Beginning in 2000, in economically advanced countries, a remarkable bifurcation in fertility levels has emerged, with one group in the moderate range of period total fertility rates, about 1.9, and the other at 1.3. The upper branch consists of countries in Northern and Western Europe, Oceania and the United States; the lower branch includes Central, Southern, and Eastern Europe, and East and Southeast Asia. A review of the major theories for low-fertility countries reveals that none of them would have predicted this specific bifurcation. We argue that those countries with fertility levels close to replacement level have institutional arrangements, and related policies, that make it easier, not easy, for women to combine the worker and mother roles. The institutional details are quite different across countries, suggesting that multiple combinations of institutional arrangements and policies can lead to the same country-level fertility outcome. Canada, the only exception to this bifurcation, illustrates the importance of the different institutional structures in Québec compared to the rest of Canada.
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The following countries had a TFR <2.0 in 1995 but did not meet the GDP or population requirements (their TFR in 2012 is noted in parentheses): Bulgaria (1.5), Iceland (2.0), Latvia (1.4) Liechtenstein (1.5), Luxembourg (1.6), Thailand (1.5), and small island nations such as Malta (1.4), Cuba (1.6), and Barbados (1.8). The countries resulting from the break-up of Yugoslavia are almost all in (or near) the lower branch of the fork by 2005 (only Montenegro remains higher, but it is trending down and its TFR is lower than what is seen in the upper branch). Countries resulting from the break-up of the Soviet Union are more varied with several countries falling in between the fork and trending up (Estonia, Belarus, Lithuania, Russian Federation, Ukraine) and Georgia appearing in the upper branch around 2008).
Perhaps the implication of tempo changes is best illustrated by the exceptionally large baby boom that occurred in the United States, affecting everything from pop culture to the solvency of the Social Security pension system. Ryder (1980) estimates that 58 percent of the 1936–1957 increase in fertility was due to women having their children at younger ages and that 55 percent of the 1957–1972 decrease was due to women having their children at older ages.
The cohort estimates for the most recent cohorts obviously include a fair amount of forecasting for the childbearing years that have not yet occurred. Myrskyla et al. (2013) conducted numerous sensitivity tests, and their estimates are quite robust to a variety of alternative assumptions.
Some caution needs to be exercised in interpreting the branching because these are the cohorts for whom the most projection was required.
Of course, other theoretical perspectives have been applied to understand fertility trends and individual decision making. We review a selection here.
Specifically: “The size of the three groups varies in rich modern societies because public policies usually favor one or another group (Hakim 2003, p. 356).”
Also, compared with other provinces, a larger proportion of Alberta’s population are farm families, Aboriginal/First Nations groups, and members of religious groups such as Mormons, Hutterites, and Mennonites all of which have high fertility.
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Rindfuss, R.R., Choe, M.K. & Brauner-Otto, S.R. The Emergence of Two Distinct Fertility Regimes in Economically Advanced Countries. Popul Res Policy Rev 35, 287–304 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11113-016-9387-z