Blog Post

Insight: What’s Going to Happen to Fertility?

By: Emily Harris

Why are people having less children? Are small families here to stay? Will declines in fertility continue or reverse? What does a lower fertility rate mean for our future? Can our economy handle a smaller workforce? Should we try to convince people to start having more children again? How has COVID-19 affected fertility?

Wow. So many questions.  And I’ve heard each of them asked many times since I started working at the Gardner Institute over five years ago.

The public discourse and concern over declining fertility rates have reached an all-time high as we pass the first anniversary of the COVID-19 global pandemic. In reality, declining fertility is a global trend that has persisted for many decades (see Table).

International Total Fertility Rates: 1990 and 2018

Source: OECD (2021)

The United States consistently has one of the highest fertility rates among high-income countries, and Utah has one the highest fertility rates in the United States. So why all the concern? Is the decline in fertility a grave issue?

Well, it depends on who you ask.

We often hear that declining fertility spells demographic trouble for the population’s age structure as elders outnumber youth and the labor-aged population declines. If fertility falls for decades, populations can decrease as deaths outnumber births. Economies might struggle without a large, homegrown workforce. While these scenarios are certainly possible, they can also be mitigated by migration and technological innovations that make labor more productive. Because demographic changes are apparent well in advance, countries and communities have time to respond to the needs of a changing demographic structure. There are also benefits to declining fertility rates (not to be