Fertility, Gap Between Ideal and Reality: Cross-Sectional Analysis of Fertility Decline in 17 High-Income Countries
To maintain the current population of a country in the long run, the key threshold of the fertility level is 2.1 births per women. Among the approximately 80 countries that so far have reached this so-called replacement level fertility, almost all have not stabilized fertility at this level. Instead, their fertility has moved below the 2.1 replacement rate (United Nations, 2017; World Bank, 2019). We define the end of the demographic transition as the period when the fertility rate reaches 2.1 births per women, and label what follows as a “post-transition period”, which, if they continue, will result in a decline in the native-born population. This thesis investigates the trends of actual fertility measured by TFR and CFR and compares with variation of the ideal number of children (fertility ideal) in 17 high-income countries that are in the posttransition period. First, the analysis of actual fertility using TFR and CFR measures indicated a general downward trend of fertility among 17 high-income countries under study. We find the fertility trend of posttransition countries is quite established as either having “moderately low” or “very low” fertility regardless of which fertility measure we use. Second, using the cross-sectional data derived from the ISSP 2012, the analysis of expressed fertility ideal shows that the perceived fertility ideal in all the countries under study is higher than the actual fertility rates. Moreover, the fertility ideal is higher than the replacement level of 2.1 in 16 out of the 17 countries under study. Our analysis further reveals that the gap between actual fertility and expressed ideal fertility is smaller in countries where the level of individualism and realized gender equality are known to be high. We argue that the prevalence of individualism that support gender equality may contribute to the decline of fertility ideal because individuals’ goals and achievements, regardless of gender, are encouraged in individualistic societies. In such a society, the gap between actual and ideal fertility, however, may become smaller as people are better able to realize fertility ideal because individualistic societies may put larger efforts in creating social settings such as generous family-friendly policies, where the childrearing does not constrain one’s goals and achievements.