Global Depopulation – Did Global Fertility Rates Fall Below Replacement Levels in 2023

An AEI article on the latest United Nations data warns that global fertility rates are collapsing. And faster than most have predicted. Author of the article, Patrick Norrick, says fertility rates are collapsing even faster than most people realise today.

This is based on data from the United Nations Population Division’s World Population Prospects (WPP) which is released every two years or so.

The UN’s most recent projections from July 2022 say the world is just over the “replacement level” for fertility, whereby the amount of babies replace the amount of dying people, keeping the population steady. So from one generation to the next, the population exactly replaces itself.

To do this, replacement level fertility needs to be 2.1 children per woman. According to the UN data, the projected rate for 2023 was 2.31. They predict that global fertility will fall under the replacement level by 2040/2050.

However, things may be worse than they seem.

The UN’s previous projections are revised in each of their latest publications. As you can see in the graph below the 2015 estimates were higher than 2012 projections. 2017 estimates were again higher before dropping down slightly in 2019. But look what happens with the 2022 estimate (pink line) – uh oh.

Births dramatically drop into 2022 before they are predicted to rise again (but still nowhere near previous predictions).

Apparently China is a source of much of the variability, but even without them there is a big noticeable drop.

Of particular note is that although the UN has consistently over-predicted birth rates since 2015, their current forecasts show fertility levels recovering from their current trough and rising over the remainder of the decade. If today’s low rates of fertility are a hangover effect from the Covid-era, when parents may have altered the timing of when they had children but not the total amount of children they would ultimately have, imagining that births will rebound is reasonable enough. But if fertility rates are falling for underlying, more fundamental reasons, expecting fertility to rebound may be a tall order.

So what if fertility rates don’t recover and worse, what if the global fertility rate is already below the replacement level.

In an article in El Confidencial, economist Jesus Fernandez-Villaverde argues that human fertility fell below the required level to keep the population constant in 2023. And this isn’t just in the Western world, this includes Africa and Muslim countries where birth rates are still high.

According to Jesus, he calculates that the replacement rate should actually be 2.22. Furthermore, he claims that UN birth numbers are disguising the problem by using inflated numbers. For example, they predicted 10.66 million births for China in 2023 when there were only 9.02 million. Even this number is probably exaggerated due to the financial incentives for extra births.

Jesus then looked at each country which has individual data and compared it with UN predictions. After crunching the numbers, he concluded that the global fertility rate for 2023 was 2.2, below his adjusted replacement rate of 2.22.

Norrick did a similar thing to Jesus and used preliminary reports from 2022 and 2023 to plot onto the UN graphs. It doesn’t look good.

Take for example Chile. Look at how far below the UN estimates, the plotted 2022 and 2023 totals are.

Norrick estimates that the UN over predicts births by 5-20 percent. This means that we are very close to going under the fertility replacement level, if we haven’t gone under already. Subsequently, the year global depopulation commences is much closer than the UN predicts.

Maybe global depopulation is even closer than Jesus or Norrick think.

Have a play around with the UN’s data. It’s quite interesting, especially when taking an interest in what happened during the pandemic.

Take for example, annual global deaths. I have added the 1980-2020 trendline, myself, in green. Look at where deaths should have been heading compared with where they are predicted to go now. Even with life supposedly back to normal, deaths are increasing at an abnormally high rate.

Perhaps we will be entering depopulation territory sooner than people think.