Factors Related To High Fertility in Developing Countries

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In order to understand the factors which are responsible for high fertility, it is necessary to study the social, cultural and economic conditions prevalent in the countries with high fertility, which may then be compared with the conditions in the countries where fertility has declined.

The following section considers the same factors that were identified earlier for fertility declines in low fertility countries, but in a different context.

Two general explanations are put forward for the high fertility in some countries. The first explanation is that high fertility is a fundamental adjustment to high mortality and that high fertility is necessary for group survival when mortality is high.

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When infant and child mortality rates are high, this consideration becomes ever more important, because to have a large number of children in those circumstances becomes necessary in view of the fact that the chances of survival of children to adulthood are slender.

Even when infant and child mortality rates begin to decline following improved health services, this fact does not become immediately evident to the people.

The other explanation is that high fertility is also an adjustment “to the central importance in community life of familial and kinship ties.” In pre-industrial societies, all activities are centred on kinsmen and children and a great deal of occupational co-operation is required from them for the large tasks that are to be carried out.

In fact, in such societies, economic and social relationships overlap. The production and consumption of goods and services, leisure-time activities, assistance in illness and old age and several other activities, which are normally entrusted to various non-familial institutions in complex societies, fall in the domain of the family and kinship groups in pre-industrial societies.

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In such a social structure, children have a great economic, social, cultural as well as religious value. They become economically useful by the age of six or seven and therefore are not an economic liability for their parents, but are, in fact, economic assets.

They produce various types of goods and a wide range of services: they fetch water and fuel, care for cattle, look after their younger siblings, sweep, etc. When they grow up, these children help their parents and look after them in sickness and old age.

In most pre-industrial societies, great importance is attached to the procreation of male children, for sons extend the family line. Amongst the Hindus, a son is essential, for only he can ceremoniously kindle the funeral pyre and thus affect the salvation of his father’s soul.

He is also responsible for performing religious services for his ancestors. Children are generally considered to add to the wealth and prestige of the family, for with the increase in the number of children and consequent increase in relatives and grandchildren come more political power and additional economic resources for the family.

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Even when children migrate to urban areas, they continue to add to the family income because of strong family ties and their sense of duty towards parents which is ingrained in traditional societies.

In such societies, biological parents may not be called upon to provide for the basic needs of their children, for the family is jointly responsible for all the children born into it.

There is, therefore, no economic motivation for restricting the number of children.

In most traditional societies, a fatalistic attitude to life is ingrained and fostered from childhood. Such an attitude acts as a strong influence against any action that calls for the exercise of the right of the self-determination with reference to reproduction.

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It is for this reason that, when people are asked how many children they would like to have, they are sometimes known to reply: “It is not for us to decide,” “Children are the gifts of God,” etc.

Religious institutions also generally promote high fertility values which are definitely incorporated in the tenets of Hinduism, Judaism, Islam and Christianity, specially among the Roman Catholics.

2. Economic, Social and Other Factors:

The motivational factors mentioned above are supported by the low level of economic and social development which exists in most developing countries today in spite of the fact that the process of industrialisation has already commenced in these countries.

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In most developing countries, there is still widespread poverty, and the literacy rates are low. (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Burma, Indonesia, Thailand are some examples.)

The status of women is also quite low, leading to their unquestioning acceptance of excessive child-bearing without any alternative avenues for self-expression.

The general low level of living leads to an apathetic state of mind, and there is hardly any desire to improve the standard of life. Lack of education acts as a constraint on rational and secular living, and the influence of religious dogmas persist. The result of all these factors is that the size of the family grows without any inhibiting influences.

Taking all these factors into account, the governments, of most developing countries have launched official family planning programmes to educate their people to accept, in keeping with the changing times, the small family norm.

Though this family planning programme cannot be a substitute for economic and social development, and are definitely not meant to be so, they can be quite effective in augmenting the control of fertility.

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