Fertility can refer to the ability of soil to sustain plant growth, or it can refer to the number of live births occurring in a population.


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The word "fertility" can mean a few things. It has to do with life, or being able to create life.

For example, soil can be fertile. Plants grow better in soil that is fertile. The word fertility can also apply to people. In this case, fertility means the number of kids that are born.

Fertile Soil

Fertile soil contains large amounts of nutrients. These nutrients help keep plants healthy.

Fertilizers can be added to soil to make it more fertile. Fertilizers contain nutrients, like phosphorous, nitrogen, and potassium. Many fertilizers are made in labs. Other fertilizers come from nature. For example, compost is a natural fertilizer. It comes from plants and other natural materials. Animal droppings are also very good fertilizers. In this case, they are called manure. Cow manure is often used in fields.

Soil can become less fertile, too. If farmers use the wrong technique, it might hurt the soil. Planting a single crop every year is one example. This can drain nutrients from the earth. Another example is overgrazing. Sometimes cows, goats, or sheep eat too much grass. This can stop new grass from growing.

Fertile soil is usually found around rivers. It is also found in places where glaciers used to be. These are large masses of ice on mountains and in valleys. During the last ice age, Earth was extremely cold and covered in glaciers. Then, more than 11,000 years ago, the Ice Age ended. The enormous glaciers melted and left behind certain minerals. These minerals made the ground fertile.

Human Fertility

Demographers are experts who study human populations. For them, fertility means something different. They study the general fertility rate. This is a number that shows how often certain groups have kids. It is the number of births each year for every 1,000 birthing people. Only women who are old enough to have children are counted.

Governments study the general fertility rate. They want to know if their population will grow, shrink, or stay the same. This tells them how much food or healthcare people will need, for example.

Fertility Rates Can Vary in Different Countries

South Korea is a wealthy nation in East Asia. The fertility rate there is about 1.2. This means that most women have one child. North Korea is its neighbor. It is a poorer country. The fertility rate there is nearly two. This means most women have two children.

Fertility rates are usually lower in rich countries. This happens for many reasons. Mothers and children in wealthy areas have more access to family planning. They have more power to choose when to have babies.

Women in wealthier nations get better education and jobs. At a young age, many women choose to go to school or get a job. Many decide not to have children. This lowers the fertility rate in wealthy nations.

Sometimes women give birth to more than two healthy babies. If this happens too much, a country's population can grow. This is called a population boom. A country with low fertility can lead to a lower population.

Some countries want to increase their fertility rate. Japan is one example. The country's population is shrinking. Other countries want to lower their fertility rate. The Chinese government wants enough education and jobs for all its citizens. It believes that having too many people means there are not enough opportunities for everyone. In the 1970s, China made families with more than one child pay a fee. This made the fertility rate in China go down. China ended those fines in 2016.

Fast Fact

Fertile Crescent
The Fertile Crescent is an area in the Middle East where many aspects of civilization, including agriculture and writing, were first practiced. The region stretches in an arc from the modern-day countries of Iraq and Kuwait on the Persian Gulf, up to the southern part of Turkey, down along the Mediterranean coast of Jordan and Israel, and ending in northern Egypt. The soil of the Fertile Crescent is extremely fertile, which allowed agricultural communities, and eventually cities and civilization, to develop.

Fast Fact

Fertility Gods
Soil fertility and human fertility were both extremely important to ancient people. Almost every ancient culture had a deity associated with fertility. The deity was worshipped and offered sacrifices in order to ensure a healthy crop and healthy children. Fertility deities can be gods, such as Kokopelli, the fertility deity of many cultures of the American Southwest. Fertility deities can also be goddesses, such as Hathor, who was worshipped in Kemet by the Indigenous people, the land now referred to as ancuent Egypt.

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Hilary Costa
Erin Sprout
Santani Teng
Melissa McDaniel
Jeff Hunt
Diane Boudreau
Tara Ramroop
Kim Rutledge
Hilary Hall
Mary Crooks, National Geographic Society
Tim Gunther
Jeannie Evers, Emdash Editing, Emdash Editing
Kara West
Educator Reviewer
Nancy Wynne
National Geographic Society
Last Updated

June 10, 2024

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