Climate change could affect human fertility

Examining the potential for climate change to impact fertility via adaptations in human behavior.


Human health has always been influenced by climate and weather. Changes in climate and climate variability particularly changes in weather extremes, affect the environment that provides us with clean air, food, water, shelter, and security. Climate change, together with other natural and human-made health stressors, threatens human health and well-being in numerous ways.

Undoubtedly, climate change will have a substantial impact on the economy. There is also a broad consensus that economic factors affect human fertility and fertility patterns, suggests a new study by an international group of scientists.

Scientists have discovered that the climate change could have a considerable impact on fertility, as people decide how much time and money they devote to child-rearing, and whether to use those resources to have more children or invest more in the future of each child.

For this study, scientists examined several factors they think, that could affect fertility. For example, sectoral reallocation, the gender wage gap, longevity, and child mortality. They also used a quantitative model combined with standard economic-demographic theory with an existing estimate of the economic consequences of climate change.

In the model, increases in global temperature affect the agricultural and non-agricultural sectors differently. Near the equator, where many poor countries are located, climate change has a larger negative effect on agriculture. For example, the model examined two economies, Colombia and Switzerland. It focused on how the demographic impacts of climate change might differ across locations and between richer and poorer countries.

In addition, the model follows individuals through two stages of life, childhood, and adulthood. In the model, parents must decide how to divide limited resources between supporting current family consumption, having children, and paying for each child’s education. Children’s future income depends on parental decisions.

Dr. Gregory Casey, from Williams College, Massachusetts, USA, is the study’s lead author. He said: “Increases in global temperature affect agricultural and non-agricultural sectors differently. Near the equator, where many poorer countries are, climate change has a larger negative effect on agriculture.

“This leads to scarcity of agricultural goods, higher agricultural prices, and wages and ultimately, a labor reallocation. Because agriculture makes less use of skilled labor, our model showed that climate change decreases the return on acquiring skills, leading parents to invest fewer resources in the education of each child, and to increase fertility.”

Co-author Dr. Soheil Shayegh, from Bocconi University, Milan, Italy, said: “Our model suggests climate change may worsen inequalities by reducing fertility and increasing education in richer northern countries while increasing fertility and reducing education in tropical countries.

“This is particularly poignant because those richer countries have disproportionately benefited from the natural resource use that has driven climate change.”

Dr. Casey added: “Our model only deals with a single economic channel, so it is not intended to give a complete quantitative account of the impact of climate change on demographic outcomes. Further work is needed on other economic channels, especially those related to health.”

The study is published in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

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