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Birth rates in many developing countries are falling faster and to a lower level than was previously thought possible, according to demographers meeting at the United Nations (UN) in New York this week.

For decades, demographers have assumed that fertility rates in developing countries will eventually fall to replacement level — about two children per woman — and then stabilise at that level.

But now there are indications that women in countries such as Brazil, Egypt, India and Mexico are proving those predictions wrong by having fewer children despite continuing high levels of poverty and illiteracy.

The findings may prompt the UN to cut by one billion its current estimate that global population will reach 10 billion by the end of this century.

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