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The world is reaching a “watershed” where nearly half of its countries, including the UK, are in the midst of a “baby bust” with birth rates below levels needed to maintain population size, a major international report has found. The annual Global Burden of Disease Study, published in The Lancet, shows that 91 of 195 countries now have fertility rates below replacement level – currently 2.05 births on average for every woman.

The report, published on Thursday, also shows that in 2017 global life expectancy increases stalled, meaning migration will become ever more important to maintain population and economic growth.

In the UK, where life expectancy flat-lined last year for the first time on record,experts suggest this could further stoke the anti-immigration tensions that led to the 2016 vote to leave the EU.

It is also likely to exacerbate the “brain drain” from developing nations, with migrants already making up a disproportionate slice of the health and care workforce in the UK as it tries to look after its aging population.

“These statistics represent both a ‘baby boom’ for some nations and a ‘baby bust’ for others,” said Dr Christopher Murray, director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington, which led the international study.

The study shows that in 2017 the UK’s fertility rate stood at 1.7 births per woman. Of 104 nations still in baby boom there are 59 where birth rates are above three children per woman on average.

Countries in Africa and the Middle East, where women’s education and employment opportunities – key drivers of fertility reductions, along with infant mortality – account for 47 of the 59.

“We’re now getting to that watershed moment where half the countries in the world are below replacement level for births,” Dr Murray told The Independent.

“It’s very likely that will just continue for the foreseeable future, and the way high-income countries have been dealing with lower fertility is through migration. Read more

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