Volume 46 - Article 29 | Pages 849–864

Fertility among better-off women in sub-Saharan Africa: Nearing late transition levels across the region

By Jamaica Corker, Clémentine Rossier, Lonkila Moussa Zan

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Date received:13 Aug 2021
Date published:04 May 2022
Word count:2442
Keywords:education, fertility, fertility differentials, international comparison, socioeconomic status, sub-Saharan Africa


Background: While overall fertility across Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) is still high, fertility rates have been declining among educated and wealthier women in many countries since the 1970s. It is not clear whether, five decades later, consistently lower fertility among better-off women represents a distinct fertility regime among this subpopulation.

Objective: To determine whether advantaged women (the best educated or wealthiest) in contemporary SSA have fertility characteristic of late (total fertility rate [TFR] 2.0–2.9) or mid-to-late (TFR 3.0–3.9) fertility transition levels.

Methods: We use data from the Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) to calculate TFR for better-off women using six educational and wealth categories in 27 countries in SSA.

Results: Women with completed secondary education (11% of the full sample) across SSA have late (2.0–2.9) or mid-to-late (3.0–3.9) TFR in 25 out of 27 sample countries (with an average TFR of 3.2). While better-educated women in higher-fertility countries (TFR>5) have somewhat higher fertility than their counterparts in lower-fertility settings (TFR<5), there is convergence towards similarly low fertility among highly educated women within countries with TFR <5.

Conclusions: Better-educated women across SSA today have fertility rates nearing late transition levels. Their fertility is only partly associated with the overall country fertility.

Contribution: The finding that women in the upper social group in most countries in SSA are nearing the end of the fertility transition shows a more complex picture of fertility decline across the region than is commonly assumed. It shifts attention to understanding the intragroup differentials and diffusion processes that will impact the future path of fertility declines in the region.

Author's Affiliation

Jamaica Corker - Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, United States of America [Email]
Clémentine Rossier - Université de Genève, Switzerland [Email]
Lonkila Moussa Zan - Université de Genève, Switzerland [Email]

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