DP10782 | Fertility Convergence

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A vast literature has sought to explain large cross-country differences in fertility rates. Income, mortality, urbanization, and female labour force participation, among other socioeconomic variables, have been suggested as explanatory factors for the differences. This paper points out that cross-country differences in fertility rates have fallen very rapidly over the past four decades, with most countries converging to a rate just above two children per woman. This absolute convergence took place despite the limited (or absent) absolute convergence in other economic variables. The rapid decline in fertility rates taking place in developing economies stands in sharp contrast with the slow decline experienced earlier by more mature economies. The preferred number of children has also fallen, suggesting a shift to a small-family norm. The convergence to replacement rates will lead to a stable world population, reducing environmental concerns over explosive population growth. In this paper we explore existing explanations and bring in an additional factor influencing fertility rates: the population programs started in the 1960s, which, we argue, have accelerated the global decline in fertility rates over the past four decades.