Fertility and Family Planning Surveys: An update

This issue presents, in comparable form, the major findings of all World Fertility and Contraceptive Prevalence Surveys available from developing countries--89 in all from 49 countries, covering women age 15--44 married or in union.  These surveys, which constitute the largest body of knowledge on fertility and family planning available, reveal striking differences in family planning practices.  The percentage of couples who use fertility control methods ranges from under 10% in most African countries south of the Sahara to 40% in the Latin American and Caribbean countries surveyed.  The great majority of women have knowledge of at least 1 family planning method, usually a modern one. In over 80% of countries surveyed, at least half of contraceptive users relied on oral contraceptives, the IUD, or voluntary female sterilization.  Worldwide, family planning is more often used to prevent births when desired family size is complete than to space births.  Survey results further indicate that making family planning supplies and services more available increases their use, and women who can obtain services close by are more likely to use family planning.  Fertility remains high in some countries of Africa where breastfeeding, postpartum abstinence, and disease-induced infertility are decreasing.  On the other hand, fertility is falling in much of the world, particularly in Latin American and the Caribbean.  Women who marry at age 22 years or above average at least 0.5 fewer children than those who marry at 18 or 19 years of age.  The survey findings also provide evidence of the importance of birth spacing to infant and child survival.  Finally, it is noted that these fertility and family planning surveys have led to significant program and policy changes.  By providing data to evaluate and direct programs, these surveys are helping to improve services that reduce fertility and promote family health.

Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health,Center for Communication Programs,Population Information Program