Contraceptive Prevalence


Contraceptive prevalence is the percentage of women who are currently using, or whose sexual partner is currently using, at least one method of contraception, regardless of the method used. It is usually reported for married or in union women aged 15 to 49.

Method of Computation

Contraceptive Prevalence Formula

Data Sources

The indicator is calculated from nationally representative household surveys with questions on current use of contraception. Surveys that commonly include this information are: Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS), Fertility and Family Surveys (FFS), Reproductive Health Surveys (RHS), Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS) and other national surveys. On average, surveys are undertaken every three to five years.

World Contraceptive Use 2009 provides information on the source of each data point (usually denoted by an acronym). A description of each acronym is given in the worksheet labeled 'Sources'. For surveys that are not part of an international survey programme, the full name is provided in the field "Survey name".

Rationale and Interpretation

Contraceptive prevalence is useful for tracking progress towards the target of achieving universal access to reproductive health, especially when the indicator is considered in conjunction with other information about women’s knowledge of family planning or accessibility and quality of family planning services. Information on contraceptive prevalence complements the indicator of unmet need for family planning. The sum of contraceptive prevalence and unmet need provides the total demand for contraception.

For analytical convenience, contraceptive methods are often classified as either modern or traditional. Modern methods of contraception include female and male sterilization, oral hormonal pills, the intra-uterine device (IUD), the male condom, injectables, the implant (including Norplant), vaginal barrier methods, the female condom and emergency contraception. Traditional methods of contraception include rhythm (periodic abstinence), withdrawal, prolonged abstinence, breastfeeding, douching, lactational amenorrhea method (LAM) and folk methods.

Comments and Limitations

Differences in the survey design and implementation, as well as differences in the way survey questionnaires are formulated and administered can affect the comparability of data over time, and between countries. One of the most common differences relates to the range of contraceptive methods included and the existence or not of probe questions regarding the types of methods used. The lack of probe questions, asked to ensure that the respondent understands the meaning of the different contraceptive methods, can result in an underestimation of contraceptive prevalence.

The characteristics (age, sex, marital or union status) of the persons for whom contraceptive prevalence is measured (base population) can also affect the comparability of data on contraceptive prevalence. Illustrations of alternative base populations that are sometimes used are: sexually active women (irrespective of marital status), ever-married women, or men and women who are married or in a union.

The time frame used to assess contraceptive prevalence can also vary. Often it is left to the respondent to determine what is meant by “currently using” a method of contraception. Some surveys ask about use within the past month. Occasionally, when information on current use is not collected, data on use of contraceptive methods at last sexual intercourse or during the previous year are utilized. Notes are used to indicate any differences between the data presented in World Contraceptive Use 2010 and the standard definition of contraceptive prevalence given above.

Discrepancies between estimates presented in World Contraceptive Use 2010 and other estimates

Generally, there is no discrepancy between estimates presented in World Contraceptive Use 2010 and contraceptive prevalence published in national survey reports. However, some published national estimates of contraceptive prevalence have been adjusted by the United Nations Population Division to improve comparability.

Treatment of Missing Values

There is no attempt to provide estimates when country data are not available.

Regional and global estimates

For reference years with missing data, linear interpolation between the closest data points on both sides of the reference year has been used. In other cases, the closest data point is used. Regional estimates are weighted averages of the country data, using the number of married or in-union women aged 15-49 for the reference year in each country as the weight. The estimates' weights were derived from data on the proportion of women who were married or in a union in each country as presented in World Marriage Data 20081and from estimates of the number of women by age group obtained from World Population Prospects: The 2008 Revision.2

Global estimates are weighted averages of the regional estimates, using the number of married or in-union women aged 15-49 in each region as the weight. Regional averages are provided only if recent data are available for at least 50 per cent of the women of reproductive age who are married or in a union in the region.

The more developed regions comprise all regions of Europe plus Northern America, Australia, New Zealand and Japan. The less developed regions comprise all regions of Africa, Asia (excluding Japan) and Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia. Developed countries are those in the more developed regions. The group of least developed countries includes 49 countries as of December 2010. Other less developed countries comprise the less developed regions excluding the least developed countries. Sub-Saharan Africa includes all the regions of Africa except Northern Africa, but includes Sudan.

Data Coverage and Periodicity

The World Contraceptive Use 2009 contains data on contraceptive prevalence for 181 countries or areas of the world.

  1. World Marriage Data 2008 (United Nations publication, POP/DB/Mar/Rev2008).
  2. United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2009). World Population Prospects: The 2008 Revision, CD-ROM Edition (United Nations publication, Comprehensive Dataset, Sales No. 09.XII.6).