Challenges and opportunities

Global and regional/continental trends in family size, sex ratios, and ageing/greying

Family Size/Household composition

Family size is defined by the UN as ” a group of persons who make common provision of food, shelter and other essentials for living”. Family size is closely linked to the level of economic development. Countries with smaller family sizes tend to be economically developed than those with larger family sizes. In the same way, smaller families tend to have a better quality of life and standard of living than larger families (all things being equal).

According to the United Nations Report on family sizes, smaller household sizes (fewer than three persons per household) are found in most countries of Europe and Northern America, Asia and the Caribbean. Examples:

  • Monaco – 1.9
  • Serbia – 2.9 persons
  • United States of America – 2.6
  • Japan – 2.4
  • Montserrat – 2.02

Large average household sizes of greater than five persons per household, were observed across much of Africa and the Middle East. The largest household sizes were found in Senegal and Oman, averaging 9.0 and 8.0 persons, respectively (United Nations).

In France, the average household size fell from 3.1 persons per household in 1968 to 2.3 in 2011, at the same time that the total fertility rate fell from 2.6 to 2.0 live births per woman. In Kenya, the average household size fell from 5.3 persons per household in 1969 to 4.0 in 2014, concurrent with total fertility decline from 8.1 to 4.4 live births per woman (United Nations).

Causes of decline in family sizes:

  • Improvement in medical care, hence low infant mortality and higher chances of babies surviving. This means there is no need to have many children in the hope that if some die others will survive.
  • Improvement in female education, thus women spend a lot of their fertile years in school, resulting in a fall in the average number of children they can have in their lifetime
  • Increase in contraceptive use, hence parents have the ability to conveniently space their children
  • Improved nutrition, better quality and quantity of food means fewer deaths resulting from malnutrition and other nutrition-related deaths
  • The introduction of government policies, such as China’s One-Child Policy has drastically reduced family sizes in China
  • Improved sanitation, meaning better access to safe drinking water and toilets. This reduces water-related diseases, thus couples no longer need many children
  • High cost of child care. The cost of raising children scares most parents from having a lot of children, as shown in the YouTube video below:

Consequences of smaller family sizes

  • Decrease in potential workforce in a country. Smaller family size means lower fertility or birthrate. This will lead to a shortage of people in the working population
  • Decrease in tax revenue for the government in future. Less workforce would be available to work and pay taxes for the government to raise revenue to finance development projects
  • A large ageing population, putting a lot of strain on the government to provide medical healthcare and other benefits
  • Oh the other hand, smaller family sizes could lead to better services – education, healthcare, etc. due to a small population depending on the state.
  • Decrease in industrial output due to weak market and generally low economic growth for the country

Sex Ratios

Sex ratio is the ratio of males to females in a given population. Or, it is the number of males per 100 females in a population. The average sex ratio is about 1.05/6 per 100 females. A figure of 110 means that there are 110 male births for every 100 female births. The global trends in sex ratio include:

  • In South and East Asia, especially India and China – there are significantly fewer females than males.
  • Across the Middle East, especially in Oman, women are outnumbered 3-to-1; in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) it’s almost 4-to-1.
  • there are significantly more females than males in Eastern Europe.

Reasons for imbalances in sex ratios:

  • The use of ultrasound to determine the sex of a fetus can lead to selective abortion, especially in countries such as China during the introduction of the One Child policy.
  • Infanticide: Preference for male children leads to the deaths of females who die through various means used by their parents
  • Male children could also live longer because females are discriminated against in some cultures in terms of education, healthcare, etc.
  • Men tend to take on high-risk jobs such as mining, construction, military etc would lead to early deaths.
  • climate change: some scholars believe that high temperatures resulting from climate change can lead to miscarriages of female fetuses. This is disputable and open to further debate.

Consequences of sex imbalances

  • Shortage of potential female brides. In China, about 10-15% of males might not have families due to the shortage of female suitors, resulting from sex-selective abortion during the introduction of the One-Child-Policy.

Policies related to ageing/greying

Ageing is a process whereby there is an increase in life expectancy together with a falling death rate, resulting in an increase in the proportion of people above 65years. Countries such as Japan and several others in Western Europe have had over 16% of their population aged over 65. It is estimated that by 2020 this will reach 35% in some countries as Japan and Italy.

In recent times there has been an increase in life expectancy in both developed and developing countries. This has come about as a result of:

  • Improvement in hygiene and health education
  • Improvement in primary healthcare
  • a better diet, both in quality and quantity
  • advancement in medical knowledge and techniques by which diseases are now treated.
  • Improvement in sanitation
  • Improvement in transport infrastructure, meaning food can be transported from rural to urban areas and doctors/nurses or medical supplies can reach rural areas to provide urgent medical treatment

Problems of an ageing population:

  • Increase in the amount of money spent on residential accommodation, social services, health care, and subsidies.
  • Increase in the amount of family budget spent on the aged
  • Increase in the dependency ratio upon a small working population.
  • Less money is available for meeting the needs of the younger population. Eg. Education, transport, social amenities
  • Shortage of economically active and economic depression
  • Reduced taxation income for the government
  • Service decline (schools, sports centres, etc. not used by older residents)

Benefits of an ageing population

  • Elderly people have a lot of experience and can be valuable in the workplace.
  • Less money is spent on schooling and natal medical care.
  • Lower crime rates and less money needed to be spent on policing

Case study of Ageing Population: Japan’s Ageing Population

Population policies

Rates of fertility and birth differ from country to country, resulting in varying responses to either low or high fertility rates. Generally, the two methods used to regulate population are either pro-natalist or anti-natalist policies. While the latter tackles the problem of high fertility rates and enormous population sizes, pro-natalist policies are adopted when a country suffers from a declining and ageing population.

Thus, a pro-natalist policy can be described as a policy implemented in a country to increase population by encouraging births and instituting a culture of reproduction, with the use of incentives. We could also say that it is a policy meant to improve the replacement level of populations whose rate stands dangerously below the recommended 2.1 children per woman.

Most of the time, this policy is introduced in countries whose population structure has its bulk in the ageing and late working populations, as prominent in countries that have achieved very high and rapid rates of economic development. Materialism and industrialization supersede the desire or need to marry, have children or have large families; the long-lasting effect is that more people progress into old age (taking into account good public health services and high standard of living) but do not replace the gap created.

In a bid to increase the number of children and people in the youthful population, the government executes this policy by initially legalizing the policy and then embarking on campaigns to persuade and encourage marriage and childbirth.

Pro-natalist policy requires substantial amounts of financial resources and infrastructural development for successful execution. LICs largely have no need for pro-natalist policies, as they have surpluses of youthful people and very few aged; hence, pro-natalist policies are associated with HICs because these countries have the money, infrastructure and services needed to implement the policy successfully. The most evident disadvantage of this policy is that it costs governments billions of dollars which would rather be spent on investment in Science and technology, as well as developmental projects.

Pro-natalist Case study: France

France has had a history of population fluctuations, dating from the period of wars till the later part of the 1990s. Although it has been one of Europe’s most populous and fertile nations, the First World War dealt a blow to its male population size. France’s population is about 21% elderly people, and it is projected that one-third of the French population will be over 60 years of age by 2050.

The pro-natalist Code de la Famille law was passed in 1939 to curb the trend of negative natural change which had started in 1935. It was passed to ease the dependency ratio – the number of young, economically active people to old people in 1901 was 7-8 to one person 65 years and above. This dropped significantly after the death of numerous men aged 20-24 years in the First World War. Despite the introduction of the law, France’s population continued to fluctuate. The ratio of economically active people to people aged 65 years and older dropped to 4.4 people in 1995. The fertility rate sunk to 1.67 in 1992, and it was costing the government about 12.9 euros to care for the elderly (Geography AS Notes).

The policy was revised in 1967 (the banning of the sale of contraceptives was removed). Under this law, the incentives include:

  • 30% – 40% discount on public transport fees, for families with three children (Carte Famille Nombreuse)
  • Payment of £1064 to families who have a third child
  • Year-long leave after the birth of the third child, with a payment of $960 per month
  • 100% mortgage for three-bedroom council flats
  • Option of staying out of the office or working part-time (for mothers) until a child is three years old. Full-time employment is guaranteed when the mother/father returns.
  • Full tax benefits and breaks until the youngest child is 18 years old
  • Free child care services from three years of age to kindergarten
  • 20 weeks of paid leave after the birth of a child
  • €174 per year for access to public services such as swimming pools and cultural activities


  • The replacement level has risen from 1.67 to 2.01, only rivalled by Europe’s in Ireland. France achieved this feat in 2006, with the birth of 830,900 babies.
  • Even the poorest of families can afford to have children and be comfortably placed in society, so there is little inequality in terms of access to services for children from poorer backgrounds.
  • The policy does not place any emphasis on marriage or a prescribed family type. This means single women can benefit from the policy. Also, one-parent families are supported.


  • The policy costs the French government billions of euros to maintain, per year.
  • The United Nations projects that the population will only grow by 0.6million between 2030 and 2050. Given the cost of the policy, it is very redundant in the long run.
  • The policy contains about 30 measures, making it hard to implement and assess at once.

France has a current population of 64.6million people, which the government is working at accelerating to 75 million by 2050. Many bodies, including the United Nations, are sceptical about the feasibility of this goal, given that the replacement level of France will never really reach and exceed the replacement level

Second case study of Singapore: Summarized in this YouTube Video:

Anti-Natalist Policies

An anti-natalist policy is one implemented by a government aiming to decrease the total fertility rate, as well as the crude birth rate, in order to show population growth. Due to the varying nature of such policies, we will use a case study to fully explain.

Case study of China’s One-Child Policy:

After China was invaded and occupied by Japan in World War II, they wanted to strengthen their military. Deng Xiaoping thought it would make her a stronger economic nation. To do this, they encouraged citizens to have more children, because a bigger population potentially meant a stronger army. This policy would have been fine if China had the resources and technology to match. However, they did not and coupled with the crippling policies of the Cultural Revolution, mass famines ensued. It is estimated that up to 30 million died during the 1960s and 1970s. This was not a sustainable policy, so the Chinese government was forced to introduce an anti-natalist policy.

The one-child policy was introduced in 1979 because floods and famine made it impossible to feed the people as stated earlier. The policy has seen many developments and changes throughout the years.

  • In the 1980s, rural families could have another child if their first was a girl.
  • By 1999, the policy was relaxed. This has led to:
  • All families in rural areas are allowed two children.
  • Women were allowed a choice of contraception.
  • In 300 trial districts, couples were given the option of voluntary family planning.
  • In 2013, the rules were changed to allow couples to have a second child if one parent was an only child.
  • On 29th October, the Chinese government announced its relaxation of the one-child policy rules. The change was that couples can now have two children. This change resulted from a predicted outnumbering ageing population. However, these changes would and should not be implemented until March 2016.

What happens when a couple goes against the one-child policy’s rules?

Related image
  • Official sanctions -Fines: This was probably the most common means of punishment. However, its fairness has been questioned by many as some people are able to afford more children and others are not.
  • Abortion & infanticide: Women who became pregnant for the second time were forced to have abortions and those who persistently became pregnant were sterilized. (Infanticide)

Features of the Policy

  • Promoting late marriages so that couples will have fewer children. (Age of marriage increased to 22 years for males and 20 years for females).
  • Providing birth control and contraceptives at low costs so that it is affordable for everyone
  • Abortion is legalized
  • Pregnant women who already have one child face social and economic stigmatization.
  • Each couple is allowed to have one child
  • The policy is more lenient on ethnic minorities
  • People who follow the policy benefit from higher wages, better education and employment, free childcare and healthcare
  • Government trained ‘barefoot doctors’ to move around mountain villages to help instil the policy in a way that was appealing to people in rural areas
  • If a couple has more than one child they face forced abortion, sterilization, fines, unemployment and even imprisonment
  • Farmers are allowed to apply for a second child if the first was a girl

Effects of the One-Child Policy 

Demographic1. Population growth rate is now as low as 0.47, compared to 2.7% in the 1970s There are 60 million more men than women 2. China has an ageing population, with 9.4% of people over 65, and this number is predicted to rise.
3. Fertility rate has decreased from 2.8 births per woman is 1980 to 1.5 in 2010. There are 400 million less people in China, than without the policy
Social1. It strengthened the already existing preference for male children.
2. It has increased the number of children without siblings.
3. There is a chance for reduced social skills and loneliness.
4. ‘Little emperor syndrome’: Children are arrogant and spoilt
5. Increased abortions, especially for female children
Economic1. It has reduced pressure on resources
2. Parents are encouraged to save to reduce the burden on their only children to take care of them when he/she grows after the introduction of the policy, economic indicators have been favourable, especially per capita ones.


  • Unequal enforcement
  • Infanticide
  • Human rights and freedoms abuse
  • Preference for boys
  • Results could have been achieved without this strict policy eg. Thailand

China birth rate: Mothers, your country needs you!

Gender equality policies and anti-trafficking policies

Demographic Dividend

This is a bulge or increase in the number of adults in a population between 15 and 64. OR An increase in the number of people in the working population of a country, indicating that more people have the potential to be productive and contribute to economic growth. It occurs when there is a fall in the birth rate and death rate after an initial increase in fertility rate

According to the UN population research, Asia and Latin America have been the main beneficiaries of the demographic dividend and countries in Sub-Saharan Africa are yet to benefit from it.

Examples of countries that experience demographic dividend include Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Brazil, Argentina


  1. Serves as a source of attraction to foreign investors.
  2. Increases the availability of cheap labour.
  3. Government revenue increases once the population is employed
  4. There would be an increase in the labour force.
  5. Lead to an increase in the number of women who enter the workforce, resulting from a fall in birth rate and an increase in female education.
  6. Leads to an improvement in healthcare, as a result of a fall in the birth rate which reduces pressure on the healthcare system.
  7. Leads to a fall in the dependency ratio as a result of the reduction of the number of children from the ages 0-14.
  8. Leads to an improvement in the infrastructure of the country since the government would have more money to spend on these social amenities.
  9. Leads to economic growth by increasing the GDP of the country.


  1. Leads to unemployment because of an increase in the working population whilst the government is unable to create and provide enough jobs.
  2. An increase in unemployment further leads to an increase in crime rate.
  3. Leads to the closure of services needed by the younger population. Eg: Schools, hospitals, places of entertainment etc.
  4. In the long run, it will lead to an increase in the ageing population because the people between the ages of 15-64 will grow older and increase the population of those 65+.
  5. Lead to the emigration of people to find better jobs when the jobs are not available in their country of origin.
  6. There would be a decrease in fertility rate. The rate is so low that an increase in population would be nearly impossible. Countries such as Japan are strongly encouraging sexual relationships.

Ways by which a country can attain demographic dividend

  1. Decreasing fertility rates. To decrease fertility rates, the government must introduce policies such as anti-natalist policies, encouraging the use of contraceptives and educating people on the need to give their children, especially girls, good quality education.
  2. Encouraging female education/ gender equality. This can be achieved by:
  • Increasing the enrolment of females in schools
  • Informing the citizens of the country to change their stereotypical mindset about women being seen as child bearers and domestic workers.
  • Ensuring that men and women have equal rights, especially in terms of pay/salary.
  • Ensuring gender equality in terms of women’s access to the social ladder. There should also be gender equality in decision-making.

3. Improvement in health care delivery. This is important to reduce the death rate of the youthful population and also help a large number of people in the working population to live long.

4. The government must introduce economic policies to create employment for the people otherwise the demographic dividend will lead to unemployment. This can be done by:

  • Building financial institutions
  • Encouraging foreign investors
  • Decrease taxation

Case study of countries with a demographic dividend: Thailand