High birth rates hamper development in poorer countries, warns UN forum

A healthy mother with her newborn in India

1 April 2009 – Rapid population growth, fuelled by high fertility, presents a barrier to reducing poverty levels and reaching other internationally agreed development goals, experts attending the current session of the United Nations population body said today.

The meeting of the Commission on Population and Development, which began on Monday and concludes on Friday, is examining the extent to which population growth affects the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), globally agreed targets on reducing poverty and eliminating other social ills by 2015.

Although birth rates have been on the slide across the developing world since the 1970s, women in most of the least developed countries (LDCs) still have five children each on average, according to a policy brief presented by the Population Division of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA).

The lack of access to family planning and to modern methods of contraception is the major cause of this persistence in high fertility.

“When individuals and couples are given the possibility of deciding how many children they want to have, they usually opt for much lower numbers than they used to,” Hania Zlotnik, Director of the Population Division, told the press at UN Headquarters in New York at a briefing focusing on the work of the Commission.

Ms. Zlotnik noted that giving people the information and means for reaching their reproductive goals – without any kind of interference or coercion – has significant implications for economic and social development.

Reducing population growth through cutting fertility rates, versus increasing mortality or restricting migration, is beneficial to the economy, as low fertility increases the number of people of working age per capita as well as output per capita, according to the Population Division brief.

Benefits to economic growth also occur as lowering fertility leads to an increase in the supply of female labour, particularly in urban areas in developing countries.

In addition, smaller family size allows for greater investment in the health and education of children in the longer term both from the family and government.


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