Population Controls by Peter J. Leithart

Population Controls

Fertility and Faith by Philip Jenkins
Baylor University Press, 2020
(262 pages, $29.95, hardcover)

Beginning in the 1980s, the world entered a "Second Demographic Transition" (SDT), argues historian and sociologist Philip Jenkins. The first transition was the decline in fertility rates that followed industrialization in modern societies. In the SDT, that decline has expanded to the rest of the world. We're in an almost unprecedented demographic situation, as the rest of the world "catches up" to Europe.

The key measure is the "Total Fertility Rate" (TFR), the average number of children a woman bears in her lifetime. With a TFR at 2.1 or above, a population is stable or growing; below, it begins to shrink without infusions from elsewhere. In 1950, no country in the world had a sub-replacement TFR, but by the 2010s, half the global population lived in countries with a TFR below 2.1. Three quarters of those people live in countries with TFRs below 1.8, a scandalously low rate once reserved to Scandinavia. In many countries, the demographic collapse is dramatic. Since 1970, Mexico's TFR has fallen from 7 to 2.2. Over the same period, Vietnam's TFR has gone from 6.4 to 1.9, India's from 5.5 to 2.3, and South Korea's from 4.5 to 1.0.


Peter J. Leithart is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and the president of Trinity House Institute for Biblical, Liturgical & Cultural Studies in Birmingham, Alabama. His many books include Defending Constantine (InterVarsity), Between Babel and Beast (Cascade), and, most recently, Gratitude: An Intellectual History (Baylor University Press). His weblog can be found at www.leithart.com. He is a contributing editor of Touchstone.

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