Research: Climate change could increase fertility rates in tropical countries

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What does climate change and global warming have to do with fertility? Everything. As researchers have found, climate change is likely to increase fertility rates in tropical countries, and widen the gap between wealthy and less well-to-do countries. Read on to find out more!

How climate change affects different sectors of the economy

According to a study recently published in the Trends in Ecology & Evolution Journal, climate change may have a significant impact on couples’ decisions about how many children to have.

The researchers of the study built a model that combined standard economic theory with data on how climate change is likely to affect different sectors of the economy, including agriculture. Now, the general consensus is that changes in weather affect agriculture more than other sectors, and the link here is obvious: weather conditions affect farmers crop yields directly. Bearing this in mind, the researchers decided to analyse the effects of climate change on a hypothetical economy modeled after that of Colombia.

Carbon emissions = reduced agricultural productivity = labour reallocation

According to the model, if the hypothetical economy continues experiencing high carbon emissions, this will result in a severe reduction in agricultural productivity. The scarcity in agricultural goods will boost agricultural prices and wages, which results in a “labour reallocation” to the sector. In other words, people start seeking out agriculture-related jobs that are higher paying, and more profitable.

Interesting to note: As researchers point out, the above is likely to have a larger negative effect on agriculture near the equator. For a Colombia-like country located at 45° latitude (that’s in the general region of Switzerland), for instance, global warming actually increases agricultural productivity, and leads to lower fertility.

The quantity-quality tradeoff

Now, here’s the problem: since agriculture relies on non-skilled labor, there’s no incentive for those working in the agricultural sector to acquire an education, or improve their skills. Parents are likely to invest less resources in the education of their children, and focus on having many children instead.

This “quantity-quality tradeoff” is a well-documented phenomenon that inevitably comes up when countries transition from agricultural to industrial economies; seeing as how higher fertility rates tend to lead to countries struggling economically, this might form a “feedback loop” that exacerbates the effects of climate change.

How does climate change affect the fertility rates of more developed countries?

On top of analyzing the impact of climate change on poorer countries, researchers also went on to do the same for richer countries (think Switzerland, or other countries that enjoy greater wealth, lower birth rates, and higher levels of education).

Interestingly, they found the exact same patterns. For countries located in the tropics, climate change would increase fertility rates and decrease education levels, but for countries at high latitudes, it would decrease fertility rates and increase education levels.

The bottom line? Changes in fertility rates are likely to magnify the inequities that countries are already grappling with, and widen the gap between poor and rich nations. Bearing this in mind, it’s of immense importance for us to take climate change seriously, and do what we can to reverse it.

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