number of births and the distribution of such births by birth order. Because annual number of births directly affects the size of the population and hence is important for the Government to formulate plans and policies with respect to social and economic conditions of the population. Proportions of births by birth order, on the other hand, provide useful indicator on the concentration of births.

Table 13 shows the total number of births in 1975 and 1995 and its percentage change, and in table 14 countries are classified by percentage total decline in annual number of births. It is evident from these tables that out of 54 countries listed in this study for which reliable data on number of births are reported, a total of 44 countries experienced a decline in annual number of births and the remaining 10 countries showed an increase. Of these 44 countries, 19 countries exhibited a decline of 30 per cent or more in the annual number of births. Particularly noteworthy are those countries, such as Bulgaria, the Czech Republic and the former German Democratic Republic, where the annual number of births in 1995 has been reduced by half as compared to that in 1975. Other countries, such as Georgia, Portugal, Romania and Spain also showed a more than 40 per cent drop in annual number of births during this period.

It is apparent that the larger percentage decline in annual number of births is the result of the faster decline in total fertility. For example, countries, such as Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Georgia, the former German Democratic Republic, Hungary, Portugal, Romania and Spain, which experienced a total decline in annual number of births of 40 per cent or more, have witnessed a decline in their total fertility rate of close to or more than 2 per cent per annum (table 6). By contrast, the increase in number of births observed between 1975 and 1995 in the remaining 10 countries may be due to the higher fertility potential resulting from the higher proportion of women in the reproductive ages and their young age structure. Of these countries, Cyprus, Luxembourg and the United States of America had a rise in fertility, and Canada, the former Federal Republic of Germany, Netherlands, Singapore, Switzerland and the United Kingdom exhibited a fertility decline of less than 1 per cent per annum during this period.

Births by birth order

Table 15 and Figure VI present the percentage distribution of births by birth order in 1975 and 1995 or the most recent year the data were available, and table 16 shows the direction of change. It is apparent that in Japan the proportion of fourth and higher order births had already reduced to a very low level, below 3 per cent in 1975 and has remained low since then. In other Asian countries too, the proportion of fourth and higher order births has been drastically reduced from 1975 to 1995. The lowest proportion of such births (1 per cent) is reported in the Republic of Korea. In China where the data on births by birth order are available for third and higher births, it reveals a dramatic reduction in the proportion of such births from 54 per cent in 1975 to less than 10 per cent in 1994. As a result of the reduction in higher order births (third and higher) in all the Asian countries, except Japan, which showed a small rise, there has been a sharp increase in the proportion of first order births and to some extent in the proportion of second order births. In all these countries, over 40 per cent of births in 1995 are first order births: in particular first order births represent almost two-thirds of the total births in China, one of the highest in the world.

In a majority of the countries in Europe, the proportion of fourth and higher order births has been reduced, and except in Poland, Romania and Ireland the proportion of such births is below 10 per cent in 1995. There has been a marked rise in the proportion of first order births in Eastern Europe, excepting Hungary and Poland, which experienced a slight decline in the proportion of such births. On the whole, first order births in Eastern Europe comprise at least two-fifths of the total births in 1995. In the Russian Federation, close to 60 per cent of the total births are first order births.

Out of 10 countries in Northern Europe, half experienced a rise in the proportion of first order births, while other half experienced a decline. Overall, at least one-third of the total births belong to the first order births, and in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania over half of the total births belong to the first order births.

Similarly, five out of eight countries in Southern Europe exhibited a rise in the proportion of first order births, and by contrast almost all countries in Western Europe, except the former Federal Republic of Germany, showed a small drop in the proportion of such births. However, in these countries first order births still represent at least two-fifths of the total births in 1995.

Although there has been a decline in the fourth and higher order births in the Caribbean between 1975 and 1995, the proportion of such births is fairly large in the Bahamas, Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago. The proportion of first order births has increased in the Bahamas, Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago, while it has remained unchanged in Cuba.

Likewise, Canada and the United States of America in Northern America and Australia and New Zealand in Oceania exhibited a decrease in the proportion of fourth and higher order births. Canada and the United States of America exhibited some decline in the proportion of first order births, while Australia and New Zealand experienced an increase in the proportion of such births.

Summary and conclusions

This report examines the levels and trends of fertility in low-fertility countries over the past 21 years, from 1975 to 1996 or the most recent year the data were available. In all the countries in Europe, except Ireland, the total fertility rate was way below 3 children per woman in 1975. It is, however, to be noted that in Western Europe and Northern Europe (with notable exceptions) the total fertility rate was below replacement level in that year. Outside Europe, the total fertility rate was below replacement level in Canada, Japan and the United States of America and slightly above replacement level in Australia and New Zealand. It was only Cuba and Cyprus in the developing world, where the total fertility rate was below replacement level in that year.

Over the past 21 years, an overwhelming majority of these low-fertility countries continued to experience fertility declines; with the result, in a number of countries the total fertility rate has been reduced to below 1.5 mark in the recent year. It is noteworthy that the lowest fertility, between 1.2 and 1.3, has been recorded in Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Germany, Hong Kong, Italy, Latvia, Romania, Slovenia and Spain. On the other hand, five countries, namely Cuba, Cyprus, Finland, Luxembourg and the United States of America exhibited some rise in total fertility during this period. It is also interesting to note that in some countries fertility fluctuated during this period; particularly in Northern Europe and Western Europe, fertility declined between 1975 and 1985 and went up in 1990, and it then slightly declined and levelled off.

The trend in fertility examined by using period measure is, however, based on the reproductive performance of a hypothetical cohort of women who experienced over their lifetime the age-specific fertility rates observed in a particular population at a particular time. As noted earlier, since this measure is influenced by changes in age at marriage and age at childbearing, it may not represent the actual fertility situation of a given population. In such circumstances, the cohort fertility measure most likely presents a realistic fertility conditions of a given country.

Hence, this report also examined the cohort total fertility rate of women in selected European countries born in 1945, 1950, 1955 and 1960. It was revealed that in a majority of these countries the total fertility rate of the 1945 cohort was already at or below replacement level. Unlike the period total fertility rates, there has been very little fluctuations in the total fertility rates of women born between 1945 and 1960 cohorts. A steady decline in the total fertility rate of women born between the 1945 and 1960 cohorts was observed in many of these countries. However, some countries, such as Greece, Spain and Romania exhibited a marked decline in cohort fertility, while in some other countries, fertility remained relatively stable.

The period fertility decline occurred in all the age groups and the greatest reductions have been at ages 35 years and above. Adolescent fertility (15-19 years of age) has also been substantially reduced, especially in Western Europe. However, some Eastern European countries experienced a significant rise in fertility in this age group. With regard to the age pattern of fertility, in a majority of countries, except in Eastern Europe, highest fertility was found in the 25-29 age groups, while Eastern European countries invariably exhibited a peak fertility in the 20-24 age group. The teenage fertility, in general, was found to be relatively high in the Caribbean region as compared to other regions except in Eastern Europe.

This study also found that there is a tendency of a shift in the later childbearing pattern. An overwhelming majority of countries have revealed a rise in the mean age at childbearing. All the countries in Western Europe and a majority of the countries in Northern and Southern Europe exhibited a rise in the mean age at childbearing, while among the countries in Eastern Europe, only the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland showed a rise in the mean age at childbearing. Similar rise in the mean age at childbearing was also observed in Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States of America and all the countries in the Caribbean (except Trinidad and Tobago). By contrast, only four countries (Armenia, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore) out of nine in Asia experienced an increase in the mean age at childbearing.

Changes in annual number births have also been studied in this report. It was found that out of 54 countries listed in this study, a total of 44 countries experienced a decline in annual number of births between 1975 and 1995. Of these countries, 19 countries had a decline of 30 per cent or more in the annual number of births. It is important to note that the countries with a larger percentage decline in the annual number of births had shown a faster decline in their total fertility during this period.

There has been a sharp reduction in the proportion of higher order births; with the exception of some countries, the proportion of fourth and higher order births now constitutes less than 10 per cent of the total births. Consequently, there has been a marked rise in the proportion of first order births. In almost all countries, first order births comprise at least 40 per cent of the total births. It is noteworthy that in China two-thirds of the total births are first order births.

As shown earlier, despite the low fertility that prevailed in 1975, a majority of countries continued to experience a significant drop in fertility over the past 21 years. This conforms with the result of the historical fertility transition in Europe which showed that once the fertility transition begins, further declines follow almost invariably (Coale and Watkins, 1986; Kirk, 1996; Knodel and van de Walle, 1979; Bongaarts and Watkins, 1996). It is, however, important to note that the fall in fertility over the past 21 years is by no means consistent in all the countries; some countries exhibited a precipitous drop, while others experienced fluctuations in fertility levels. It is, therefore, pertinent to examine such unique trends in fertility occurring in some countries and explain the causes of such trends. In some cases, government policy may significantly affect the trends in fertility, while in others economic and social changes may also be equally important.

An interesting case is China, in which the government policy played a major role in the decline of fertility. There was an unprecedented drop in fertility from 3.6 in 1975 to 2.3 in 1980 after the Chinese government launched a comprehensive and strong family planning programme during the late 1970s. As the rigid antenatal policies were relaxed, fertility fluctuated around 2.2 and 2.3 during the following decade. There has recently been a precipitous drop in fertility to below replacement level after the Chinese government returned to the old policy (Kirk, 1996). As a result of this policy, the percentage of ever-married women who were currently using contraception increased sharply to 85 per cent in 1992, up from 71 per cent in 1988 (Chen and others, 1997). Along with the initiation of the centralized family planning programme that was designed to reduce fertility of Chinese women, there were other major social and cultural transformations taking place in China, which speeded up the decline (Zhan, 1997). Hence, the fertility transition in China, in particular the speed with which the decline occurred is strikingly different from the fertility transition that took place in Europe and North America.

The role of political influence in the reduction of fertility has been revealed in the Republic of Korea, where an effective programme designed to provide knowledge and access to family planning led to a precipitous fall in the total fertility rate of 1.6 in 1990, down from 3.2 in 1975 (Kirk, 1996). In the case of Japan, fertility remained almost constant at near replacement level between 1957 and 1973, it began to decline since 1973 and plummeted to 1.5 in 1990. This resumption of fertility decline in Japan was primarily driven by underlying economic and social changes (Retherford, Ogawa and Sakamoto, 1996). The government of Japan is now very much concerned with this low fertility, and is taking measures to lower age at marriage and increase fertility. The government has recently announced five-year economic plan and made call for a substantial reduction in the long working hours of men. It, however, remains to be seen how effectively this new policy will be implemented (Retherford, Ogawa and Sakamoto, 1996). In Singapore, the pronatalist policy adopted by the government has led to a levelling off in the total fertility rate at 1.8 (Kirk, 1996). In Hong Kong, Japan and the Republic of Korea too, fertility seems to have reached a plateau.

Among the European countries, Sweden has undergone an unique experience in the fertility trends during the past 60 years. Sweden's fertility had reached a low level of 1.7 in 1935, which was among the lowest in the world at the time. Fertility increased over the subsequent decade and fluctuated just above the replacement level until the mid-1960 (Hoem and Hoem, 1996). As a result of the introduction of the modern contraception, the total fertility rate then declined to 1.6 in 1978. During the second half of the 1980s, Sweden's fertility level increased dramatically and reached 2.1 in 1990. The rise in fertility in 1990 was primarily due to the income effect, because economic trends were very favourable and private incomes improved rapidly throughout the rest of the 1980s and there was a strong belief in the general population that things could only continue to improve. Since the 1990s the economic orientation has become quite problematic for many families and unemployment was hard hit, particularly at young ages and for people employed in the public sector. As a result of this economic problem, the total fertility rate in Sweden began to fall and reached a lowest level of 1.6 in 1996. With regard to the future prospect, Hoem and Hoem (1996) contend that it is uncertain whether the Swedish women (or men) would give up parenthood or that they will choose to have a single child and devote in their job careers. The Swedish Family Survey of 1992, however, indicated that even at age 33, half of the women who were childless expected to become mothers some time and another 28 per cent viewed that they perhaps might become mothers. The economic and social conditions may also play a decisive role in changing the realization of family values and child-bearing behaviour in shaping up the future fertility trends.

It is also noteworthy that in Western Europe, after the total fertility rate has reached to the lowest level in 1985, it has reached a plateau in Austria, France, the Netherlands and Switzerland or has gone up in Belgium and Luxembourg. In Northern and Southern Europe, the total fertility rate appears to have more or less stabilized, while in Eastern Europe it is still continuing to fall. In Australia, Canada and New Zealand fertility has levelled off since the 1990s.

In some European countries, low level of fertility has already resulted in the zero population growth or there has even been the beginning of population decline, though in some cases the effects have been weakened by immigration. Very low and constant fertility prevailing in many of those low-fertility countries has become a serious concern not only that there is a fear of depopulation but also its implications towards the social and economic burden to support the elderly population. According to Dudley Kirk:

......the present level of fertility in Europe, below and in some cases well below replacement level, is an over-correction that will be modified. As children become scarcer their value rises, both economically and psychologically. There is already mounting concern about the ageing of the population which is a result of low birth rates. It can be expected that public attitudes and governmental actions will give expression to this view in pronatalist measure. To me it is surprising that so little has been published on this topic in Western Europe, except in France. In Western areas of low fertility we are moving into post-transition era, where the old guidelines are no longer appropriate, an era in which much more attention will have to be given to raising fertility, rather than to lower it (Kirk, 1996: 387).

Footnotes

1/ The average number of children that would be born per woman if all women lived to the end of their reproductive years and bore children according to the current age patterns of fertility.

2/The total fertility rate for unified Germany is available only from the year 1992. Hence, prior to that year the total fertility rates and other indicators are presented separately for the former German Democratic Republic and the former Federal Republic of Germany.

3/The data on time trend in the mean age of women at first birth are available only for selected European countries.

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