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Economics Have the Greatest Impact on Fertility

Can economics influence fertility?

April 24, 2019
Bridget Houlihan

There are many factors that can have an influence on a population’s fertility. It can be affected by access to resources, risk evaluation, and cultural influence-- but it seems that cost and payoff are what seems to matter most when people consider whether to have children. This article will look at a study done by University of Missouri’s College of Arts and Science and Assistant Professor Mary Shenk-- which analyzed a great deal of factors that could contribute to fertility rates. We’re going to discuss:


  • The results of the study
  • What this means for future policies
crowd with people
One study found that fertility is greatly affected by economic factors.

Results of the fertility study

This study sought to analyze what factors are the greatest influence on a population’s fertility. To do so, Professor Shenk looked at the data collected from over 250,000 people in rural Bangladesh since 1966. This study included detailed interviews with 800 women-- in hopes of pinpointing what exactly it is that most influences whether or not people decide to have children. The researchers considered 64 possible factors-- but all them were able to be grouped into three large categories:

  • Risk and mortality. This is the amount of risk that parents are willing to take to have children. It encompasses how readily available healthcare is, as well as access to emergency services. Parents tend to want fewer children when the risk of dying in childhood is lower.
  • Economic and investment. This explanation is due to the rising cost of children-- parents want to have less children, and instead invest in their own well being-- in addition to the well being of the children they already have.
  • Cultural transmission. Sometimes cultural shifts have an effect on fertility levels-- the ideal family size has changed over time as well as the greater acceptance of contraception in daily lives. The importance of children that are already a part of the family also holds sway here.


These three explanations are all interwoven-- and would depend heavily on the culture of the population being studied. The researchers did find that economic reasons were still some of the most powerful motivating factors being fertility rates. Fertility rates have been declining for centuries and continue to do so today. This is largely due to economic factors as well-- industrialization and education-- are major factors that have driven this decline.


children playing in water
Policies that slow population growth need to have an economic focus.

What does this mean for the future?

The global population is at a risk of reaching 8 billion people by 2023-- that is a lot of people to feed and house. Even though the world is experiencing an overall decline in births-- the results of this study show that economic factors are the best way at curbing too much population growth. This can be translated into new initiatives and policies that will take this information and educate populations. This study also found that intervention methods that focus on individuals-- as opposed to larger audiences-- is the best way to get these points across. When people have personalized access to health services and information about contraception, it provides better results.


Fertility can be influenced by many factors, but this study found that economics holds the biggest sway. This knowledge can be utilized to educate populations in hopes of slowing the global population growth-- so there will be enough resources available for everyone.


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