TOPICS : Low female fertility and development

Fertility is one of the three main components of dynamics that determine the size and structure of a country’s population. Actually, each government examines levels, trends and differentials in the fertility in a systematic manner. This is important to maintain a healthy total fertility rate (TFR) and strike a balance between population growth and economic development of the country.

Moreover the level of fertility is one of the most significant demographic indicators available for assessing women’s status and their general health in a society. It is also helpful for family planning policy-makers because of its relevance to various population policy and programmes.

Generally measured, the TFR is the total number of births a woman would have by the end of her childbearing years. According to an official study, the TFR of Nepal is 3.1 births per woman.

The study shows that fertility is higher in rural areas (3.3 births per woman) than in urban areas (2.1 births per woman), where fertility is at the replacement level. Although the pattern of higher rural fertility is prevalent in all age groups, there is a high difference in fertility between rural and urban areas. While there are 248 births per 1,000 women in rural areas, there are only 168 births per 1,000 women in urban areas.

The overall age pattern of fertility shows that childbearing age starts early. Also, research has shown that fertility is low among adolescents and increases to a maximum of 23-plus births per 1,000 women in the age group of 20-24. After that, it shows a slow decline. There is a difference in fertility among ecological zones too. For example, it ranges from a low of 3 births per woman in the hills to a high of 4.1 births per women in the mountains.

The TFR ranges from 3 births per woman in the Central Development Region (CDR) to 3.5 births per woman in Middle and Far Western Development regions. Apart from the CDR, fertility levels in four other development regions are greater than or equal to the national average.

Research has also shown that the level of fertility is inversely proportional to women’s educational status. It decreases from 3.9 births among women with no education to 1.8 births among women who have higher secondary or higher levels of education. Fertility also seems to be related directly to income levels. While women in the lowest income group have an average of 4.7 births, the women in the highest income bracket give 1.9 births. Hence, enormous variations are quite evident.

Undoubtedly, fertility has been reduced by two births in the past few decades — from 4.9 births per woman to 3.1. It has declined in both urban and rural areas, in all the five development regions, at all educational levels and for all income groups.

However, more dissemination of education and awareness is of paramount importance to fulfil the government’s policy of reducing total fertility rate to 2.1 by 2017.