Shrinking global child population

The number of children worldwide aged 0-14 fell by an average annual rate of 0.1% in the decade between 2000 and 2010. Changing social and cultural habits have been the main causes, with migration and government policy also influencing the situation in individual countries. These trends have implications for businesses, households and also for government policies, with the highest proportion of children being in developing countries.

Key points

  • The total number of children globally aged 0-14 shrank in the decade from 2000-2010, dropping by an average annual of 0.1%. This is a comparatively recent trend, as the child population experienced growth of 0.6% per year between 1990 and 2000 and 1.0% per year between 1980 and 1990. As of 2010, 0-14 year-olds made up 26.2% of the total global population compared to 35.2% in 1980;
  • This trend reflects cultural and social changes towards smaller family sizes in both developed and developing markets. Regionally, Eastern Europe has seen the largest decrease in the child population, at an annual average rate of 2.4% between 2000 and 2010, which is partly due to large-scale migration to Western Europe and also due to the transition period from communism in the 1990s and 2000s when fertility rates and life expectancies fell due to economic hardship;
  • However, many of the world’s developing countries still have sizable and rising child populations. In 2010 45.8% of Afghanistan’s population was composed of 0-14 year-olds. The child population in some developed countries is also rising, for instance, in the USA, numbers grew by 0.3% between 2000 and 2010 on average per year;
  • The overall downturn in the child population globally has meant smaller household sizes and greater consumer expenditure per child, which has created more allowance for discretionary spending on non-essentials for children. This has important implications for businesses targeting parents of 0-14 year-olds;
  • Longer-term, a shrinking child population will feed through to smaller numbers of working-age people, which will make it more difficult for governments and companies to support retired consumers. The number of 65+ year-olds rose by an annual average 2.5% from 2000 and 2010 to account for 7.9% of the total population globally.
Global population by age group: 1980-2020
% of total population

Source: Euromonitor International from national statistics/UN.

Global and regional trends

  • The global child population has been declining due to falling family sizes: globally, birth rates were 19.6 per 1,000 people in 2010 compared to 21.8 in 2000, while the fertility rate (the average number of children per woman) was 3.0 in 2010 compared to 3.4 in 2000;
  • The fertility rate required for natural population replacement is 2.1, meaning that the global average is still higher than this level. However, in 2010 in Japan, which has the world’s oldest population, fertility rates were 1.3 children per woman;
  • 79.5% of the world’s children aged 0-14 are located in Asia Pacific or the Middle East and Africa region in 2010, where countries tend to have the highest child population growth rates. Even here there was a sharp fall in fertility rates between 2000 and 2010, from 2.9 to 2.5 in Asia Pacific and in the Middle East and Africa region from 5.3 to 4.6;
  • Many Eastern European countries have amongst the most rapidly declining child populations in the world. Between 2000 and 2010 the number of 0-14 year-olds fell by an annual average of 4.8% in Moldova and by 3.6% in Lithuania. The trend is more accentuated in this region due to the transition from communism in the 1990s and 2000s, which saw much lower fertility rates amidst a sharp economic downturn;
  • The Middle East and Africa are seeing the most rapid increases in those aged 0-14. For instance growth in Qatar and Bahrain was 6.6% and 6.4% respectively on average per year over 2000-2010, although the small size of these countries makes them special cases. Many African countries had very high child population growth in the same period, especially Niger (4.0% per year), Sierra Leone (3.6% annually);
  • In China the child population fell by 3.0% on average annually over the decade, largely thanks to the one-child per family policy, introduced in the 1970s, which has aimed to limit overall population growth. China has the second-largest largest child population in the world, at 218.4 million in 2010, after India at 365.5 million;
  • Some developed countries, despite ageing populations, also have child populations growing above the global average. For instance the 0-14 year-old population in the USA rose by an annual average of 0.3% between 2000 and 2010, particularly due to immigration.

Household consumption impact

  • Although the number of children is falling globally, the number of households continues to rise and households have fewer children. The average number of children per household globally has fallen from 1.9 in 1980 to 1.2 in 2010, whilst the number of households has risen by an annual average of 2.1% over the same period;
  • This essentially means that many families will have greater spending power for non-essentials on a smaller number of children, particularly in developed markets. This may benefit companies in leisure and entertainment, or other products and services aimed at 0-14 year-olds;
  • Households with children generally have to allocate more of their income to spending on essential goods and services. For instance, couples with children in Egypt spent 40.3% of their annual expenditure on food and non-alcoholic beverages in 2007 (latest year available), whilst couples without children spent 27.6% on this category;
  • This has a clear impact on market size and opportunities for companies targeting populations that have a large proportion of households with children. These often tend to be in the developing world: for instance in 2009, 50.2% of households in Asia Pacific were composed of couples with children. The pattern is not always clear, and many countries have specific policies (most obviously China) which should be taken into account;
Households by type in selected regions: 2009
% of total households
Source: Euromonitor International from national statistical offices.
  • Nonetheless, per capita spending power in developing countries will limit the market for non-essential goods and services. Total consumer expenditure per household in India was US$3,259 in 2009 compared to US$82,907 in the USA.

Government policies

Many governments are implementing policies on child population:

  • In some countries, governments are actively seeking to reduce birth rates to avoid pressure on resources. The most obvious example of this is China, the most populated country in the world, whose “one child per family” policy was introduced in the 1970s and has reduced birth rates from 18.2 per 1,000 people in 1980 to 11.8 in 2010, and the proportion of 0-14 year olds from 35.5% of the population to 16.3% over the same period;
  • Other countries with high child population growth, for example in sub-Saharan Africa also have campaigns to reduce birth rates, for instance by promoting the use of contraception and encouraging women to stay in education;
  • Many developed nations with declining child populations are attempting to encourage higher birth rates. For example, Australia offers a cash payment and other social security incentives for every child born, while European countries including France and Italy offer incentives for couples that have children. These efforts are aimed at offsetting a declining population;
  • The impact of the 2008-2009 global economic recession may discourage couples from having children, at a time of economic and employment uncertainty, whilst reductions in child benefits in some countries such as Spain or Greece may also restrict birth rates. In parallel, many governments in the developed world are seeking to raise retirement rates in order to keep people in the labour force, to reduce pension deficits. The old-age dependency ratio (the proportion of 65+ year-olds to the total population) was 12.0% worldwide in 2010 but much higher in countries such as Japan (36.2%) and Germany (31.2%).


By 2020, the number of 0-14 year-olds is forecast to comprise 24.5% of the total world population down from 26.2% in 2010, with an extra 59.9 million children. Nonetheless many developing countries will continue to have high child population growth that will put strain on key resources. It may also delay attempts to reduce poverty rates.

By 2020, worldwide average fertility rates are forecast to fall to 2.7 compared with 3.0 in 2010. In 2020 the Middle East and Africa will have the largest proportion of 0-14 year-olds compared to the total population at 36.6%.

The variations in child population trends means that companies will need to take specific approaches to individual countries in terms of identifying market sizes and potential. On the whole, the largest increases in the child population will be in the Middle East/Africa (1.5% annual average growth in 2010-2020), whilst in Western Europe and Asia Pacific it will shrink by 0.1% per year.