In most industrial nations, the average number of childbirths per woman has fallen below 2.1—the “replacement rate” at which population growth levels off. That may be good for a resource-strained planet. But for businesses and governments, it’s a looming challenge. One impact of declining fertility—a sinking ratio of working-age people to retiree—is already eroding social safety nets in the U.S., Europe, and Japan. Falling birth rates also threaten consumer-facing industries whose growth depends on ever-expanding pools of customers. To address the problem, we’ll need big gains in productivity and better immigration policy. Those solutions are anything but child’s play.
Chart source: OECD
A version of this article appears in the May 2019 issue of Fortune with the headline “Birth of a Quandary.”