Questioning Decreasing Fertility Rates, via Methods Such as Increasing Contraceptive Use, as an Approach to Reduce Poverty

“…it would be a sad irony if the successful efforts of countries to achieve lower population growth failed to reduce poverty…” notes Thomas Merrick (et al), World Bank Institute program advisor.

As the relationship between fertility rates and poverty are discussed in the International Family Planning Perspectives article, Population and Poverty: New views on an Old Controversy, the effectiveness of our worldwide efforts to lower population growth is put into question. Many initiatives strive to help populations lower fertility rates through methods such as educating and increasing contraceptive use in hopes of it being a solution to poverty problems.

Here in the United States where we have one of the highest teen birth rates in the industrialized world with a 70/1000 adolescents aged 15-19 and an 80% unintended birth probability. Plan B is created to address these related issues by expanding accessibility to emergency contraceptives to adolescents (Wilkinson 2013). There is no doubt that use of contraception & lower pregnancy rates, are related to benefits such as increases in reproductive and sexual health outcomes, lower numbers of adolescence who have unintended pregnancies, (ect) and billions of dollars in government savings as a result (Hasstedt 2013).

BUT the questions still stand; is increasing use of contraception and decreasing fertility rates the most effective method or approach to solving problems related to lack of economic development and poverty seen in so many populations, especially in the developing populations?

Studies in Latin America have shown that rapid decreases in fertility rates have not provided fast economic growth. Researchers in the article by Merrick et al explain that some of the reasons for this observation are the lack in investment in education especially for the poor, poor economic policies resulting in lack of employment opportunity production, bad governance, corruption, and lack of natural resources. Furthermore, researchers explain that while fertility rate trends are important, “family planning alone will not necessarily reduce poverty in developing countries…”

SO WHAT? What does this mean about our huge worldwide efforts to increase education and use of different forms of contraception? Should we be using different methods to effectively impact fertility rates and economic development, especially in developing populations?


To address economic development or poverty issues more effectively, in addition to “timely” decreases in fertility rates, we need efforts to address and improve issues such as ‘gender inequalities’ ‘the economic and social status of women,’ ‘education of high risk populations, such as the poor,’ ‘economic development and policies,’ and ‘lack of free choice’ (Merrick et al).


For future interventions and efforts, regardless of what problem is being addressed, I urge the need for innovative, collaborative, collective impact modeled approaches. We need to put our brains and money together. Use federal level, state level, community & local level, private & public, and individual level resources to address the WHOLE problem. We need systems and professionals in the health, education, economic & employment fields, as well as policy makers, community & family level members, and the individuals themselves working together for a common mission. ONE effort alone will not solve the WHOLE problem. This way we will be able to address the WHOLE individual. Then we may actually be able to attain effective sustainable improvements in the quality of life for all individuals, from children to the elderly.

Semira AbdulMalik Kassahun, MPH Maternal & Child Health Candidate
February 18th, 2014


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