2. Decrease demand for large families

In addition to meeting unmet demand for contraception, decreasing the demand for large families is another important component for continued decreases in TFR. In many areas, the desire for large families is still prevalent. For example, a survey of 27 nations in Asia, Africa and Latin America in the late 1980's found no country with desired family size at or near two children. In sub-Saharan Africa, the average desired family size was six children! (Incidentally, men's desired family sizes were usually larger than women's.)

I haven't seen results from a more recent systematic survey, but the Population Reference Bureau in 2006 reported that, for Nigeria, only 4 % of married women with two children did not wish to have any more children (corresponding percentages for Cameroon 9; Jordan 14; Madagascar 26; Kenya 34; Phillipines 56; Bangladesh 68; Colombia 79; Romania 81; and Vietnam 92).

In the face of this continued demand for large families in many areas, it is not enough to provide contraception!

What steps could be taken to decrease this interest in having large numbers of children? (To review some factors that contribute to this desire for many children, click here .)

There is a strong relationship between the number of children a woman has and her level of education, age of first marriage, and age of first birth. Hence, one important step is to enhance educational opportunities for women, and their status, with the result that women realize that they can have roles in society in addition to their roles as mothers. The educational status of women in many nations is dismal: for example, as of 2004, over half of girls in subSaharan Africa did not finish their primary education (elementary school).

Thailand provides a clear example of the connection between education, especially of women, and rates of reproduction. Over the last 30 years, female literacy increased from a small percentage to 90%. Forty five percent of the labor force is now female. The average number of babies per woman (TFR) was 6 in the 1960s and as of mid-2013, it was only 1.6.

Across lesser developed nations of the world, women with at least secondary education typically have 1/3 to 1/2 the number of children as do women with no formal education. Examples:

An Honduran woman with at least a secondary education has 2.2 children, on average, while a woman with no formal education has 4.9. The ratio for Ethiopian women is even more extreme: 2.0 to 6.1! (PRB '07)

In addition, decreasing infant and child mortality is effective. With higher probabilities of children surviving, couples no longer feel that they need to have "extra" children because some are likely to die.

Improved social security programs, or other programs that provide care for people in old age also would diminish the need to have many children to support people late in their lives.

Another important step involves education about the connection between family size and resource availability. Traditionally, many nations (for example, in sub-Saharan Africa) have felt that the route to power is to have large populations, and that population growth was essential for economic development. However, increasingly it is being realized that more people simply means lower per capita availability of resources (natural resources, and governmental resources such as availability of education and health care). In addition, the connection between overpopulation and environmental degradation is becoming clearer and clearer. Hence, educational programs emphasizing that more people doesn't mean better, but rather that more means worse, are crucially important. Those programs that emphasize the connection between current population and resource depletion for future generations are particularly effective; people don't like the thought of leaving their children in a resource-depleted world!

(More examples of effective strategies for diminishing demand for large numbers of children are given in the section on patterns of change in TFR.)

(To move to the next section in these notes (on decreasing population momentum), click the box at the bottom of the page labeled ">>." To return to the previous section on meeting unmet demand for contraception, click the box labeled "<<" and to return to the master directory for the BI301 web site, click the box labeled "CONTENTS.")

Page maintained by Patricia Muir at Oregon State University. Last updated Nov. 15, 2013.