Metadata
Data Licence Agreement  
 
UNMET NEED FOR FAMILY PLANNING
 
 
Definition
 
The percent with an unmet need for family planning is the number of women with unmet need for family planning expressed as a percentage of women of reproductive age who are married or in a union. Women with unmet need are those who are fecund and sexually active but are not using any method of contraception, and report not wanting any more children or wanting to delay the birth of their next child.
 
   
 
Method of computation
 

The majority of estimates of unmet need for family planning follow the procedure adopted in the Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS), which is regarded as the standard method of computation.

 
Unmet need for family planning
=
Women (married or in a union) who are not using contraception, are fecund, and desire to either stop childbearing or postpone their next birth for at least two years + pregnant women whose current pregnancy was unwanted or mistimed + women in post-partum amenorrhea who are not using contraception and, at the time they became pregnant, had wanted to delay or prevent the pregnancy
x 100
   
Total number of women of reproductive age (15-49) who are married or in a union

The indicator includes in the numerator:

  1. All pregnant women (married or in a union) whose pregnancies were unwanted or mistimed at the time of conception.
  1. All postpartum amenorrheic women (married or in a union) who are not using family planning and whose last birth was unwanted or mistimed.
  1. All fecund women (married or in a union) who are neither pregnant nor postpartum amenorrheic, and who either do not want any more children (want to limit family size), or who wish to postpone the birth of a child for at least two years or do not know when or if they want another child (want to space births), but are not using any contraceptive method.

Excluded from the numerator are infecund women1 as well as pregnant and postpartum amenorrheic women who became pregnant unintentionally due to contraceptive method failure, when that information is available. The diagram2 below offers a visual aid for the computation of the indicator.

 
   
  Data sources
 

Information on unmet need for family planning is collected through nationally representative household surveys such as the Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS), Reproductive Health Surveys (RHS) and other national surveys.  On average, the surveys are undertaken every three to five years.

 
   
  Rationale and interpretation
 

The concept of unmet need points to the gap between women's reproductive intentions and their contraceptive behaviour. The indicator is useful for tracking progress towards the target of achieving universal access to reproductive health. Information on unmet need for family planning complements the indicator of contraceptive prevalence. The sum of contraceptive prevalence and unmet need provides the total demand for family planning.

This indicator provides a measure of the extent of unmet need for family planning at a particular time. When unmet need is measured in a comparable way at different dates, the trend indicates whether there has been progress towards meeting women’s needs in this regard. It should be noted that, even when contraceptive prevalence is rising, unmet need for family planning may sometimes fail to decline, or may even increase. This can happen because the demand for family planning increases due to declines in the desired number of children. Changes in the desired spacing of births or changes in the percentage of women who are at risk of pregnancy can also influence the trend in demand for family planning, independently of trends in contraceptive prevalence.

 
   
  Comments and limitations
 

Differences in the questions included in particular surveys can affect the estimates of unmet need for family planning.  For example, some surveys do not gather all the information required to estimate infecundity in the manner outlined below.  In such cases the information about women’s fecundity may be based on women’s own perception of their ability to get pregnant. Differences in questions about contraceptive use, fertility desires and assessment of postpartum amenorrhea may also indirectly affect the measured level of unmet need for family planning.

As noted above, unmet need for family planning is usually calculated for women who are married or in a union. Unmet need for family planning may be calculated for women who are not married or in a union, provided that the survey gathers information about women's recent sexual activity.  Generally, information about the unmet need for family planning among women who are not married or in a union is available for a relatively small number of countries.

Although the majority of estimates of unmet need for family planning follow the standard method of calculation, there can be differences in the precise definition or method of calculation of this indicator. For instance, in the Reproductive Health Surveys (RHS) women who are married or in a union are considered to have an unmet need for family planning if they report that they are not using contraception, do not wish to have a child within the next two years, are fecund and were sexually active during the past month, and are not currently pregnant. Other survey programmes, including the Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS), the Pan-Arab Project for Family Health (PAPFAM), the European Fertility and Family Surveys (FFS), and some national surveys that are not conducted as part of an internationally coordinated programme, also employ methods that depart in various ways from the standard. Notes are used to indicate any differences between the data presented in World Contraceptive Use 2010 and the standard definition of unmet need for family planning 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 unmet need for family planning published in national survey reports. However, some published national estimates of unmet need have been adjusted by the United Nations Population Division to improve comparability. Further, some published national estimates of unmet need are not included in World Contraceptive Use 2010 because they were judged to depart too much from the core concept of unmet need employed here or because the estimation procedures were considered to produce results that were not comparable.

 
   
  Treatment of missing values
 
There is no attempt to provide estimates when country data are not available, except for the estimation of regional and global averages.
 
   
  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 20083and from estimates of the number of women by age group obtained from World Population Prospects: The 2008 Revision.4

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 2010 contains data on unmet need for family planning for 107 countries or areas of the world, and for 75 countries and areas there are at least two available data points. The latest estimates are as of December 2010.

 
   
1 Infecund women are those that: a) have been married for five or more years; and b) have not had a birth in the past five years; and c) are not currently pregnant and have not used contraception within the preceding five years (or, if the timing of the last contraceptive use is not known, if they have never used any kind of contraceptive method) or self-report that they are infecund, menopausal or have had a hysterectomy, or (for women who are not pregnant or in postpartum amenorrhea) if the last menstrual period occurred more than six months prior to the survey.
 
   
2 Diagram offering a visual aid for the computation of the indicator.
 
 
    Based on: Westoff C.F and L. H. Ochoa (1991). Unmet Need and the Demand for Family Planning, DHS Comparative Studies No. 5. Calverton, Maryland: Macro International; and Westoff C.F. and Bankole A. (1995). Unmet need: 1990-1994. DHS Comparative Report No. 16, Calverton, Maryland: Macro International.  
       
    3 World Marriage Data 2008 (United Nations publication, POP/DB/Mar/Rev2008).  

 

4 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).
 

 

 

Suggested citation:
United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2011). World Contraceptive Use 2010 (POP/DB/CP/Rev2010).

Copyright © United Nations, 2011
All rights reserved