The phrase “it takes a village” is very often thrown around when having conversations about children and family planning. Its idyllic, but the idea that there is going to be an army of doctors, doulas and experts that show up at the door when baby arrives, may not necessarily be true for everyone. Depending on where in the world people live, that “village” needs to include supports for mother, baby and the growing family. These factors can often determine where and when potential parents will look to build their family.
Research indicates that countries that have economic issues, political unrest and uncertainty often have the highest fertility rates. Access to healthcare, supplies and support can often be trumped by things like religion, culture and tradition. Alternatively, countries with lower fertility rates tend to have a large, upwardly mobile population, lack of work-life balance or outdated views towards the role of women in the family.
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Read on to explore the countries with the highest and lowest fertility rates in the world — and some of the reasons driving those fertility rates.
5 countries that have the highest fertility rates
Multiple factors can contribute to high fertility rates, or a high number of children born per woman. Here are five of the countries with the highest fertility rates, based on sources like World Population Review, The World Factbook and UN data as reported by The Facts Institute.
Culturally, child marriage is a major factor in Niger (the UN reports that “Niger has the highest child marriage prevalence rate in the world according to UNICEF, with 76 per cent of girls married before the age of 18 and 28 per cent married before they turn 15”) which often results in girls being pulled from school early to get married and start a family.
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According to The World Factbook, Angola currently has the second-highest fertility rate in the world with 5.8 children born per woman.
The history of Angola is sadly one of war, which resulted in an unstable infrastructure to support its population. There is a lack of public health information especially on topics like contraception and family planning, and high rates of maternal and child mortality.
Democratic Republic of Congo
Women in the Congo, on average, have 5.6 births per woman. Myths, misconceptions and access issues surrounding contraception prevail and deter women from accessing them or facing stigma and harsh criticism if they do.
Mali is also plagued by factors like poverty, low rates of contraception use and lack of sexual health education. These factors combined have led to a high fertility rate of 5.5 children born per woman.
Civil unrest and political instability have unfortunately led to a lack of investment in and access to public and sexual health in Chad. These factors have led to a population that has been largely left in the dark about these topics and has resulted in high fertility rates around the country — The World Factbook estimates that 5.5 children are born per woman in Chad.
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5 places that have the lowest fertility rates
On the other end of the spectrum, there are certain countries, territories and regions in the world that have very low fertility rates. The following five places have the lowest fertility rates (AKA number of births per woman), according to data reported in World Population Review.
Economic factors, exorbitant housing costs and the high cost of living have contributed to low birth rates in South Korea; it’s hard to think about expanding a family when trying to figure out how to pay bills and eat. The lack of job opportunities and income inequality are also contributing factors. Life in South Korea is also steeped in tradition, and the idea of a single mother is not as widely accepted as it is in other parts of the world.
These factors combined are causing many people in South Korea to reevaluate their plans for children or opt out altogether, with World Population Review noting that the country’s fertility rate is just 0.9.
Young people are on the move in the US territory of Puerto Rico. Destructive weather events, lack of job opportunities and migration to the mainland USA are all factors that are attributing to young people leaving the country and not choosing to plant roots there. According to World Population Review, the territory has a fertility rate of 1.0.
It’s fair to say that the pandemic changed a lot of things across the globe. In Hong Kong (the former British colony is not a country, but a Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China), the government’s response to the virus was strict with sweeping lockdown measures. In response to this, many of the younger and more upwardly mobile population decided to leave the country. Also due to the pandemic, money woes and talks of recession have caused people to delay getting married or forgo the choice to have kids at all. These factors likely contribute to the region’s low fertility rate of 1.1.
Tying Hong Kong with a fertility rate of just 1.1 according to World Population Review, Malta is a small European country that is currently seeing a desire amongst its many people in its younger population to leave in search of better jobs and bigger opportunities. Those that choose to stay often struggle with traditional gender roles and not a lot of parental support in terms of maternity or paternity leave at their workplaces, which Times of Malta suggests may contribute to the country’s low fertility challenges.
Finally, also with a fertility rate of just 1.1 according to World Population Review, Singapore is often synonymous with growth and a fast-paced lifestyle, but those same factors are lending themselves to a low fertility rate in the country. Companies often eschew family first or family friendly workplace policies to keep up with demand at work, for example. The pandemic has also caused young Singaporeans to reconsider their marriage and family planning ideas due to a higher cost of living and inflation.
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What is Canada’s fertility rate?
One final note to put these fertility rates into context for people living in Canada — by way of comparison, Canada’s fertility rate is also relatively low on a global scale: according to Statistics Canada’s most recent data for 2021, Canada’s fertility rate is 1.4 children per woman. In Canada too, as Global News explains, factors like high housing costs and low job security likely contribute to people delaying starting a family or not having children altogether.