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Demography Roundup #1
China and England's TFRs drop again + new studies on cohabitation and the effect of caregiving expectations on marriage rates.
Today’s NewsWire is a roundup of demographic news items, including global birthrate updates and research findings we found interesting this week. This is a new format for us; let us know if you like it.
#1: China’s TFR plunges.
Since 2017, the CCP has sporadically released China’s annual total fertility rate. The last government TFR estimate was 1.30 in 2020. And most demographers believe that figure has fallen significantly since then. The UN predicts that the 2022 TFR was 1.18. And in January, we predicted it was around 1.03. (See “For the First Time in Over 60 Years, China’s Population Declines.”)
It turns out our estimate was pretty close. According to The Wall Street Journal, the National Business Daily—a regional government news outlet—reported that a study by the National Health Commission placed China’s TFR at 1.09 in 2022. That’s a -16% decrease from 2020. And it marks one of the lowest TFRs in the world, between Japan (1.26) and Singapore (1.05). It seems the CCP was not pleased about the media release: The study and National Business Daily article have both been taken down.
#2: In Japan, future caregivers are less attractive marriage prospects.
We have written extensively on the many drivers behind declining fertility in East Asia, including rapid urbanization, rising educational attainment, and individualist marketplace values overcoming traditional norms. (See “South Korea’s Fertility Rate Falls Below One.”) A recent study published in Demography highlights a lesser-known factor: future caregiving expectations. It’s well-known that in Confucian societies, firstborn men and eldest daughters without brothers are expected to support their parents in old age.
The researchers hypothesized that the prospect of future caregiving obligations make these individuals less appealing as marriage prospects—and that this dynamic is deepening as declining fertility over time widens the share of all marriageable young adults who are either firstborn or only children. They found that in Japan, both men and women are indeed less inclined to marry partners whose sibship position signals higher caregiving expectations, particularly only children. What’s more, the increased prevalence of eldest sons in the marriage market accounts for about 17% of the decline in overall marriage rates between 1980 and 2010 among women.
#3: Births decline in England and Wales to a 20-year low.
According to the UK’s Office of National Statistics, there were 605,479 births in England and Wales in 2022. That’s a -3.1% YoY decline. And it marks the lowest number of births in 20 years. While births slightly rebounded in 2021, last year’s decline continued the overall trend of decreasing fertility since 2012.
The report did not provide an overall total fertility rate. But if we assume that the decline in TFR is proportional to the decline in births, England and Wales’s 2022 TFR could dip to roughly 1.56. Compared with UN estimates, its TFR would be below France (1.79) and western Europe (1.62); in line with Germany (1.53) and eastern Europe (1.49); and below southern Europe (1.33). This continues a trend we have covered since 2019: Anglophone countries no longer have exceptional fertility rates compared to other high-income nations. (See “Fertility Keeps Falling in England and Wales.”)
#4: Is cohabitation just as good as marriage?
We hear a lot about the benefits of marriage over cohabitation: greater wealth; higher relationship satisfaction, trust, and closeness; and better health. But according to a new study in the Journal of Demographic Economics, marriage does not have much of an edge over cohabitation when it comes to life expectancy.
The researchers examined data from Statistics Denmark for all individuals age 50+ from 1982-2019. At age 50, the remaining life expectancy for married individuals is about 31 years for women and 27 years for men. For single individuals, it’s about 30 years for women and 24 years for men. Cohabiting individuals fall somewhere in between, with cohabiting men’s life expectancies being closer to that of married men and cohabiting women’s being closer to that of single women.
Over time, however, this gap closes. By the last five years of data (2015-2019), both cohabiting men and women’s life expectancies had increased so that they were equal or close to that of the married. Cohabiting-widowed individuals (i.e., people who have been widowed but are now living with a partner) fare the best; they live just as long as married individuals.
So why is there such an impression that cohabitation is less healthy than marriage? The most obvious difference is that cohabiting couples are less likely to stay together—so that as individuals they end up, over time, with characteristics closer to those of single people. Retrospective studies, on the other hand, show that couples who have in fact cohabited for many years are more likely to resemble married couples.
Most likely, these researchers’ findings reflect self-selection effects and survivorship bias over time. In 1982, cohabitation was still relatively new in Western Europe and the typical couple had not been in a relationship for long. By 2019, cohabitation was a mature institution with large numbers of (now elderly) couples who had been in a relationship for most of their lives.
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