Decreasing Birthrate, Increasing Wealth

A team of investigators showed evidence of an all-important correlation between increased family wealth and fewer dependents in new research presented November 15 at the International Conference on Family Planning.

Saifuddin Ahmed, PhD, an associate professor in the Department of Population, Family and Reproductive Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, worked with colleagues to analyze data from the Demographic and Health Surveys, a USAID-led effort to gather information from a representative sample of households from 55 developing countries. They looked for a correlation between the economic health of families and their number of children.

Overwhelmingly, they found that the families with the fewest children tended to be wealthier than those who had more. These families are following the worldwide shift taking place across the last century, in which fewer births and deaths have led to a higher population of people between the ages of 15 and 65—working adults who can contribute to their country’s economy. Countries who have made this shift are experiencing the benefits of demographic dividend, the ability to employ more people with increased economic opportunities for the entire nation because fewer of the population are dependents.

One of the surest paths to realizing demographic dividend is accelerating ongoing fertility declines, Ahmed says—a challenge for countries such as those in sub-Saharan Africa where birthrates are some of the highest in the world and declines are nascent. However, countries lagging in demographic dividends are the ones least likely to invest in contraceptive access and choice, Ahmed explains. One reason may be a lack of empirical evidence showing a correlation between increased wealth and fewer dependents.

“In most of these countries, investing in contraceptive access and choice is extremely low,” he says. “These countries should expand their investment as soon as possible. They need to recognize and seize this golden window of opportunity.”—Christen Brownlee