Role of socio economic factors for high fertility rate

Role of socio economic factors for high fertility rate


Why in the news?

The recent working paper authored by Shamika Ravi, a member of the Economic Advisory Council (EAC) to the Prime Minister, along with two collaborators, has ignited intense political debates. 

More about the news

The paper has resurfaced concerns about a perceived decline in the proportion of Hindus within India’s population, stirring up familiar anxieties. Accessible to all, the paper relies on the Religious Characteristics of States Dataset, 2017 (RCS-Dem), meticulously compiled by two researchers affiliated with the United States. This dataset offers a comprehensive examination of religio-demographic shifts across 167 countries. By utilizing official census data to define ‘majority’ and ‘minority’ religions, the RCS-Dem provides valuable insights into population changes concerning a country’s predominant faith.


The conclusion drawn by the Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council (PM-EAC) report is succinct: “All is well with the religious minorities in India.” However, this statement has reignited discussions surrounding the growth of the Muslim population. While the report aims to reassure that India’s minorities, including Muslims, are secure and free from discrimination or persecution, its findings have stirred controversy. Despite its well-intentioned nature, the report has sparked a debate that underscores the complexities of religious dynamics within India.

Socio-economic factors for high fertility rate in India 

The decision regarding the number of children a family chooses to have is heavily influenced by socio-economic factors rather than religious beliefs, as supported by data. Government statistics indicate that empowering girls through education, discouraging early marriage, raising awareness about family planning, and ensuring access to contraceptive measures are effective strategies for reducing fertility rates.

The fertility rates among Muslim women vary significantly depending on the region. For instance, in 2019-21, the fertility rate among Muslim women in Bihar was 3.6, considerably higher than the rate of 2.0 in Maharashtra. Similarly, in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, the fertility rates were 1.9 and 2.0, respectively, notably lower than the rates of 2.7 in Jharkhand and 2.4 in Rajasthan. This variation underscores the influence of a state’s development, both economically and socially, on fertility levels among Muslim women.


Several socio-economic factors contribute to high fertility rates in India:

  1. Education: Women’s educational attainment is inversely related to fertility rates. In India, where gender disparities in education persist, women with lower levels of education tend to have higher fertility rates. Limited access to education can result in early marriage and childbearing, as well as a lack of awareness about family planning methods.
  2. Economic Status: Socio-economic status influences fertility decisions. In low-income households, children may be seen as additional labor or economic assets, particularly in rural areas where agriculture is a primary livelihood. Additionally, lack of access to economic opportunities and social safety nets can discourage families from having fewer children.
  3. Employment Opportunities: In regions with limited employment opportunities, particularly in rural areas, families may rely on children for agricultural work or other forms of labor. This reliance on child labor can contribute to higher fertility rates as families perceive a need for more children to support household income.
  4. Urbanization: Rapid urbanization in India has led to increased demand for labor-intensive jobs, resulting in a migration of families from rural to urban areas. However, urban areas often lack adequate infrastructure and social services, including healthcare and education. In urban slums, where living conditions are often poor, fertility rates may remain high due to limited access to family planning services and cultural norms.
  5. Healthcare Access: Access to healthcare, particularly reproductive healthcare and family planning services, significantly affects fertility rates. In rural areas and underserved communities, access to healthcare facilities and trained medical professionals may be limited, leading to higher fertility rates due to a lack of contraceptive use and maternal health services.
  6. Cultural and Religious Factors: Cultural norms and religious beliefs can influence fertility preferences and behaviors. In some communities, larger families are culturally valued and considered a source of social status or support in old age. Religious beliefs may also play a role in shaping attitudes towards family size and contraception.
  7. Women’s Empowerment: Gender inequality and lack of women’s empowerment contribute to high fertility rates. In patriarchal societies, where women have limited decision-making power regarding reproductive choices, fertility rates tend to be higher. Empowering women through education, economic opportunities, and reproductive rights can lead to lower fertility rates as women gain more control over their own bodies and family planning decisions.
  8. Child Marriage: Despite legal restrictions, child marriage persists in many parts of India, particularly in rural and economically disadvantaged communities. Early marriage often leads to early childbearing, as young brides may have limited access to education and healthcare, and may be under pressure to start families at a young age. This contributes to higher fertility rates and increases the risk of maternal and child health complications.
  9. Social Norms and Expectations: Societal norms and expectations regarding family size and gender roles play a significant role in shaping fertility behaviors. In some communities, particularly in rural areas, there is a strong cultural preference for large families, especially sons, which can lead to higher fertility rates as families strive to fulfill these expectations.
  10. Access to Contraception: Limited access to contraception and family planning services is a barrier to reducing fertility rates in India. Despite government efforts to promote family planning and provide subsidized contraceptives, access remains uneven, particularly in rural and remote areas. Cultural taboos, lack of awareness, and misconceptions about contraception also contribute to low usage rates.


Why there is a need of special focus on women empowerment 

  1. Education: Empowering women through education enables them to make informed decisions about their reproductive health and family planning. Educated women are more likely to delay marriage and childbirth, pursue higher education and careers, and have fewer children overall. By investing in girls’ education and literacy programs, India can empower women to take control of their reproductive choices and contribute to lower fertility rates.
  2. Access to Healthcare: Women’s empowerment includes ensuring access to quality healthcare services, including reproductive healthcare and family planning services. Empowering women to make decisions about their reproductive health, including access to contraception and maternal healthcare, can help them plan and space their pregnancies, leading to smaller and healthier families.
  3. Economic Opportunities: Providing women with economic opportunities and financial independence can influence fertility decisions. Women who have access to employment opportunities and income-generating activities may choose to have fewer children as they prioritize their careers and economic stability. Additionally, economic empowerment can enable women to invest in their children’s education and healthcare, leading to improved overall well-being and lower fertility rates.
  4. Legal Rights and Empowerment: Ensuring that women have equal rights under the law, including property rights, inheritance rights, and legal protections against discrimination and violence, is essential for their empowerment. Empowered women are better able to assert their reproductive rights and make decisions about their bodies and families. Legal reforms that promote gender equality and protect women’s rights can contribute to lower fertility rates by empowering women to make choices that align with their own aspirations and well-being.
  5. Changing Social Norms: Women’s empowerment can also challenge and change traditional gender norms and expectations surrounding family size and women’s roles in society. By promoting gender equality and challenging stereotypes that limit women’s autonomy and agency, society can create an environment where women are empowered to make decisions about their reproductive lives free from social pressure and stigma.

Addressing high fertility rates in India requires a multi-faceted approach that addresses socio-economic disparities, improves access to education and healthcare, empowers women, promotes gender equality, and provides comprehensive family planning services. Efforts to enhance economic opportunities, particularly for women, and to strengthen social safety nets can also contribute to reducing fertility rates over time.


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