According to the National family health survey (NFHS) for 2015-16, the total desired fertility rate, or an estimate of what the fertility rate would be if all unwanted births were avoided, was 1.9 in the 2005-06 survey and 1.8 in 2015 -16.
This raises the question of whether it makes sense to penalize women or people for the lack of basic health services by governments. In the latest NFHS survey of 2019-20, the desired fertility rate did not touch 2 in any of the largest states for which data has been published except Bihar, where it was 2.3 compared to a total fertility rate of 3. Reports from several states, including Uttar Pradesh, Madhya pradesh, Rajasthan Y Punjab they have not yet been released.
India’s total desired fertility rate fell from 2.6 in 1993 to 1.8 in 2016. The replacement level fertility rate is 2.1 children per woman, a level at which a population is replaced exactly from one generation to the next. India’s fertility rate in 2015-16 was 2.2 and the partial data available for 2019-20 suggests that it is likely to have fallen below replacement level. When a country’s total fertility rate falls below 2.1, its population begins to shrink after a few years. This would have started to happen in 2005-06 if the government could improve health and education services.
According to the 2015-16 survey, there was not a single religious or caste community for which the total desired fertility was greater than 2 children. The desired total fertility rate was 2.3 only for the poorest and those with no education. It was also estimated that 13% of married women had an unmet need for family planning and there has not been a significant decrease in this unmet need for a decade.
This was as high as 22% among married women in the 15-24 age group. The unmet need for family planning refers to women of childbearing age who wanted to postpone the next birth (spacing) or stop having children but could not. Among the largest states, unmet need for family planning was highest in Bihar (21%) followed by Jharkhand and ABOVE, where it was 18%. Family planning resources aside, if India guarantees at least five years of schooling or primary education for its girls, their fertility rate could be well below replacement level.
According to the 2015-16 survey, the total desired fertility rate for women with no schooling was 2.3, which fell to 1.9 for those with five years of schooling and 1.5 for women with more than 12 years of schooling. Similarly, if India were to lift the poorest 20% out of poverty, the fertility rate would be about 1.9. The NFHS-4 survey showed that the total desired fertility rate of the poorest 20% of the population was 2.3 compared with 1.9 for the next wealth quintile and 1.4 for the richest 20%. It is also not a coincidence that the states with the highest desired fertility rate are also those with the worst under-five mortality or the probability of dying at age five per 1,000 live births. It is well established that couples tend to have more children when their children’s survival is uncertain.
Bihar, where the total desired fertility rate was 2.3, had the highest under-five mortality rate of 56.4, meaning that almost 6% of live-born children die before the age of five. old. And that’s the state average. For the poorest, the rate would be much higher. Similarly, in UP, where the total desired fertility rate in 2015-16 was 2.1, the under-five mortality rate was 78.