Families in India Are Getting Smaller, But Women Want Even Fewer Kids

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Oct 19, 2018

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Photo courtesy of Reuters

Since 1971, India’s population has been rising exponentially. It’s almost doubled from the 566 million it was then, to 1.35 billion in 2016. But according to a UN report, average family size in India is shrinking.

The size of families in India has been on the decline for decades, shrinking from 7.2 to 4.3 as of 2016. Which essentially means, women are having fewer children — from an average of 5.2 children per family in 1971, to 2.3 in 2016.

Unfortunately, 2.3 is still more children than women say they want.The average desired individual fertility rate across India is considerably lower, at 1.8. Family pressure, the level of education women receive, and a lack of widely available contraception, are huge factors that contribute to women having more children than desired.

Government efforts to reduce family size, across Asia, are mostly driven by economic concerns, however, because children are seen as the net consumers versus adults who constitute the working population. “Without large numbers of children to support, nations could divert more resources to capital investment, and this investment would stimulate productive employment for the working-age population,” the report stated.

Read: The History of Birth Control in India Was Never About Empowerment

The report showed that India, Bangladesh, El Salvador, Nepal, Myanmar, and Nicaragua, fertility rates were near replacement level — the state at which the total population reaches a constant level, one generation replacing the other — which the authors commended. “In most other parts of the world, such low fertility is achieved only at higher levels of income,” the report said. “These countries have made gains in human development, reflected in improved health.”

Experts say the decline in family size in India came about because women, even in rural areas, were gaining access to a range of contraceptive options, under government campaigns. Health centers in hospitals offer counselling to women, providing information and choices of modern contraception, like intra-uterine devices, injectables, and contraceptive pills, as well as spacing methods of family planning. The problem with this, however, is that these counselling centres operate out of hospitals, and are only able to reach women after they have delivered. So, while women were able to make an informed decision about family planning, they were able to do that only after giving birth to one child.

The UN report applauded India for its efforts to decrease family size, pointing out the huge achievement it is for women and health. But it’s worth noting that India’s history of family planning hasn’t always been one of empowerment, often crossing into exploitation. Given this, and the fact that women are still having more children than they want, there’s still much more work to be done.

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Written By Nadia Nooreyezdan

Nadia Nooreyezdan is The Swaddle’s culture editor. Since graduating from Columbia Journalism School, she spends her time thinking about aliens, cyborgs, and social justice sci-fi. She’s also working on a memoir about her family’s journey from Iran to India.

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