Fertility-development controversy

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The relationship between the total fertility rate (TFR) and socio-economic development, which is measured by the human development index (HDI), is the subject of debate in social sciences.

The novelty of this new and on-going debate is to seek a statistically significant linkage between total fertility rate and socio-economic development, rather than to examine a more conventional relationship between fertility and per capita income level, as discussed in Demographic-economic paradox.

More importantly, the debate has revolved around the fundamental question in the demographic transition whether there could exist a so-called "Fertility J-curve" in which the fertility declines would rebound after a certain level (i.e., a threshold) of socio-economic development.


Conventional wisdom in social sciences has been that developed countries tend to have lower fertility rates while fertility rates in developing nations are high. This means that declining fertility rates are attributed to advances in socio-economic development.

Fertility J-curve[edit]

In 2009, a group headed by Mikko Myrskylä of the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research proposed[1] that there exists a "J-shaped" relationship between human fertility and development — i.e., that further advances in economic development can reverse the decline in fertility rate.

In an article published in Nature, Myrskylä et al. pointed out that “unprecedented increases” in social and economic development in the 20th century had been accompanied by considerable declines in population growth rates and fertility. This negative association between human fertility and socio-economic development has been “one of the most solidly established and generally accepted empirical regularities in the social sciences”.[1] The researchers used cross-sectional and longitudinal analyses to examine the relationship between total fertility rate (TFR) and the human development index (HDI).

The main finding of the study was that, in highly developed countries with HDI above 0.9, further development halts the declining fertility rates. This means that the previously negative development-fertility association is reversed; the graph becomes J-shaped. Myrskylä et al. contend that there has occurred “a fundamental change in the well-established negative relationship between fertility and development as the global population entered the twenty-first century”.[1]


Some researchers doubt J-shaped relationship fertility and socio-economic development (Luci and Thevenon, 2010;[2] Furuoka, 2009). For example, Fumitaka Furuoka (2009) employed a piecewise regression analysis to examine the relationship between total fertility rate and human development index. However, he found no empirical evidence to support the proposition that advances in development are able to reverse declining fertility rates.

More precisely, the empirical findings of Furuoka’s 2009 study indicate that in countries with a low human development index, higher levels of HDI tend to be associated with lower fertility rates. Likewise, in countries with a high human development index, higher levels of HDI are associated with lower fertility rates, although the relationship is weaker. Furuoka's findings support the "conventional wisdom" that higher development is consistently correlated with lower overall fertility.[3]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c M. Myrskylä, H. Kohler, and F.C. Billari, M; Kohler, HP; Billari, FC (2009). "Advances in development reverse fertility rate". Nature 460 (7256): 741–743. doi:10.1038/nature08230. PMID 19661915. 
  2. ^ Luci, A and Thvenon, O (2010). "Does economic development drive the fertility rebound in OECD countries?". Paper presented in the European Population Conference 2010 (EPC2010), Vienna, Austria, September 1–4, 2010. 
  3. ^ Fumitaka Furuoka (2009). "Looking for a J-shaped development-fertility relationship: Do advances in development really reverse fertility declines?". Economics Bulletin 29: 3067–3074. 

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