The shrinking size of families in India contributed to India’s economic growth in the 1980s and 1990s, a United Nations report has found.
India’s family size has steadily declined and continues to — from 5.2 children per family in 1971 to 2.3 in 2016, which means the family size itself has fallen from 7.2 to 4.3.
It isn’t just India; shrinking family sizes contributed to Asia’s economic miracle in the 1980s and 1990s, including in China, according to the State of the World Population Report 2018 by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) .
Still, India deserves special mention because it has, along with Bangladesh, El Salvador, Nepal, Myanmar and Nicaragua, fertility rates that are near replacement level, despite having lower per capita incomes than other countries with replacement-level fertility (or the total fertility rate — the average number of children born per woman — at which a population merely replaces itself from one generation to the next).
“In most other parts of the world, such low fertility is achieved only at higher levels of income. These countries have made gains in human development, reflected in improved health,” said the report.
India’s total fertility rate (TFR), which is the average number of children a woman has in her lifetime, is 2.3
TFR must be brought down to the replacement fertility level of 2.1, which is when the population stops growing
India’s population has doubled since 1971, from 566 million to 1.35 billion in 2016. The total fertility rate in urban India has already fallen below replacement levels of 2.1.
But wide disparities remain between states and within districts within states. “Although average total fertility for the whole country is 2.3 births per woman, it is above 3 in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh, and below replacement level in Maharashtra and West Bengal, and the four southernmost states,” said the report.
What’s common across regions, however, is that women across all sections of society, irrespective of wealth, education and urban or rural areas, are having fewer children than ever before.
“Though some groups are ahead of the others, families have become smaller across all sections of society,” said Shailaja Chandra, former executive director, Jansankhya Sthirata Kosh (population stabilisation fund).
Like in Bangladesh and Indonesia in the 1970s and 1980s, fertility declined in India even in poor, rural areas when more women gained access to modern methods of contraception under government-run campaigns and improved availability of contraceptives services, including methods to space children.
“What India got right was increasing institutional deliveries and providing reversible contraceptive services at the health centre after counselling to women after they had delivered their baby, so a woman could choose when and how many children she wanted to have,” said Chandra.
Providing the basket of contraceptive choices to include modern contraceptives such as intra-uterine devices, injectables and contraceptive pills, drove women’s sexual and economic emancipation in India, much like the contraceptive pill did in the developed countries in the ’60s.
Gaps remain. “The desired fertility rate of 1.8 in India is lower than the fertility rate of 2.3, which means many women are still having more children than they want. There is still an unmet need for quality contraception, which must be met as fertility is not just a population issue but also a women’s rights and health issue,” said Poonam Muttreja, executive director of the Population Foundation of India.
Agrees Chandra: “Spacing methods give women more control. This condom business doesn’t work, as women are often not in a position to insist.”