Family Planning and Education: A Case Study in EthiopiaMay 31st, 2012 | By Louise McLarnan
Claus C Pörtner; Kathleen Beegle; Luc Christiaensen
The world’s population is expanding at a rate of nearly 200,000 people per day. Yet reducing fertility rates – which are typically highest in the world’s poorest countries – has proved challenging for policymakers. In their World Bank working paper, “Family Planning and Fertility,” authors Claus C. Pörtner, Kathleen Beegle, and Luc Christiaensen evaluate cross-sectional data from Ethiopia’s public family planning program to examine the impact of family planning services on local fertility rates. They find that access to family planning services leads to a significant reduction in the number of children among women with less than a first-grade education.
Ethiopia is one of approximately 20 countries with a Total Fertility Rate (TFR) of over five children per woman; its TFR of 5.4 adds about two million people annually to the national population of over 74 million. In 1993, to address their rapidly growing population, the Ethiopian government implemented policies intended to increase contraceptive use. The authors report that contraceptive use has greatly increased since the public program began. In 1990, only 3 percent of reproductive age women reported using a modern form of contraception, the lowest rate in Sub-Saharan Africa. By 2005, 15 percent of married women alone reported using contraceptives.
To evaluate the impact of increased contraceptive use on reducing Ethiopia’s fertility rate, Pörtner, Beegle, and Christiaensen examine survey data, including a stratified multi-stage sampling of 2,000 married women in 109 communities across four regions of the country. They measure the number of children born per woman and whether a family planning clinic existed within 40 kilometers of their home. The authors find that
Access to family planning in Ethiopia has a statistically significant and economically large impact on fertility of women with no schooling, while there are no discernible effects of family planning on fertility for women who have ever attended school.
Among Ethiopian women with no formal schooling, the average number of children born per woman fell by 0.9 or nearly 20 percent, between 1990 and 2004. The authors also observe that young women substantially delay having children when they have access to birth control. In this manner, they suggest that family planning might serve as a substitute for formal education in reducing fertility rates.
Pörtner, Beegle, and Christiaensen do not provide an explanation of why family planning services have no effect on educated women or women with minimal schooling, nor do they identify whether educated women have lower fertility rates initially. This might suggest that family planning programs would be ineffective in developing nations with higher rates of education among women. Nonetheless, in countries like Ethiopia, where 65 percent of women over 30 have never attended school, even modest impacts on fertility rates can have lasting benefits. As policymakers consider expanding family planning programs to other developing nations, Pörtner, Beegle, and Christiaensen’s work suggests a targeted strategy that focuses on individual communities, rather than the general population.