Center for Studies in Demography and Ecology

Population Research Discovery Seminars

Fellow Host: Tiffany Pan

Fertility Decline in Africa: Are the Determinants Different?

John Casterline, Department of Sociology, Ohio State University

12:30-1:30 PM PT
121 Raitt Hall

Variants of an “African exceptionalism” argument are now common in the discourse on African fertility decline.  In a recent contribution, Bongaarts (2017) presents evidence of an “Africa effect” — fertility rates on average one birth higher than in other regions conditional on conventional demographic and socioeconomic factors.  In this presentation, John investigates the empirical basis for this claim via country-level regression analysis of annual data for the period 1950 – 2015.  Two propositions are examined:  (i) Fertility declines in Africa started at lower levels of development than declines in other regions.  (ii) Fertility in Africa exceeds what is expected given values of conventional development indicators.  Both propositions are rejected.  As fertility decline unfolds in Africa, its alignment with socioeconomic development roughly conforms to the historical experience in other regions, especially Asia.

During a three-decade research career, John Casterline has investigated the causes and consequences of fertility decline in developing countries. The enormous decline – from six births to two births per woman on average – surely ranks among the most significant social changes of the past half century, transforming adult lives and childhood experience, and with major ramifications for the economic and social structure of societies. Relying primarily on survey data (some of it national, some localized), he directed multi-country multi-year projects on social diffusion models of fertility change, on unmet need for family planning, and on unwanted fertility (methods of estimation, consequences for parental and child well-being). In the mid-1990s, he began collaborative research on demographic change in the Arab region that has continued to the present, and during the same period he has examined fertility decline in sub-Saharan Africa, the last remaining high-fertility region on the globe. In the course of pursuing these topics, with local collaborators he has engaged in fieldwork in the Philippines, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Egypt, and Ghana. His current research agenda includes: sources of contemporary fertility decline (motives vs. means); the pace of fertility decline in sub-Saharan Africa; the decline in unwanted fertility during the past three decades (a public health success story); family change in the Arab region; the impact of demography on family and kinship processes (e.g. sibling relations); application of decision models to reproductive behavior.

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