Today, more than 200 million women worldwide would like to avoid pregnancy but do not use an effective method of contraception. They face many obstacles: lack of access to information and services, opposition from their husbands and communities, side effects, and the cost of modern contraceptives. As a result, they experience high levels of unintended pregnancies and preventable maternal and infant deaths. At the same time, funding and support from donors and policymakers have not kept pace with the growing demand for voluntary family planning. New Population Council research is defining the broad benefits of family planning for women, couples, children, and societies. Voluntary family planning programs enhance human freedom, improve health, and reduce poverty. The Council is changing the way global leaders think about this uniquely comprehensive development tool.
Family planning reduces fertility
High-quality voluntary family planning programs significantly reduce fertility, even in poor countries (e.g., in Bangladesh, Indonesia, Nepal, Rwanda, and Sri Lanka), says demographer and Population Council distinguished scholar John Bongaarts. These are traditional, rural, and agricultural societies, yet fertility has declined to low levels. Bongaarts explains that these unexpected trends are the result of the priority given by governments to the implementation of high-quality, voluntary family planning and health programs and to social development (e.g., schooling, infant survival, and women's empowerment).
Anrudh K. Jain, sociologist-demographer and Council distinguished scholar, concurs. He and his colleague John A. Ross examined Demographic and Health Survey data from 40 developing countries to determine associations among strength of family planning program effort, socioeconomic conditions, and fertility. "For any given social setting, the average total fertility rate declines as the strength of the family planning program improves," Jain said. "Improving female education and reducing infant mortality further reinforce fertility decline."
No fertility decline has been observed in a poor and largely illiterate country in the absence of a strong family planning program.
Family planning improves maternal and child health
In another study, Jain measured the effect of fertility decline on the maternal mortality ratio in Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan. He found that fertility decline in those countries between 1990 and 2008 has made a substantial...