Family Planning & Reproductive Health

Benefits and cost-saving effects of family planning

Addressing unmet need for modern contraception is critical for women’s health and rights; it’s a highly cost-effective investment that can drive progress towards many development priorities.


Unmet need for contraception

An estimated 225 million women in developing countries have an unmet need for modern contraception. These are women of reproductive age who are sexually active and wish to avoid pregnancy but are not using a modern contraceptive method.1

This figure has increased from 222 million women with an unmet need in 2012 to 225 million women in 2014, due to increased demand resulting from both population growth and increases in women’s desire to avoid pregnancy.1

This violates the right of women and men to ‘decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing and timing of their children.2 It contributes significantly to unsustainable population growth in many areas of the global South, undermining poverty alleviation and exacerbating many other pressing sustainable development issues. 

Links between population growth and unmet need for contraception

The rapid growth of the world’s population that has taken place over recent decades is unprecedented and is receiving increasing recognition by the international development agenda:3

The world’s population of 7.2 billion in 2014 is projected to reach 9.6 billion by 2050, and to exceed 10.9 billion by the end of the century.

The majority of world population increase is projected to take place in the world’s poorest countries, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa and parts of Asia.4

Countries with high fertility and population growth rates tend to have high unmet need for modern contraception:

  • Women with an unmet need for modern contraception make up 28% of those who want to avoid pregnancy but account for 81% of all unintended pregnancies in developing countries.1
  • Worldwide 40% of all pregnancies are unintended.4

Far-reaching benefits

Fulfilling the unmet need for modern contraception in developing countries would each year:1

  • Save the lives of 70,000 women from pregnancy-related deaths (in addition to the 100,000 averted by current modern contraceptive use)
  • Save the lives of 500,000 newborns (in addition to the 1.1 million newborn deaths averted by current modern contraceptive use)
  • Avert 52 million unintended pregnancies (a decline by two-thirds)
  • Avert 24 million abortions

Reducing population growth by preventing unplanned pregnancies reduces the costs of meeting key development priorities, including: maternal and newborn health, gender equality, elimination of poverty and hunger, education, HIV/AIDS, environmental sustainability, climate change and political instability.5,6,7

For every dollar spent in family planning, it is estimated that up to 6 US dollars can be saved in interventions aimed at achieving other development goals.7

Inadequacy of current funding for family planning

International investment is grossly insufficient to meet the worldwide need for voluntary family planning programmes, which should be delivered as part of comprehensive sexual and reproductive health programmes that protect and respect rights.

Since the mid-to-late 1990s, donor assistance dedicated specifically to family planning has decreased dramatically in absolute terms, from US$653 million in absolute US dollar amounts in 1997 to US$394 in 2006.8

It is estimated that fulfilling the unmet need for modern contraception requires more than doubling the current global investment in contraceptive care from US$4.1 billion to $9.4 billion annually.1

The additional investment of US$5.3 billion would save roughly US$ 7.8 billion in maternal and child health service costs1

In other words, investments in family planning help offset the cost of improving maternal and newborn health care for all women, as well as having wider sustainable development benefits.

References and further information

Read the fact sheet: Investment in Voluntary Family Planning Programmes: Benefits and cost-saving effects.

  1. Singh, S., Darroch, J.E.,and Ashford, L.S. (2014) Adding It Up: The Costs and Benefits of Investing in Sexual and Reproductive Health 2014. New York: Guttmacher Institute  and United Nations Population Fund.
  2. UN DPI (1995) ICPD Programme of Action. United Nations Department of Public Information. New York: UN
  3. UN Population Division (2013) World Population Prospects: The 2012 Revision. New York: UN.
  4. Singh, S., Sedgh, G., and Hussain, R. (2010) Unintended Pregnancy: Worldwide Levels, Trends and Outcomes. Studies in Family Planning .41, 4, 241-250.
  5. Cleland, J., et al. (2006) Family planning: the unfinished agenda. The Lancet, 368, 18, 1810-1827.
  6. Canning, D., and Schultz, T. P. (2012) The economic consequences of reproductive health and family planning. The Lancet, 380, 165-171.
  7. Moreland, S. & Talbird, S (2006). Achieving the Millennium Development Goals: The contribution of fulfilling the unmet need for family planning. Washington D. C: USAID.
  8. Guttmacher Institute (2010) Facts on Investing in Family Planning and Maternal and Newborn Health. New York: Guttmacher Institute and United Nations Population Fund.