Journal Article

Human fertility after a disaster: a systematic literature review

Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 290:1998, 1–16 (2023)


Fertility is a key demographic parameter influenced by disaster. With the growing risk of disasters, interest in the fertility response to a disaster is increasing among the public, policy makers, and researchers alike. However, a systematic literature review on how disaster affects live birth counts does not yet exist. We reviewed 50 studies retrieved from a systematic search based on a pre-registered protocol. We found an overall negative impact of disasters on fertility. If any, increases in fertility were mostly linked with weather-related physical disasters. We also identified 13 distinct mechanisms which researchers have considered as underlying the fertility effects of disaster. In contrast to the common belief that disasters are more likely to increase fertility in contexts with already high fertility, we found little evidence to suggest that the total fertility rate of the studied populations was an important predictor of the direction, timing, or size of fertility impacts. While this may be because no relationship exists, it may also be due to biases we observed in the literature towards studying high-income countries or high-cost disasters. We summarise the methodological limitations identified from the reviewed studies into six practical recommendations for future research. Our findings inform both the theories behind and the methods for studying the fertility effects of disasters.

The Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (MPIDR) in Rostock is one of the leading demographic research centers in the world. It's part of the Max Planck Society, the internationally renowned German research society.