The End of “Lowest-Low” Fertility?



Total fertility rates fell to previously unseen levels in a large number of countries beginning in the early 1990s. The persistence of TFRs below 1.3 raised the possibility of rapid population aging and decline. We discuss the recent widespread turnaround in so-called lowest-low-fertility countries in Europe and East Asia. The number of countries with TFRs below 1.3 fell from 21 in 2003 to five in 2008. Moreover, the upturn in the TFR was not confined to lowest-fertility countries, but affected the whole developed world. We explore the demographic explanations for the recent rise in TFRs stemming from fertility timing effects as well as economic, policy, and social factors. Although the current economic downturn may suppress TFRs in the short run, we conclude that formerly lowest-low-fertility countries will continue to see increases in fertility as the transitory effects of shifts to later childbearing become less important.