Trends in India’s fertility transition

Context

1. According to the new Sample Registration Survey (2017) data, the fertility rates continue to fall rapidly but the data shows two contrasting trends in rural and urban India.

2. Fertility Rate – The average number of children that a woman will have in her lifetime.

Fertility in Higher Age Group

Rural Areas

a. Fertility in the higher age groups (mothers aged 35 and above) has fallen substantially in rural areas, as couples choose to limit their family size, and stop having children after they have had the desired number (between two and three children per woman on average).

b. This is also reflected in the fact that the mean age at childbirth is still falling rather than growing in India.

c. This trend is also expected to reverse within the next five years, according to estimates from the United Nations Population Division’s World Population Prospects (2017 revision).

Urban Areas

a. In urban areas, fertility among older women has grown, as better educated women are able to delay marriage and childbirth, and improved healthcare allows women to have children later in life.

b. Fertility, in general, is lower among more educated women, but there is an exception: In urban areas, fertility rates among women in their 30s are higher among better educated rather than less educated women.

c. Fertility fell across all age groups in both rural and urban India. But between 2004-06 and 2015-17, fertility in the older age groups in urban India has risen.

d. However, given that the vast majority of female fertility in India remains concentrated among women in their twenties, this increase did not have any impact on the overall trend, which is of steadily falling female fertility.

The fertility rate in Urban areas

1. The Total Fertility Rate (TFR) in urban India as a whole has now fallen to levels that in some countries are taken as a cause for concern in terms of being too low.

2. It means that these urban areas will only grow as long as mortality improves and there is some in-migration.

3. TFR in urban India fell to 1.7 as of 2017, comparable to that of Belgium, Iceland and Norway, and lower than that of the United States or the United Kingdom (1.8).

4. Japan, which is regarded as being in the grip of a demographic crisis with too low fertility rates.

5. The fertility in the urban parts of the southern states is now lower than European levels. Some other less affluent states are also now at Japan-like “crisis” levels.

6. Urban Odisha, West Bengal (1.3), Jammu & Kashmir (1.2), Himachal Pradesh (1.1) have TFR even lower than in the south, and lower than that of Japan.

The fertility rate among states

1. Among the major states, fertility in the southern states has fallen well below replacement levels.

2. The focus on above-replacement fertility in the northern states has dominated the national dialogue around fertility to the detriment of the southern states and urban areas where fertility is falling far faster than expected.  

 3. In addition to the natural demographic transition (by which populations get richer, women get better health and education, child survival rates improve, and families choose to have fewer children) the south is also seeing the impact of aggressive family planning target-setting by southern state governments and health officials.

4. India is not yet having the discussions around low fertility and ageing that it needs to, let alone setting supportive policy.

Source: Live Mint