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Evolution, Fertility and the Ageing Population

Jason Collins

University of Western Australia - UWA Business School

Oliver J. Richards

Australian Treasury

December 29, 2014

We propose that the recent rise in the fertility rate in developed countries may be the beginning of a broad-based increase in fertility towards above-replacement levels. Environmental shocks that reduced fertility over the past 200 years changed the composition of fertility-related traits in the population and temporarily raised fertility heritability. As those with higher fertility are selected for, the 'high-fertility' genotypes are expected to come to dominate the population, causing the fertility rate to return to its pre-shock level. We show that even with relatively low levels of genetically based variation in fertility, there can be a rapid return to a high-fertility state, with recovery to above-replacement levels usually occurring within a few generations. In the longer term, this implies that the proportion of elderly in the population will be lower than projected, reducing the fiscal burden of ageing on developed world governments. However, the rise in the fertility rate increases the population size and proportion of dependent young, presenting other fiscal and policy challenges.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 53

Keywords: fertility, human evolution, ageing population, population growth

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Date posted: January 30, 2013 ; Last revised: January 4, 2015

Suggested Citation

Collins, Jason and Richards, Oliver J., Evolution, Fertility and the Ageing Population (December 29, 2014). Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2208886 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2208886

Contact Information

Jason Collins (Contact Author)
University of Western Australia - UWA Business School ( email )
Crawley, Western Australia 6009
Oliver J. Richards
Australian Treasury ( email )
Canberra, ACT 2600
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