Young Women and Fertility in Africa: The New Skepticism

John B. Casterline, Ohio State University
Satvika Chalasani, Pennsylvania State University

DHS data from a number of sub-Saharan African countries show a recent sharp increase in unwanted fertility, in particular unwanted first births. If true, this is a remarkable development: among young African women, misgivings about childbearing are emerging that constitute a historic break from the past. This paper examines desired and realized fertility in the most recent DHS surveys, with limited comparison to previous surveys. We first describe patterns, focusing on fertility desires (planning status of recent births, ideal number, desire for a(nother) birth), then consider contending explanations for the surprising emergence of unwanted first births: measurement issues; changes in age and marital status at conception; and macro social changes (economic distress, HIV/AIDS, religious revival, deteriorating family planning services). By looking beyond macro indicators and, in particular, focusing on young women, this research adds complexity and qualifies the accepted picture of slow and stagnating fertility decline in Africa.

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Presented in Session 117: Comparative Perspectives on Adolescent Fertility