Women’s Growing Desire to Limit Births in Sub-Saharan Africa: Meeting the Challenge

The rising number of sub-Saharan African women desiring to limit births provides a key opportunity for family planning programs to meet their needs and accelerate fertility transition there, according to research presented November 15 at the International Conference on Family Planning.

In several sub-Saharan African countries, more women now would rather end childbearing than space out future births. Since intention to use contraceptives is an excellent predictor of reproductive behavior, particularly among women who want to limit future childbearing, understanding the characteristics of these women and how family planning programs can better meet their needs has the potential to improve the health and well-being of African families.

Lynn Van Lith, MPA, senior technical advisor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health Center for Communication Programs, worked with colleagues using demographic and health survey data from 18 sub-Saharan African countries to measure the associations between women’s age, reproductive intentions, contraceptive use and other characteristics, and their desire for limiting or spacing births.

The team found that nearly 14 percent (8 million women) want to limit childbearing, and another 25 percent want to space future births. Thirty-three is the average age at which the desire to limit births starts to outweigh the desire to space them, but in many countries, women as young as 23 wish to limit childbearing.

Limiting births has a greater impact on fertility rates than spacing births and is a major factor driving fertility transition. Family planning programs must prepare to meet the needs of these women who have been overlooked and underserved, Van Lith said, by addressing supply- and demand-side barriers-to-use.—Kim Martin