Saturday, March 23, 2013

Signs of turnaround in birth rates

Mar 23, 2013
New forecast shows rising trend in some developed nations like Britain and the US

By Cheong Poh Kwan

FALLING birth rates may go hand in hand with developed economies but there are signs of a turnaround in some of the world's largest economies in the English-speaking world, according to projections by Germany's Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research.

The study found that birth rates are rising in Australia, Britain, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand and the United States. But no such trend is apparent in developed East Asia, although Japan - "historically a demographic trend- setter for the region" - has seen a slight increase.

Birth rates are expected to decline, albeit at a slower rate, in places like Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan, where governments have voiced concerns over their ageing and shrinking workforce.

The observation was recorded using a new forecasting method of measuring fertility developed by demographers Mikko Myrskyla, Joshua Goldstein and Alice Cheng.

Their study, recently published in the Population and Development Review, examined fertility rates in 37 developed countries with a prolonged history of fertility below the replacement level of 2.1 children per woman.

The team drew the projection by looking at a specific cohort of women - those born from 1962 to 1979, instead of the women population as a whole.

The measure of "cohort fertility rate" was hence used in place of the traditional "period fertility rate".

[a.k.a. "TFR"]

Cohort fertility rate measures the total number of children a woman from a specific birth year will have until the end of her childbearing years, generally assumed to be at the age of 50.

Period fertility rate, on the other hand, is a more general indicator. It gives the average number of children all women aged 15 to 49 will have in a specific calendar year and, according to the study, it "does not take into account the fact that each cohort has children slightly later than the last".

As a result, the reported period fertility rate tends to be lower than the cohort fertility rate, especially so in developed economies, where childbearing is likely delayed by higher education and careers for more women.

The study concludes that "much of the very low fertility is the result of later, not less, childbearing", and suggests that "long-term fertility decline in the developed world has come to an end or at least stalled".

This is certainly comforting news for the developed world, with the results "signalling a turning point which makes some of the current long-term fertility forecasts, such as 1.3 for Japan and 1.4 for Germany, seem considerably less likely", said Mr Goldstein.

But fertility trends will remain "notoriously hard to forecast", he added.

[May be good news. BUT it is still better for a woman to have children before 35, and if you have your first child at say 40, you are less likely to have more children than a woman who has her first child at say 26. So the "turnaround" is obtained by changing the metrics. Without the new CFR, the TFR would probably go up as child-bearing is delayed and all the older women "catch up".

So likely, we will see TFR in SG go up mainly due to the delayed childbearing effect, and the govt will think that it is their baby bonus effect, and pour more money into it. ]

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