When we think of the fertility of the developing countries, we are looking too fast at the average number of children per woman, or the rate of growth of the population. We then see high figures. But, as high as they are, these figures hide a complex reality and, in the first place, the rate of infertility significant. For example, in 2005, in Cameroon, 17.8% of women aged 40 to 54 years old have never had children. The idea of high fertility in developing countries has to be nuanced : the women who have children have a lot in average, but many of them do not have one at all.
This does mean a problem ? The authorities should they find in these figures, the reasons to intervene ? After all, if the infertility was the simple result of a personal choice, one could consider that the State does not have its word to say. But, over the years, we have made emerge a new way of breaking down the infertility and that makes us say that yes, there are areas for intervention for the government.
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Understanding the causes of infertility
On a sample of 36 developing countries, with about 12 million observations on 3 continents, we distinguish between three main forms of infertility.
In the first place, the sterility natural : 1.9% of individuals come into the world without the ability to reproduce. It affects us without distinction of gender or ethnic and social origin. It is not the most rampant. In the second place, the reproductive failure due to poverty : it affects 2.3% of the women in our sample, but up to 12.6 % of women in mali. The growing relationship between the intensity of the poverty and the probability of not being able to give birth is essentially explained by a stronger degree of exposure to sexually transmitted diseases the vectors of infertility and by a low access to reproductive technologies, medically assisted. Finally, we distinguish between infertility related to economic opportunities. One of the major reasons of not having children lies in the economic opportunities available to women throughout their reproductive life.
Rates of infertility related to economic opportunities in 36 developing countries. © The authors
Having children requires for women, much more than for men, to waive a non-negligible part of their participation in the labour market. Therefore, the higher the salary of a woman is high, and its prospects promising and the more it has to lose by having children. The infertility of opportunities for 3,5% of the women in our sample, it goes up to 11 % in Argentina.
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Rate of infertility is linked to poverty in 36 developing countries. © The authors
The prevalence of each type of infertility is of course not the same in all countries. The countries of South America, more advanced in their development process, are more prone to infertility opportunities, while countries in sub-saharan Africa suffer from severe infertility of poverty.
The development means, therefore, not with an increase or decrease in a systematic infertility, but with a decrease followed by a resurgence, a phenomenon that is already largely observed in the course of history. In this context, how development policies affect infertility ? Feed or dampen the "demographic bomb" as feared by the leaders of the rich countries ? The answer is nuanced.
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A demographic transition in trompe-l'oeil ?
for example, ensuring universal access to primary school would reduce the number of children that mothers in the poorest put in the world, but, at the same time, many more women would have access to reproduction. To be clear, infertility is linked to poverty would be reduced, which would limit the decrease in the average number of children per woman. The decrease of the fertilization of poverty is a good thing : the poorest families have access to a wider range of potentials. The same goes for the policy of family planning.
The fight against gender inequality is also effective to reduce the fertility in developing countries. Ensure equal pay between men and women, to a level of education that would reduce the number of children of the mothers, and would also increase infertility of opportunities.
What we highlight, it is a dimension of poverty that is too often forgotten : the infertility. Surprising it is, combat poverty does not necessarily lower the childlessness, but in turns the roots : poverty gives way to opportunities.
This movement contributes to the maintenance of a number of children per woman is relatively high at the beginning of the development process ; it feeds the idea that demographic transitions are seized in many countries in sub-saharan Africa, there is surely nothing. With the development, infertility will rise again, but this time, it will be because the women in developing countries have access to economic opportunities comparable to those available to men. And it is so much better.
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* Thomas Baudin is an associate professor at the Ieseg School of Management.
** David Cross is a professor of economics at the catholic University of Louvain.
*** Paula Gobbi is assistant professor at the Free University of Brussels.