• Taylor Piotrowski

Myth #4: Poverty Causes High Fertility Rates

Poverty and high fertility rates [1] are closely connected because in most of the poorest regions of the world women are having too many children which they then cannot financially support [2]. However, a common myth is that women have the choice to regulate fertility instead of being subject to sociopolitical conditions that influence the total number of children she bears. This myth is centred around the idea of cause and effect which states that having more children amplifies a family’s financial hardships. Yet, researchers have indicated that the number of children in a family is not the primary condition for economic growth [3], but rather improved social status and education will decrease mean fertility and consequently reduce poverty rates by increasing a woman's income [4]. As a result, a woman’s fertility decisions are due to her limited access to education and workforce opportunities.

Research has consistently shown that education and the empowerment of women plays a key role in the ideational theories of fertility decline [5]. Participation in non-familial institutions will reduce time spent at home and weaken the influence of traditional values that deny women independence [6], therefore reducing the desire for more children. Education will increase egalitarian values which encourage female independence and lead to small families and more calculated childbearing decisions. Schooling also contributes to the quality over quantity theory [5] where parents limit the quantity of children in order to increase the quality of each child’s life. Finally, school teaches new skills increasing women’s contraceptive knowledge and workforce opportunities, thereby altering her desire for having more children. Ultimately, higher total fertility will increase a woman’s time spent caring for her children and will decrease workforce participation and average income[5].

Improved education will increase time spent in school and will effectively postpone marriage and childbearing. The 1960-69 cohort of British women was recorded in a Demographic Research article that one who has her first child before the age of 20 will have an average completed family size of 3.13 children compared to the average 1.52 children recorded of a woman having her first child between 35-39 years old [7].

Therefore, high fertility rates are not a result of poverty but a result of educational opportunities and a women’s overall status in society which limits their workforce participation and overall income.


[1] "High Birth Rates Hamper Development in Poorer Countries, Warns UN Forum." UN News Center. United Nations, 01 Apr. 2009. Web. 28 Apr. 2017.

[2] Maclean, Ruth. "High Birth Rates and Poverty Undermine a Generation of African Children – Report." The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 24 Aug. 2016. Web. 28 Apr. 2017.

[3]Sinding, Steven W. “Population, Poverty and Economic Development.” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 364.1532 (2009): 3030. PMC. Web. 28 Apr. 2017.

[4] Macunovich, Diane J. "Relative Income and Price of Time: Exploring Their Effects on US Fertility and Female Labor Force Participation." 22 (1996): 240. Web. 28 Apr. 2017.

[5] Axinn, William G., and Jennifer S. Barber. "Mass Education and Fertility Transition." 66.4 (2001): 481-505. Web. 27 Apr. 2017.

[6]Reid, Graeme. "The Trouble With Tradition." Human Rights Watch. N.p., 16 Aug. 2016. Web. 28 Apr. 2017.

[7] Berrington, Ann, Juliet Stone, and Eva Beaujouan. "Educational Differences in Timing and Quantum of Childbearing in Britain." Demographic Research 33 (2015): 750. Web.

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