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Cities No Longer Lead Fertility Decline in Sub-Saharan Africa, New Research Reveals

Why would the shift to smaller families slow or stop in sub-Saharan African cities, where fertility remains so much higher than in other parts of the world?


Cities No Longer Lead Fertility Decline in Sub-Saharan Africa, New Research Reveals

May 28, 2021

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We often think of cities as being in the forefront of social change, including the shift toward smaller families, which has occurred across the globe in the last half-century. In sub-Saharan Africa, even though women have more children than women in other regions—nearly five, on average, in their lifetimes—those living in cities have fewer than those living in rural areas, following the global pattern. Urban women have higher levels of education, are more likely to work in the formal economy, and report wanting fewer children than rural women.

As urbanization and modern contraceptive use have increased across the subcontinent, the total fertility rate (births per woman) has fallen first in urban areas, followed by rural areas. Demographers generally expect these trends to continue in sub-Saharan Africa, as they have in parts of Latin America, the Caribbean, and Asia, where women have about two children on average.

Fertility decline in sub-Saharan Africa is a complicated story, however. Over the past few decades, demographers have spotted “stalls” in some countries—periods when the gradual decline in births has stopped, leveled off, or started to reverse. Reasons for the stalls vary, and it is not clear whether they are temporary or long-term.