A falling total fertility rate, or TFR for short, can be a positive sign -- an indication of better education systems, better health systems, higher incomes, and more job opportunities, especially for women. The countries with the world's top five per capita GDPs all have TFRs, measured as the average number of children that would be born to a woman if she lived to the end of her childbearing years and bore children according to given age-specific fertility rates, below the replacement rate of 2.1. But a low fertility rate, especially coupled with its typically concomitant low mortality rate, can also mean shrinking and aging populations, diminishing numbers of workers, and heavier burdens for taxpayers. And falling economic productivity in just a few countries might affect living standards across the globe. So, should countries welcome a low TFR, or should they fear it?
In "Baby Menace," published in Foreign Policy's January/February 2013 issue, Joshua Keating addresses both sides of the baby debate. On one hand are many prominent leaders, politicians, and pundits who worry that demographic decline is a precursor to economic and cultural ruin; on the other are scholars like Klaus Prettner, a German economist who thinks that a low fertility rate is no reason to panic, as the underappreciated positives of falling fertility will outweigh the better-known negatives.
Here's a look at the 10 countries with the lowest fertility rates in the world -- countries that don't, according to Prettner, have anything to worry about.