Volume 48 - Article 34 | Pages 945–956  

Near-universal marriage, early childbearing, and low fertility: India’s alternative fertility transition

By Narae Park, Sangita Vyas, Kathleen Broussard, Dean Spears


Objective: To compare fertility in India to both low-to-middle-income and high-income countries (LMICs and HICs) and describe the patterns that have accompanied India’s transition to low fertility.

Methods: We use data from the Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS), the United Nations (UN), and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) to observe factors associated with fertility decline in 36 Indian states and 76 countries.

Results: Although fertility in India has declined to levels similar to HICs, women’s entry into marriage and initiation of childbearing are more in line with patterns found in LMICs. The vast majority of women in India (97%) are married by age 30, and their average age at first birth is only 21.3 years old. In spite of these patterns, average fertility has declined in India as a result of earlier termination of childbearing. Among more recent cohorts, fewer women progressed to higher-order births and about half of women obtained a sterilization by age 35.

Conclusions: India has reached low fertility by mechanisms outside the traditional indicators of fertility decline. In contrast to countries that have achieved low fertility through delayed age at first birth, women in India have continued to enter unions and bear children early, lowered their age at last birth, and increasingly ended their fertility via sterilization following the birth of two children.

Contribution: Evidence from India reveals an alternative pathway to low fertility, highlighting the limitations of traditional socioeconomic indicators for explaining fertility decline.

Author's Affiliation

Most recent similar articles in Demographic Research

The gender gap in schooling outcomes: A cohort study of young men and women in India
Volume 48 - Article 33    | Keywords: cohort studies, educational attainment, gender, India, secondary education

Spatial heterogeneity in son preference across India’s 640 districts: An application of small-area estimation
Volume 47 - Article 26    | Keywords: census, India, model-based small-area estimation, National Family Health Surveys (NFHS), son preference

Heterogeneity among the never married in a low-fertility context
Volume 47 - Article 24    | Keywords: latent class analysis, low fertility, marriage, Singapore, singlehood

The association between childlessness and voting turnout in 38 countries
Volume 47 - Article 14    | Keywords: childlessness, democracy, low fertility, voting turnout

Can status exchanges explain educational hypogamy in India?
Volume 46 - Article 28    | Keywords: bargaining, couple formation, India, intercaste marriages, interoccupation marriages, status exchange, women's education