Academic journal article Demographic Research

How Does Education Change the Relationship between Fertility and Age-Dependency under Environmental Constraints? A Long-Term Simulation Exercise

Academic journal article Demographic Research

How Does Education Change the Relationship between Fertility and Age-Dependency under Environmental Constraints? A Long-Term Simulation Exercise

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

Many scientific and public discussions about demographic trends in low fertility countries are based on the implicit assumption that somehow replacement level fertility (RLF) is the most desirable long-term fertility level for any nation state. This leads to the popular view in Germany that fertility was too low, whereas in France it was about right. Consequently, newspaper headlines in those countries often claim that family policies were not reaching their goals because they failed to raise fertility to RLF. But this view is also reflected in official UN compendia about government views on demographic trends (UN Population Division 2011; Vobecká, Butz,and Reyes 2013).

This normative view about what is the most desirable long-term level of fertility shows an interesting interaction with the long-term fertility assumptions in international population projections. For decades the UN population projections have - with only minor variations - consistently assumed that in the long run all populations of the world will converge to RLF. While this assumption has likely been inspired by political desirability of a view where in the long run there will be a global population equilibrium, with no populations shrinking and none increasing, it is also plausible to assume that the pervasiveness of this long-term population assumption has in turn influenced what people consider to be the norm. If a country sees itself below or above the medium path as projected by the UN, then it may think that its fertility is either too low or too high under a normative perspective.

In this paper, we will question this ubiquitous normative belief that RLF is somehow the ultimate goal. We will do so by discussing and specifying clear criteria for what is desirable and then simulate the long-term consequences of alternative fertility levels with respect to these criteria. When doing this we will go beyond the conventional rather narrow view of population dynamics by age and sex and instead apply models that have been developed more recently, integrating population dynamics in three dimensions, namely age, sex, and level of educational attainment. This new multi-dimensional approach has recently been summarized by Lutz and KC (2011). Therefore, we only provide a brief illustration for the case of South Korea, where - as in many other low fertility countries - the question arises as to whether the smaller number of young people can be compensated for in terms of aggregate economic wellbeing by their better education (compare Lee and Mason 2010). The example of Korea is a rather extreme case due to the very low level of fertility and the very rapid recent expansion of educational attainment as illustrated in the projection for 2020 by age, sex, and level of education in Figure 1. Here the different colours refer to men and women by highest level of educational attainment as indicated by the legend at the bottom of the figure. The government of Korea is clearly very concerned about the currently low level of fertility. At the IUSSP International Population Conference in Busan in August 2013, hundreds of provincial and local level "family consultants" or social workers attended seeking more information about how to convince couples to have more children. There seemed to be a general conviction that the low level of fertility posed a major threat to the future of the country.

As shown in the figure, the age pyramid of Korea is indeed becoming extremely narrow at the bottom. In 2020 the age group 0-4 will be less than half of the size of the age group 45-49. This is because South Korea has had a TFR (total fertility rate) of roughly 1.2, one of the world's lowest, for some time now. On the other hand, Korea has experienced one of the fastest expansions of the educational composition of its population in human history. While as recently as in 1960 the vast majority of women of reproductive age had never been to school and only very few had had at least junior secondary education (the consequences of this can still be seen among elderly women in Figure 1), today young Korean women are among the best educated in the world with already more than half of the younger cohorts having completed college education. …

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