Cover Image
close this bookThe Value of Family Planning Programs in Developing Countries (RAND, 1998, 98 p.)
close this folderChapter Two - THE NEED FOR FAMILY PLANNING
close this folderDesire for Smaller Families
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentUnmet Need
View the documentReasons for Unmet Need


These potential benefits, however substantial they could appear to government planners, may not be the most important argument for seeking lower fertility. More significant is the fact that millions of couples in developing countries actually want to have smaller families. Motivated not by macroeconomic considerations but by practical concerns about family finances, health and well-being, and the future of their offspring, millions around the world would prefer to have fewer children than they are actually having.

Figure 10 compares the number of children women wanted, on average, in the early 1990s with total fertility across 28 developing countries in the 1990-1995 period. These countries are arrayed from those with the highest to those with the lowest desired family size. Except where desired family size exceeds six children (a setting somewhat overrepresented in this figure because more than half the data are from sub-Saharan Africa), the actual number of children tends to exceed the number desired by about three-fourths of a child on average.15

15Looking at number wanted person by person, one can identify births that exceed each person's desired number. Such calculations indicate even more "unwanted" births than suggested by Figure 10 (Bankole and Westoff 1995:24-25).

Figure 10 - Number of Children Desired and Total Fertitlity in 28 Countries

NOTE: Where available, desired family size is for all women; otherwise, it is for women ever married (Bankole and Westoff, 1995).

These statistics refer to what women - mostly married women - want. But men tend to have fairly similar, only slightly higher, preferences, except in the highest-fertility settings. Again excepting countries where average desired family size exceeds six children, men's preferred family size is usually higher than women's by no more that 0.1 or 0.2 children (Ezeh et al., 1996, p. 29) and therefore is still most often below actual fertility.