John B. Casterline, John Bongaarts (eds.)
Publication date: 2017
Fertility remains high in most countries in sub-Saharan Africa, and the pace of decline is considerably slower than it was in Asia and Latin America during the 1970s. Optimism that a rapid fertility transition was imminent, a common view among scholars in the 1990s, was dashed by survey evidence that steadily accumulated through the 2000s. At this juncture, the future course of fertility in sub-Saharan Africa remains highly uncertain. Many scientific and policy questions about the region’s fertility decline remain unresolved. Competing hypotheses have been proposed to explain the late onset and slow pace of transition. Motivated by these lacunae, the Committee on Population of the US National Academy of Sciences conducted a workshop in 2015 bringing together demographers and other social scientists with African research experience to analyze recent fertility trends in sub-Saharan Africa and to assess the prospects for more rapid reproductive change in the region. The chapters in this volume are based on papers presented at the workshop.
Among the chapter topics, contributors discuss three explanations for the region’s late fertility decline: slow progress in health and socioeconomic development, the pronatalism many see as intrinsic to African social and cultural systems, and a lack of investment in family planning programs. In each of these areas, current problems and future policy outcomes are dependent to a greater or lesser degree on the effectiveness of the state. In the short run, it is argued that there is considerable scope for fertility reduction simply by satisfying existing unmet need for contraception through increased access to reproductive health services, as borne out by recent experience in a few African countries. The potential returns from fertility decline are substantial, in particular a macroeconomic boost commonly termed the “demographic dividend.” But the scale of such a dividend is contingent on adequate human capital investment (especially schooling), absorption of large cohorts of young people into the labor market, and fertility decline rapid enough to generate the requisite age-structure changes. Many countries in the region may fall short of these conditions. With regard to fertility decline to date and prospects for accelerated decline, the chapters in this volume document sub-Saharan Africa’s diversity and resistance to generalization.
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