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Women Are Voting – With Their Wombs

Around the world, fertility rates are in free fall. Governments have been scratching their heads over how to make babies a more feasible proposition. It’s not that parents don’t want kids – most families yearn for at least two. China used to limit its citizens to a single child, now it’s pushing its people to multiply. Over 50 countries are trying to reverse a decades-long fall in global fertility rates, says a special Financial Times (FT) report this week. The FT argues that “there is little evidence that policy helps.” But I’d argue that it’s precisely policy that is at fault. It isn’t – anywhere – near ambitious enough. If countries want babies, they’ll need to get far more serious about building more gender-balanced economies, democracies – and couples.

The Challenge: No Babies

The ‘baby bust’ deepened through Covid. Lockdowns, war, climate crises and fear of disease are not a comfortable context for making babies. Birth rates plummet in times of catastrophe, from the Spanish Flu in 1918 through depressions and World Wars. The Covid pandemic’s fall is already being recovered, and birthrates are back to pre-pandemic levels in several countries. But these are still at an all-time historical low – and well below the 2.1 replacement ratio needed to stabilise populations.

The world’s population is predicted to peak at 9.7 billion by 2064, dropping to 8.7 billion around the end of the century says a report in The Lancet. “About 23 nations can expect their populations to halve by 2100,” says the Finanical Times. “Japan’s population will fall from a peak of 128 million in 2017 to less than 53; Italy’s from 61 million to 28.” Christopher Murray, one of the Lancet report’s authors, said it was “hard to overstate the economic and social impact the decline in fertility would have. ‘We will have to reorganise society.’”


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