Fertility Falling Faster Than Expected in Developing Countries

U.N. Corrects Its Demographic Projections

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NEW YORK, MARCH 12, 2002 (Zenit.org).- In India in 2100 there will be 600 million fewer people than estimated, and that country is not an exception, says a U.N. agency.

Through Thursday, the Population Division of the U.N. Department of Economic and Social Affairs has gathered a group of experts here to discuss the subject «The Fertility Transition: A Preliminary Study by John Caldwell,» which reveals some demographic surprises.

The rate of fertility in developing countries is declining much more rapidly than anticipated — from six children per woman in 1960 to about three now — to the point that the United Nations has had to revise its growth estimates.

If in 1999 the average U.N. projection anticipated a total of 9.3 billion people for 2050, the latest estimates now reduce this expectation by at least half a billion.

«The next half-century will see almost as many people added to the world´s population as the last half-century and, thereafter, there may be 1 or 2 billion more people before growth comes to a halt,» the study explains. «Global fertility decline is believed to have traversed over four-fifths of the journey from a total fertility rate of 5.0 in 1950 to 2.1 in 2050.»

«Fertility decline was persistent in relatively well-off and educated Latin America and in rapidly economically developing parts of East and Southeast Asia,» Caldwell reports.

However, the U.N. report states that there «are 20 countries in sub-Saharan Africa where women still have six or more children and there is little sign of fertility decline. These 20 countries average an infant mortality rate of over 150 per thousand, a life expectancy of 45 years, and a per capita gross national income in purchasing power parity of a little over US$850 (1999).»

Perhaps, more significantly, the author reports, only half their girls of primary school age are in school as are one-third of those of secondary school age.

«Compared with African countries like Ghana, Kenya and South Africa, where there have been marked falls in fertility, their infant mortality rates are two to three times higher, their income levels lower, and their girls´ secondary school enrollment level half,» the report continues.

«Education, especially that of girls, is a key element of development and, therefore, of the decline in fertility,» the study shows.

In this connection, a study by the New York Times education expert, Edward Fiske, «Basic Education: Building Blocks for Global Development,» shows how every year of education after the third of primary school can lead to a 20% increase in income, a 10% decline in infant mortality, and a 10% decline in births.

Urbanization is another important element to explain the rapid decline of fertility.

«Except in a few, mostly South African countries, the African fertility decline is largely an urban phenomenon, since the nature of families, the occupations of adults, and the roles of children and expectations for them are very different in the towns from those in the countryside,» Caldwell reports.

These data demonstrate that development precedes the decline of fertility and not the contrary, as opposed to what some delegations said at the 1994 U.N. Cairo Conference.

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