Report on seminar

"Poverty, Fertility and Family Planning"

Seminar held in Mexico City, June 2-4, 1998

Coordinator: Maria Eugenia COSIO-ZAVALA

Committee for International Cooperation in National Research in Demography (CICRED)
Instituto de Investigaciones Sociales - Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (IISUNAM)
United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)

This seminar in Mexico gathered together delegates from research centers in Africa, Asia, America, Eastern and Western Europe, chosen on the basis of their replies to the CICRED survey sent out to all its members on their research projects in this field. A list was drawn up of 121 projects in 58 centers which dealt with these topics and these were used to establish the seminar agenda. Moreover, some Mexican agencies were also invited to send delegates: IISUNAM, El Colegio de Mexico, FLACSO, CONAPO, CRIM, SOMEDE, PROGRESA, etc., who took up the baton by actively cooperating in the three-day long seminar.

The proceedings were launched with a talk by CONAPO's Secretary General, Rodolfo TUIRAN, who spoke about the links between poverty, fertility and family life cycles in Mexico. He emphasized the significance of the role of family processes and changes between generations in fertility trends, as well as the passage from poverty status to non-poverty status. Social imbalances uphold considerable fertility differentials in spite of a general trend towards decline, which is undeniably related to differences in access to health services depending on social class. Mexico's population program must take these social imbalances into account in order to limit the consequences.

The first session covered the theoretical and methodological aspects. Dominique TABUTIN and Bruno SCHOUMAKER used a large number of cases from throughout the world to review the associations between poverty and fertility which give paradoxical results, closely dependent on indicators of poverty measurement. Efforts must be made to improve the tools used in analyzing the relationships between fertility and poverty. Susana LERNER and André QUESNEL emphasized the role of reproductive paths in the changes observed in the fertility levels of the lowest of the social classes. Pregnancy has become a medical event throughout Mexico, which implies that the various analytical levels: social, family and institutional, must be taken into account.

The second session dealt with family formation within the context of poverty. In the developed countries, the significant levels of teenage pregnancy offer the most visible sign, often related to the absence of any other alternatives for young girls who are victims of social exclusion, scanty education, unemployment or precarious living conditions. Access to health services gives rise to the issue of self-esteem, life projects and social and personal opportunities. In the transition economies of Eastern Europe (3rd session), the significant deterioration of living standards has led families to limit their size, to use abortion and to be pessimistic about the future (Lithuania, Slovakia). In the same way, in the poor areas of Buenos Aires (4th session), the situation is similar and results in a fertility decline amongst young women, while difficulties in gaining access to family planning, restrictions on abortion and difficulties in accessing health services lead to contraceptive methods being of little or no use. In spite of these problems, young girls will still have less children than their mothers did.

On the other hand, in a poor urban context in Senegal, the family planning practices and aspirations of males are restricted by those social and cultural determinants which put high fertility at a premium. Changes could be made possible through an increased offer of contraceptive methods (the action of some NGOs), but remain limited. Other cases, but in rural areas this time (Nepal, Côte d'Ivoire) also demonstrate very few changes in fertility within a crisis context or economic and social precarity, where increased poverty runs parallel to deterioration in the health services offered to the population, including family planning (5th session), while conditions of access to land and environmental degradation would make a fertility decline a pre-requisite for putting a halt to population growth. In Côte d'Ivoire, young people are remaining single for longer periods due to the lack of work and the financial means which allow them to marry, but the supply of family planning services remains very poor and there are very few families who actually use any contraceptive methods.

In other cases, such as Mexico, Brazil and in two parts of India, the situation is totally different. Family planning supplies are exceptionally good, fertility is declining rapidly and sterilization is becoming more popular, particularly in Brazil, amongst the poorer population strata. The abundance of contraceptive methods available and program quality are directly related to this accelerated fertility decline in all social classes, including the poorest.

Finally, the general report and the final discussions showed that the concept of poverty is multi-dimensional, that the relationships between poverty, fertility and family planning are complex and diverse, depending on the economic, social or cultural context. A study of this topic highlights numerous methodological issues. On the other hand, it was clearly demonstrated that the poor sections of society are undergoing rapid transformation, that fertility and family planning are undergoing as many changes as in other social categories, that taking the education determinant into consideration is essential, as well as gender relationships. The same level of attention must also be given to the desire for children - which can decline when the value of children changes for family survival - as to the supply of family planning services, which can be a part of quality program that take into account the requirements of both families and individuals.

Fertility is a process within which poverty is a determinant, like any other. It is important to understand the dynamics of the processes which link fertility and poverty.

Several of the main topics on the agenda of this seminar threw some light on the issue:

Proceedings of the seminar

Editor on behalf of CICRED: Eric VILQUIN

Twelve papers have been selected for publication. They are available in PDF format (*.pdf). You can read them by using "Adobe Acrobat Reader". If you have not this one, click here to download it freely.

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