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The Population Puzzle: Understanding Total Fertility Rate

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There is information about Total Fertility Rate changing in western countries since 18th century to mid-20th century that will be discussed in this fertility| fertility rate paper. In all countries, there is a decreasing tendency in the TFR. The TFR were around 5 in these countries (like Sweden and England and Wales) during pre-industrial period. By the beginning of 20th century, the TFR decreased apparently to around 2.5 and even 2. However, it was still over 3 in Spain and Italy. There were slightly increase of TFR in Australia and three other countries while it continued decrease in other countries in 1925. Since 1925, the TFR declined to approximately 2.

During pre-industrial period (also known as stage 1 of demographic transition model), all countries shared the same feature of high TFR and high total death rate. Back to that time, “A high ‘total fertility rate’ is often the response to a high death rate as a country seeks to achieve or maintain replacement level” . People need to keep the population to prevent dying out, so they gave birth to as many children as they can to replace themselves. The economy was mainly depended on the agriculture sector. “Larger family meant larger workforce” because agriculture production just required unskilled manual labors. Therefore, the TFR was around 5 during mid-18th century and mid-19th century in almost all the countries. However, during 1803-1815, “France lost approximately 1.4 million men in Napoleonic Wars” which caused the huge imbalance in sex ratio. The dead men were usually young and the main force of reproduction. The imbalanced sex ratio also caused the increasing number of never married women that further decreased the TFR to less than 4.

After the industrial revolution, the TFR was still relatively high about 3.5 except France (around 2.5) but it declined compared to pre-industrial period. First, with the decrease in CDR and increasing costs on raising children, parents considered about the number of children they need to give birth to maximize their benefits in the countryside. They need to manage the costs of raising the children and the benefits they can get in the future. “As more education brought higher returns, parents were led to invest in more quality per child and to reduce the numbers of children to make this possible” . Also, in the urban areas, the middle-class groups thought, “too many children jeopardized the fairly high standard of living” , so they lower the TFR in order to keep their high life standards. Secondly, with the increase in education level, the mean age at first marriage increased. The fecundity for women is fixed between age 15 and 49. The later women get married, the fewer children they could give birth to. Thirdly, the popularization of cheap contraceptives and breast-feeding also help to reduce the TFR. Breast-feeding was generally accepted by women, but it can cause lactational amenorrhea that further reduced the fecundity.

After the WWI, with the huge casualty and economic slump, people put the focus back on developing economy. With the booming economy and increasing life standards, the TFR increased slightly in some countries (like Sweden, France and etc.) to replace the population lost during the war. During 1929-1933, the great depression started in America and separated to the rest of the world quickly. The decreased salary and increased unemployment rate led to the increase in divorce rate and suicide rate. The low salary was difficult to support the costs of a family. So, both the divorce rate and the number of never married people increased which then caused the reduction in TFR.

Since the slight increase in TFR in 1925, the TFR continued to decline to about 1.5-2 till 1965. This is due to the continuous increasing in education level. With high level of education, people started to regard “enjoy their own life” as the main aim in life. They would get married and give birth to children if they want, vice versa. However, there was a tiny increase in TFR in America in 1965. As a economic power with low TFR, America attracted lots of immigrants from some Asian and South American countries. These immigrants were generally young at reproductive age, and they may bring the fertility pattern from their original countries to America. The increasing life standard stimulated them to give birth to more children that boosted the TFR of America. In the rural areas, the relative low price of land may also stimulate the increase in TFR. However, the fertility pattern of the immigrants mainly depended on their level of education.

In conclusion, the changes in TFR are tightly related with socioeconomic changes. During the pre-industrial period, the TFR is high to satisfy the high CDR and the agriculture that was highly depended on labor forces. After industry revolution, the increase in medical technology and education level led the decrease in TFR. The increased education level caused the increase in mean age of first marriage that decreased the fecundity of women. The popularization of cheap contraceptives and breast-feeding helped further declined the TFR. Also, wars can decrease the TFR because the imbalance in sex ratio. However, the high salary and increase in life standards can help increase the TFR. The immigrants from developing countries can also boost the TFR.  

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The Population Puzzle: Understanding Total Fertility Rate. (2023, February 11). GradesFixer. Retrieved March 26, 2023, from
“The Population Puzzle: Understanding Total Fertility Rate.” GradesFixer, 11 Feb. 2023,
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