New study: Reasons women in developing nations who wish to avoid pregnancy are not using contraceptives

August 1, 2014

SOURCE: The Guttmacher Institute

A new study by the Guttmacher Institute reveals the most common reasons married women in developing nations give for not using a contraceptive method - despite wanting to avoid a pregnancy. More than 25% are concerned about side effects and health risks.



Credit: Pedro Szekely via Flickr

Women's unmet need for modern contraception

Increasing women’s access to modern contraceptive methods alone will not satisfy their unmet need for contraception, according to Reasons for Contraceptive Nonuse Among Women Having Unmet Need for Contraception in Developing Countries, a new study by Gilda Sedgh and Rubina Hussain of the Guttmacher Institute.

A new study by the Guttmacher Institute reveals the most common reasons married women in developing nations give for not using a contraceptive method - despite wanting to avoid a pregnancy. More than 25% are concerned about side effects and health risks.

The most common reasons married women give for not using a contraceptive method—despite wanting to avoid a pregnancy—have less to do with whether they can obtain contraceptives and much more to do with concerns about possible health risks and side effects or their belief that they don’t have sex frequently enough to warrant using a method.

Among married women who were not using contraceptives, on average 4-8% of those in Asia, Africa and Latin America attributed their non-use to lack of access. However, in a few countries, lack of access was a significant barrier.

This reason for nonuse was cited by 18–23% of women in Benin, Cameroon, Congo-Brazzaville, Côte d’Ivoire and Guinea, and by 17% of women in the Philippines (more than twice the proportion of women in any other Asian country).

The researchers found that 23–28% of married women in all three regions who had an unmet need for contraception said they were not using a method because they had experienced or were worried about side effects or health risks.

These concerns were especially prevalent in South-eastern Asia (36%) and Eastern Africa (32%). Concerns about side effects and health risks were significantly more common in countries with high levels of unmet need than in countries with the lowest levels of unmet need.

The study, which analysed data from the most recent Demographic and Health Surveys of 51 developing countries, found that approximately one-third of married women seeking to avoid pregnancy in Latin America and Asia and one-fifth of such women in Africa reported that infrequent sex was a primary reason for nonuse.

In Asia, nonuse for this reason is becoming more common and was especially prevalent in Nepal (73%) and Bangladesh (58%). The authors suggest that an increase in the number of couples who live apart because of labour migration might help explain this phenomenon.

Urgent need for accurate information and new technologies

“There is a pressing need to further strengthen family planning services to ensure that they provide women with counselling on their risk of pregnancy, with information on possible side effects and health risks of specific methods, and with a wide range of methods to choose from,” said Sedgh. “The findings also highlight the need for investment in new technologies that better address the concerns and needs of women—including methods with fewer side effects that are easily used by women who have sex infrequently.”

A substantial number of women across the developing world (an average of 14–19% in the three regions) reported that they were not using contraceptives because they had recently given birth or were breast-feeding.

Exclusive breast-feeding is considered an effective method of contraception if the woman has given birth within the last six months and has not resumed her menstrual cycle. However, in 43 of the countries studied, fewer than half of the women who cited breast-feeding as their reason for nonuse met these conditions.

“These findings come at a critical moment, as the international community and national governments increasingly recognise that meeting women’s contraceptive needs not only promotes their health and well-being, but also enhances gender equity, reduces poverty and strengthens societies,” said Susan Cohen, Acting Vice President for Public Policy at the Guttmacher Institute.

“The study provides key insights from women themselves that should guide future investments, policies and programs to enable more women to meet their childbearing goals and more countries to meet their development goals.”

Read the report: Reasons for Contraceptive Non-use among Women Having Unmet Need for Contraception in Developing Countries.

Read: Adding It Up: Costs and Benefits of Contraceptive Services—Estimates for 2012

This statement published by the Guttmacher Institute, has been reproduced by PSN. Minor changes, cuts and additions may have been made for the purpose of brevity and relevance.

PSDA responds to UN Sustainable Development Goals Proposal calling for a bolder Post-2015 agenda

July 26, 2014


PSN and other members of the Population and Sustainable Development Alliance (PSDA), have welcomed the outcome document and Sustainable Development Goals proposal by the UN Open Working Group, but say the final post-2015 development agenda; “must be bolder and go further.”


Open Working Group

The final session of the UN Open Working Group (OWG) on Sustainable Development Goals concluded on 19 July by adopting an outcome document outlining 17 goals and 169 targets to be considered by the UN General Assembly as part of the next stages in the process for developing a new international development agenda.

The Population and Sustainable Development Alliance (PSDA) has issued a response which in particular welcomes the importance placed on ensuring universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights and achieving gender equality and empowering women and girls.

Yet disappointment is expressed that; “the outcome document falls short by failing to respect, protect and fulfil sexual and reproductive health and rights in full, and by overlooking some of the other necessary ways to address population dynamics in ways that respect and protect human rights.”

SRHR and Gender Equality


  • inclusion of sexual and reproductive health commitments in both the goals on health and on gender equality and empowerment of women and girls,
  • health goal commitment to ‘by 2030 ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health care services, including for family planning, information and education, and the integration of reproductive health into national strategies and programmes,
  • a focus on maternal and child mortality,
  • targets on the elimination of violence against women and girls, child, early and forced marriage, and female genital mutilation,
  • a standalone goal on ‘achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls,
  • attempts at gender mainstreaming throughout other goals, including under education, water and sanitation, food security and nutrition and human settlements.


  • the gender goal commits to ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights, but does not recognise sexual rights, despite overwhelming support for SRHR by the majority of OWG members, as demonstrated by a joint statement at the final session on behalf of 58 member states,
  • lack of a timeframe for implementation of the above target,
  • no specific reference to comprehensive sexuality education.

Population dynamics

  • the sexual and reproductive health, education and gender-related targets are key priorities which will help positively influence population dynamics and address population, health and environment linkages,
  • recognition of the need for population-related data for the purpose of monitoring and accountability, including data disaggregated by income, gender, age, race, ethnicity, migratory status, disability, geographic location and other characteristics,
  • a focus on migration, including the need for data disaggregated by migratory status, recognition of the particular protection needs of migrants and especially women migrants with respect to safe and secure working environments, and other measures to address difficulties and discrimination faced by migrants,
  • some, albeit limited, focus on the needs and rights of both young and older people, of relevance to age structures and population ageing.


  • population data is not recognized as necessary for the planning and the formulation of development goals. PSDA stresses that goals, targets and indicators must be forward-looking and based on projected changes in population size, location and age structures,
  • a welcome goal on cities and human settlements with a focus on urbanization, but targets for enhancing sustainable urbanization and development planning fail to recognise the need for systematic use of population data, trends and projections for planning purposes,
  • omission of targets for universal death and marriage registration, necessary for improved population data, only birth registration.

Looking to Post-2015

The next step is for the OWG proposal to be submitted to the UN General Assembly ‘for consideration and appropriate action as mandated at the Rio+20 2012 UN Conference on Sustainable Development. A report by the UN Secretary General, considering not only the OWG proposal but other post-2015 inputs, will follow and then intergovernmental negotiations.

The Open Working Groups proposals for Sustainable Development Goals represent a positive step in the right direction, but in integrating the SDGs into the final Post-2015 development agenda PSDA calls on the UN Secretary General and the General Assembly to be bolder and go further.

To ensure a truly transformative and sustainable international development agenda there must be a comprehensive focus on population dynamics and full respect, protection and fulfilment of sexual and reproductive health and rights.

Read the PSDA response for full analysis and reactions on population dynamics and SRHR in the proposal, as well as PSDAs recommendations for advancing population dynamics in ways that respect and protect human rights.

Food, population and the post-2015 development agenda

July 23, 2014

SOURCE: The Population Institute

The Population Institute has published an article on the Devex website explaining how meeting the growing demand for food may be the worlds single greatest challenge, and how a solution cannot be found until global population growth and consumption patterns are addressed.

Credit: Eustaquio Santimano via Flickr

Complex global challenge

Meeting the growing demand for food may be the world’s single greatest challenge, but it is part of a much larger complex of problems, all relating to the overuse of our planet and, ultimately, to the larger challenge posed by population growth.

Addressing that challenge is both a moral and a global imperative.

That’s why earlier this month, the Population Institute unveiled Population by the Numbers, a series of compelling factoids focusing on population and its implications for economic and human development.

As the United Nations prepares for its General Assembly in September, many questions remain about the new global development agenda that is emerging from high-level negotiations among world leaders.

For the past 14 years, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) have played a leading role in shaping the international development agenda. But the MDGs expire at the end of next year and progress toward a post-2015 agenda has been kept tightly under wraps.

For the past two years, work on the post-2015 development agenda has proceeded on two parallel tracks, one focused on an extension of the MDGs in some form and the other on a set of sustainable development goals that are meant to be global.

A common expectation has always been that the two tracks would converge at some point. That hope is now crystalising, and it appears increasingly likely that the United Nations will meld the two processes together in the course of the next year.

A sustainable future for all

Convergence, of course, makes eminent sense. What lasting good is development if it’s not sustainable? And there are plenty of reasons to question whether the current development path is sustainable.

The warning signs are all around us. Greenhouse gas emissions are rising relentlessly even as the indicators of climate change become more pronounced. Water tables in many areas are falling while rivers and lakes are shrinking. Deserts in Asia and Africa are expanding while tropical forests in Southeast Asia are being chopped down to accommodate the world’s demand for hardwoods and palm oil.

Food security is a growing concern as the number of chronically hungry in Africa shows no real sign of abating and food prices persist near historical peaks. Commodity prices for energy, metals and minerals remain stubbornly high as demand for resources and the costs of extraction continue to rise.

Ocean fisheries are still collapsing and the very chemistry of the oceans themselves is changing. And, despite international efforts, the rate of biodiversity loss remains high, and scientists now warn of a Sixth Mass Extinction.

If sustainability is the great unmet challenge of the 21st century, and it certainly appears so, we must renew the international community’s commitment to universal access to family planning and reproductive health services, as presently enshrined in MDG 5b.

If the gains made in meeting the other MDG targets are to be preserved and built upon, girls and women must be able, free from coercion, to space and limit their pregnancies. That requires more than improved access to contraceptives; we must also dismantle the informational and cultural barriers to reproductive choice, including misinformation about the dangers of contraceptive use, and male and religious opposition to family planning.

Reproductive health and rights: a global imperative

On July 11, the world observed the 25th anniversary of World Population Day. In the past quarter century, the world’s fertility rate has fallen from 3.3 children per woman to 2.5 children, but the world population during that same period increased by 2 billion, and, if fertility rates were to remain constant, world population would grow from 7.2 billion today to an estimated 27 billion by the end of the century.

Fortunately, demographers believe that fertility rates will continue to fall. The general consensus is that world population will rise to about 9.5 billion by mid-century and to about 11 billion by the end of the century.

Even that projected growth path, however, is not sustainable. The Global Footprint Network estimates that we are already overusing the world’s renewable resources by 50 percent and that by 2030, we will need two Earths to sustain us in the long haul.

Continued progress in eliminating severe poverty and hunger will be in severe jeopardy unless we also pay more attention to resource constraints, biophysical capacity and planetary limits.

As part of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), every country should undertake a realistic assessment of the growing demand for, and the shrinking availability of, resources such as water, arable land and forests. Just as no one would think of driving a car or flying a plane without a fuel gauge, national planners need to have a clearer understanding of the physical limits to growth.

In the past half century, numerous countries cashed in their “demographic dividend” and prospered as smaller families boosted private savings and improved the worker/dependency ratio. Now, taking into account resource scarcity and the effects of climate change, the benefits of smaller families are greater than ever. Family planning improves the health, wellbeing and resilience of families, their communities and their countries.

Looking ahead, there are many development challenges, but ensuring that women can space or limit their pregnancies is not just a moral imperative, it’s a global imperative.

Read more about the Population Institute’s resource: Population by the Numbers.

This statement by the Population Institute, published by Devex, has been reproduced by PSN. Minor changes, cuts and additions may have been made for the purpose of brevity and relevance. 

World Population Day: UN spotlights the need to invest in young people

July 11, 2014


A statement by Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, UNFPA Executive Director, marks World Population Day today by spotlighting the need to invest in young people so they can exercise their human rights and help break the cycle of intergenerational poverty across the world.


Credit: UN Photo

Reaping the demographic dividend

Today’s 1.8 billion young people are a powerful force, individually and collectively. They are shaping social and economic realities, challenging norms and values and building the foundation of the world’s future.

Governments and the international community are increasingly conscious of the importance of providing resources and opportunities for all young people to reach their full potential as individuals and citizens.

They recognise that investing in young people and enabling them to exercise their human rights not only benefits young people themselves, but can also help their countries reap a demographic dividend.

Healthy, educated, productive and fully engaged young people can help break the cycle of intergenerational poverty and are more resilient in the face of individual and societal challenges. As skilled and informed citizens, they can contribute more fully to their communities and nations.

For millions of young people around the world, puberty – the biological onset of adolescence – brings not only changes to their bodies, but also new vulnerabilities to human rights abuses, particularly in the areas of sexuality, marriage and childbearing.

Millions of girls are coerced into unwanted sex or marriage, increasing the risks of unwanted pregnancies, unsafe abortions and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, as well as death or disability due to childbirth.

Investment Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights is critical

This is why young people, especially adolescent girls, are at the heart of our work at UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund. Working with a multitude of partners, in particular young people themselves, UNFPA is advocating policies and programmes that invest in adolescents and youth and foster a positive environment for them; promoting their access to comprehensive sexuality education as well as quality sexual and reproductive health services, including family planning; and facilitating their leadership and participation.

UNFPA are doing this with an emphasis on reaching the poorest, most marginalised and underserved adolescent girls.
Through this multipronged effort, UNFPA and their partners are seeing how critical early investments in sexual and reproductive health can enhance the lives of young people and the welfare of their societies.

A sustainable future depends on having resilient populations, which cannot be achieved without investments in young people. They not only form a large proportion of the world’s population and deserve their fair share as a matter of equity, but are also in a critical stage of their lifecycle that will determine their future – and thus those of their families, communities, and societies.

“On this World Population Day”, explains Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, “I commit UNFPA’s full support to all efforts to promote young people’s aspirations and to place young people at the very heart of national and global development efforts.”

Read more more about World Population Day.

This statement, published by the UNFPA, has been reproduced by PSN. Minor changes, cuts and additions may have been made for the purpose of brevity and relevance.  

Fact sheet update: Population and climate change

July 8, 2014


PSN has updated the Population and Climate Change Fact Sheet with the latest data from the Fifth Assessment Report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. It shows the clear links between population and climate change and provides priorities for action.


Credit: Ingmar Zahorsky via Flickr

The recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report on climate change concluded that the effects of climate change can already be felt – melting sea ice and thawing permafrost in the Arctic, killing off coral reefs in the oceans, and leading to heat waves, heavy rains and mega disasters.

The report explains that these effects will have direct impacts on humans across the globe: affecting the availability of resources; coastal systems and low-lying areas; human health; and human security. It concludes that climate change poses a real threat to life, global food stocks, and livelihoods, and warns that countries are ill-prepared for the risks. “The one message that comes out of this [report] is the world has to adapt and the world has to mitigate…nobody on this planet is going to be untouched by the impacts of climate change,” said Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the IPCC.

The fact sheet presents key statistics and analysis on the following links and issues:

  • An overview of world population growth and projections
  • Climate change impacts and forecasts
  • Population and climate change links
  • An explanation of the complex, controversial and critical nature of population and climate change linkages
  • Priorities for action

Read the fact sheet

A major strategic threat: how the Ministry of Defence sees climate change

July 3, 2014

SOURCE: The Carbon Brief

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) Global Strategic Trends programme has issued an updated report on the threats and opportunities for world peace and security between now and 2045.

Credit: UN Photo via Flickr

All-encompassing impacts

Climate change is one of several megatrends considered by the report, with demography, the environment and gender being among the other 12 overarching themes. However, climate change features heavily in the MoD’s analysis, with almost every section of its report making reference to climate change impacts.

The report claims that climate change will affect every region of the world through impacts like rising sea levels, drought and food shortages.

The MoD Global Strategic Trends programme gives a brief run-down of what is expected to happen as our climate changes over the next 30 years.

The much-discussed global warming "pause" is nothing special, it says. Periods of slow-down and speed-up in surface temperature increases have happened before and are likely to happen again, as excess heat energy is absorbed or pumped out by the ocean.

Some climate impacts are inevitable even if emissions stopped tomorrow, the MoD notes, because of inertia in the climate system. That means temperatures in 2045 are likely to have increased by 1.4 degrees above late 20th century averages, for instance. And sea levels are likely to rise by between 32 and 38 centimetres by 2050.

Despite climate inertia the MoD thinks cutting emissions is likely to be the most important way to manage climate change in future.

Flooding, food prices and migration

The MoD thinks coastal flooding, climate-driven migration and rising food prices due to drought and water stress will be some of the most significant impacts of climate change over the next 30 years.

There are already between 270 and 310 million people at risk of coastal flooding. Without adaptation to climate-driven sea level rise this could increase by more than a third, the MoD says. The risks are being amplified by rapid urbanisation and the location of many Asian mega-cities in coastal areas.

The most dramatic impacts of sea level rise will be felt in small island states. This week the Pacific islanders of Kiribati bought land in Fiji to insure themselves against rising sea levels. "By 2045, a growing number of low-lying islands could be at risk of near total submersion - displacing entire communities", the MoD says.

Climate change is one of the factors that will drive an estimated 96 million people to migrate between 2010 and 2050.
"Migration is likely to increase, with people moving within, and outside, their country of origin to seek work or to escape the effects of climate change. Climate change is likely to drive some people from areas that are particularly badly affected, although not everyone who wishes to leave is likely to be able to do so."

The MoD points out that developing countries will probably feel the effects of climate change most acutely and will be least able to spend money adapting to its consequences. The money needed for humanitarian aid is expected to soar by 1,600 per cent over the next 20 years, "in large part due to the effects of climate change", the MoD says.

Another factor driving migrations will be drought, heat stress, desertification and the consequent impact on food production. Droughts and heatwaves are likely to increase in frequency and duration, the MoD says. The impacts of climate change on crop yields are complicated but will be negative on average across the world.

Catastrophic climate change

One particularly stark scenario considered by the MoD would see worse-than-expected "catastrophic climate change" after only limited action to reduce emissions. This isn't a prediction - it's a low probability outcome that the MoD thinks needs consideration because of the potentially high impacts.

This scenario would see temperature rises leading to long heat waves in temperate zones like Europe, sustained droughts contributing to repeated harvest failures and severe food shortages. This could lead to "sudden mass migration" across national borders and "widespread social unrest".

Despite the report having a rather “gloomy outlook”, the MoD says they believe that “policy-makers can have a significant impact on the future, and hence there are considerable grounds for optimism”.

This article, published by The Carbon Brief, has been reproduced by PSN. Minor changes, cuts and additions may have been made for the purpose of brevity and relevance.

PSN welcomes Population Foundation of India into network

June 30, 2014


PSN is pleased to announce that Population Foundation of India (PFI) has joined the network. Since 1970, PFI has been leading policy advocacy efforts and working as a think tank on population issues in India.



Credit: PFI

Leading the way on rights-based population policy 

Population Foundation of India (PFI), based in New Delhi, brings together professionals from government, civil society, academia and the media from across India to discuss and debate issues related to family planning, maternal health, gender-based violence, community monitoring, and urban health. 

PFI is leading on the formulation of gender sensitive population, health and development policies and planning. Its main focus is Reproductive and Child Health, Family Planning, Adolescent Reproductive and Sexual Health, Community Action for Health and Urban Health programmes, reaching out to the underserved and most in need areas of the country through NGO partners.

Giving a voice to women across India

PFI is leading on the formulation of gender sensitive population, health and development policies and planning. Its main focus is Reproductive and Child Health, Family Planning, Adolescent Reproductive and Sexual Health, Community Action for Health and Urban Health programmes, reaching out to the underserved and most in need areas of the country through NGO partners.

On the 8th of March this year, PFI launched its multimedia educational TV series, Main Kuch Bhi Kar Sakti Hoon (MKBKSH), “I, a woman, can achieve anything”. This programme aims to influence and ultimately change behaviours related to gender equality. 

MKBKSHs goal is to raise awareness of a number of issues facing women in India, including early marriage and early pregnancy, to ultimately increase spacing between births and improve health-seeking behaviours of women and adolescents. According to Doordarshans data, 15 million people have watched the TV series so far; MKBKSH also has a very active Integrated Voice Response System (IVRS), a call-back number, where viewers can engage with the series and share their stories, giving a voice to those affected by the issues represented in the show. 

So far, it has received more than 200,000 calls in an overwhelming response from all over the country; recordings are uploaded on its website for viewers to access in their own time.PSN is proud to welcome PFI into our network and hopes that together we can help to raise the profile of important issues affecting the health women and adolescents across the world.

Read more about PFI's work in India on its website.

Learn more about PFI's groundbreaking series, MKBKSH, on its website.

Watch episodes of the TV series on its YouTube channel. 

PSN calls on reproductive health community to embrace 'population'?

June 18, 2014


A PSN article has been published in the latest edition of the Reproductive Health Matters journal, calling for greater collaboration between SRHR activists and sustainable development advocates in order to advance shared goals in the post-2015 international development agenda. 

Reproductive Health Matters cover

Finding common ground

The latest edition of the biannual Reproductive Health Matters (RHM) journal focuses on the theme of Population, Environment and Sustainable Development. PSN's Karen Newman and Sarah Fisher, along with PSN board members Susannah Mayhew and Judith Stephenson, co-authored the article in the journal entitled, Population, sexual and reproductive health, rights and sustainable development: forging a common agenda.

The article argues that the sustainable development agenda must address population dynamics, and that the sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) and sustainable development communities must work together in order to bring population, as well as SRHR issues, to the negotiating table successfully.

Otherwise, there is a very real risk that these issues will either be omitted, which would threaten the sustainability of whatever agenda emerges from the current negotiations, or, in the absence of leadership from sexual and reproductive health and rights advocates that the population dynamics discourse would be driven by those for whom respecting and protecting rights may be less of a priority.

SRHR advocates “must find a common language that will help to explain why and how SRHR are relevant for other development priorities, including environmental issues, climate change, and food and water security”, the article argues, which is critical for ensuring the explicit inclusion of SRHR in the post-2015 agenda. 

Caring about population and rights

Providing historical context to the role of population dynamics within international policy discourse, the article highlights some of the factors contributing to the resistance of some SRHR activists to discussing ‘population in general; a resistance which the authors argue must be overcome. Tackling what can be a common misconception, the article asserts that caring about human rights is compatible with caring about population dynamics, and issues a stark warning that if SRHR advocates do not engage with the population dynamics debate, it “may have the effect of leaving the leadership of the population dynamics discourse to others less aware or motivated by the need to respect and protect human rights.”

Three core strategies are put forward for creating a shared agenda between the SRHR and sustainable development communities:

1. Leading on the global understanding of population issues

  • The SRHR community must overcome its resistance to “population”, and seize the opportunities offered by current interest in population dynamics to increase focus and funding for SRHR programmes, and to lead efforts to ensure that these issues are prioritised in the post-2015 development framework. Improving demographic literacy to ensure that everyone understands demographic terms, trends and analysis, and their importance for sustainable development planning would be a critical first step towards engaging positively in the debate.

2. Asserting a cross-sectoral global perspective on sustainable development that includes sexual and reproductive rights

  • SRHR activists should make common cause with mainstream development advocates and highlighting the ways that a focus on population dynamics and SRHR can advance wider development priorities, including climate change, food and water security, fragile states, and poverty elimination.
  • Emphasising the cost-saving benefits of addressing unmet need for sexual and reproductive health and family planning for other sectors could help to persuade these sectors and governmental ministries and departments of the value of investing in and upholding SRHR.

3. Forming new and wider partnerships

  • SRHR should form new partnerships to influence global movements, effectively engage with the UN and work across sectors to advance SRHR as part of wider development priorities. This includes working in partnership with civil society organisations focused on development and environmental issues, and forging stronger links with womens groups.
  • We can look to developing countries where the links between population dynamics and SRHR, and new partnerships and models of integrating these issues are already being made, evident from integrated Population, Health, and Environment programmes combining reproductive health and other development interventions with conservation work.

Read the abstract and other RHM articles from this edition on RHM's website.

Read the full article: Population, sexual and reproductive health, rights and sustainable development: forging a common agenda.

Why shrinking populations may not be such a bad thing

June 6, 2014

SOURCE: The Economist

An article in the Economist has outlined global fertility rates and policies, and discusses whether replacement level fertility level is the ideal with respect to dependency ratios, claiming that demographers should also be taking education into account.

why population

Credit: Charlotte Kesl/World Bank Photo Collection via Flickr

Global fertility rates

Father, mother and two children: surely the perfect family size. For those concerned, it is neither too big nor too small. For the national economy, it ensures that two new workers will replace the parents in the labour force. And eventually the children will have children of their own and keep the population stable.

For that happy state to be achieved, the “total fertility rate” (a measure used by demographers for the number of children a woman is likely to have during her childbearing years) needs to be above two: around 2.1 in the rich world and more in poorer countries, because some children, particularly in the developing world, die before adulthood.

For many years the United Nations’ population forecasts —the gold standard in the demography business—have assumed that, in the long run, fertility the world over would converge on the replacement level and populations would stabilise.

But fertility rates everywhere have been declining for decades. Even in Africa, where large families are still the norm, the number of children per woman in 2010-15 is forecast to fall to 4.7, compared with 5.7 in 1990-95. Global average fertility is already down to about 2.5.

In a growing number of countries the fertility rate has now fallen below replacement level. In China it is around 1.5 (though official figures put it slightly higher) because of the one-child policy in force since the 1970s, which has also distorted the balance between boys and girls.

For Europe as a whole it is 1.6, and well below that in several southern and eastern countries. In Japan fertility has been declining for decades, to 1.4 now, and the population is already shrinking.

South Korea, at 1.3, has the lowest rate of any big country. Numbers are also slipping below replacement level in less wealthy South-East Asia. Quite soon half the world’s people will live in countries where the population is no longer reproducing itself.

Predicting dependency ratios

This worries governments, because fewer babies mean fewer workers later on, and as people are living longer, they will have to support a growing number of pensioners. Many are trying to persuade couples to be more fruitful.

The UN reckons that last year two-thirds of the countries in more developed regions had policies to raise fertility, compared with one-third in 1996. Most are in Europe, but in Asia too, such measures are on the rise. They range from tax incentives and child benefits to better child-care provision and making it easier for women both to have children and to work.

In some places such policies seem to have had some impact: France and the Nordic countries, which have long had them, have near-replacement fertility levels as well as lots of mothers who hold down jobs. But Germany combines generous maternity leave with one of the lowest fertility levels in Europe (1.4), and its population is dropping.

But is a fertility rate at replacement level the right target? In a recent study Erich Striessnig and Wolfgang Lutz, of the Vienna University of Economics and Business and the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Laxenburg, Austria, argue that in predicting dependency ratios (the number of children and pensioners compared with people of working age), education should also be taken into account. And that makes optimal rates much lower than previously thought.

Taking account of education levels

Not everyone of working age contributes equally to supporting the dependent population. Better-educated people are more productive and healthier, retire later and live longer.

Education levels in most places have been rising and are likely to continue to do so. Using projections by age, sex and level of education for 195 countries, the demographers conclude that the highest welfare would follow from long-term fertility rates of 1.5-1.8. That excludes the effects of migration: for countries with many immigrants, the figure would be lower.

Educating more people to a higher level will be expensive, both because of the direct costs and because the better-educated start work later. But they will contribute more to the economy throughout their working lives and retire later, so the investment will pay off. Moreover, fewer people will help limit future climate change.

This article, published by The Economist, has been reproduced by PSN. Minor changes, cuts and additions may have been made for the purpose of brevity and relevance.

PSN welcomes Friends of the Earth into network

June 3, 2014


PSN is happy to announce that Friends of the Earth (England, Wales & Northern Ireland) has joined the network! For over 40 years Friends of the Earth has been at the forefront of the environmental movement – helping people to see that the future of humanity and the future of the planet are one and the same. 


Credit: Friends of the Earth

Friends of the Earth is one of the world’s most extensive and influential environmental organisations. For many years it has had a voice on the international stage – getting action on climate change, slowing destruction of tropical forests, and exposing the impact of oil and gas drilling, to name but a few.

PSN was pleased to join forces with Friends of the Earth last year when we collaborated on the briefing, Global population, consumption, and rights, along with network member MSI.

It’s unfortunately not all that common for an environmental organisation to take such an open and active interest in population and sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) issues, so we are therefore particularly delighted to welcome Friends of the Earth as a new member.

We look forward to exploring more ways that we can work together to advance joint aims and to raise awareness of the links between population, SRHR and the environment.

Read the briefing: Global population, consumption, and rights.