(April 2006) Ethiopia has reported the preliminary results of its second Demographic and Health Survey (DHS), which was taken in 2005, five years after its first such survey. The 2005 Ethiopia DHS has shown that there was no statistically significant drop in the birth rate since the previous survey in 2000, even though contraceptive use in the country has risen considerably.


Total Fertility Rate, Ethiopia, 1990 to 2002-2005

Source: 1990 National Family and Fertility Survey and Demographic and Health Surveys.

Surveys such as the DHS series provide essential insights into population trends in developing countries, most of which lack key data such as registrations of births and deaths. Some of the key findings of the 2005 Ethiopian DHS include:

  • With a population of about 77 million, Ethiopia is Africa’s second-largest country after Nigeria.
  • The population is currently growing at about 2.5 percent per year, a rate that would double a population in about 28 years.
  • About 85 percent of Ethiopia’s population is considered rural (defined as those living in localities with less than 2,000 people).

Total Fertility Rate

The 2005 DHS found Ethiopia’s total fertility rate (TFR)—the average number of children a woman would bear given the rate of childbearing of a particular year—at 5.4 for the three-year period before the survey. This figure has little statistical difference from the TFR of 5.5 reported in the 2000 DHS.

But the urban-rural difference in the TFR was substantial. In rural Ethiopia, women averaged 6.0 children, while the TFR for the country’s urban women was 2.4. The TFR reported in 1990 by the National Family and Fertility Survey was 6.4, suggesting that there has been a very slow decline in national fertility. Nonetheless, it is quite apparent that fertility decline may be quite protracted in the rural areas where the great bulk of the population lives.

Family Planning and Reproductive Health

Among married Ethiopian women of childbearing age (ages 15-49), total contraceptive use stood at 14.7 percent in 2005—13.9 percent for modern methods and 0.8 percent for traditional methods. Injectables were the most common modern method used (by 9.9 percent of all women ages 15-49), followed by the pill (at 3.1 percent).

Contraceptive use in urban areas was quite high at 46.7 percent, compared with 10.9 percent in rural areas. Nationally, contraceptive use registered a considerable increase over the 2000 DHS—8.1 percent for all methods and 6.3 percent for modern methods. Use of modern contraceptive methods more than tripled in rural areas, although there does not seem to have been an accompanying reduction in fertility. When asked, 49.7 percent of women with four living children stated they did not wish to have another child.

Maternal and Child Health

Maternal and child health indicators in Ethiopia show considerable room for improvement. Only 27.6 percent of mothers who had had a live birth in the five years before the survey had received any antenatal care from a health professional, and only 5.7 percent were attended by a health professional during delivery.

The proportion of mothers who had been given at least one tetanus toxoid injection was 37.1 percent; 10.4 percent were given iron tablets during pregnancy. Much lower results for these measures in rural areas suggest that ensuring universal delivery of health services to the entire population will be a lengthy process.

Infant mortality was reported at about 77 infant deaths per 1,000 live births in the five years preceding the survey, a slight decline from 83 infant deaths per 1,000 live births for the previous nine years before this latest survey.

Female Genital Cutting

Among other subjects studied during the 2005 DHS was the prevalence of female genital cutting (FGC) in Ethiopia. Overall, 74.3 percent of women had been circumcised, and the proportion was roughly equal in urban and rural areas. This figure represents only a small decrease from 80 percent in the 2000 DHS. However, a notable change in support among women for the practice was found. In 2005, 28.8 percent of women said they supported FGC—but this figure was down from 80 percent in 2000.


Finally, the 2005 DHS also took blood samples for an estimation of HIV prevalence. Results from testing should be available with the release of the final report. At present, UNAIDS estimates that HIV prevalence among Ethiopia’s adults is about 4.4 percent.

Carl Haub is senior demographer and holder of the Conrad Taeuber Chair of Population Information at the Population Reference Bureau.


The Ethiopia 2005 DHS was conducted by ORC Macro (Calverton, MD) and the Central Statistical Agency, Addis Ababa, under the auspices of the Ethiopian Ministry of Health. Funding for the survey was provided by the U.S. Agency for International Development, UNFPA, and the Dutch and Irish governments.