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Fertility decline averts 300 m births

Sudhanshu Ranade

The high proportion of married women reporting no babies ever born comes as a surprise, and would probably benefit from some investigation and/or cross-checking of the data.

Chennai , June 27

THE average number of children born to urban women over their child-bearing years in the 65 to 74, 55 to 64 and 45 to 54 age brackets were 3.95, 3.77 and 3.40, respectively.

The difference may seem small. But if the last rather than the first of these figures is applicable to the 110.37 million urban women who are today below the age of 45, 60 million fewer babies would have been born to them by the time they grow out of their child-bearing years.

And this is the effect of the extent to which fertility rates declined in a single generation.

If the trend of decline in children ever born to women in the 65 to 74, 55 to 64 and 45 to 54 age groups continues in future,, urban women presently below the age of 45 will have an average of only 3.1 babies each over their child-bearing years.

In this case, the total number of children born to women, who are presently in this age group, will be only 342 million — 94 million less if they had 3.95 babies each, as did their mothers, grandmothers and great-grandmothers who were in the 65 to 74 age bracket in 2001. These figures are based on the table on `children ever born' to women of various age groups that has just been made available by the Census authorities for 2001.

The corresponding figures for the average number of children to rural women born over their child-bearing years in the 65 to 74, 55 to 64 and 45 to 54 age groups are 4.47, 4.41 and 4.15, respectively.

If the last of these figures is applicable to the 293 million rural women who were below the age of 45 in 2001, this would mean a `saving' of 106 million babies. These women would bear a total of 1.3 billion babies over their child bearing years, if they have an average of 4.47 babies each, and only 1.2 billion babies if the average is 4.15. Since fertility rates have continued to decline since then, the number of babies `saved' could add up to 200 million or more. Of course, this is not the number of babies who would be born or `saved' over any given decade.

Girls who are still in their cradles would not reach the age of puberty for another 15 to 16 years, and thereafter, their child bearing capacity would be spread over three decades.

In general, the pattern seems to be a decline over the years in the proportion of women having five babies or more and an increase in the proportion of women having four babies or less. Interestingly, in the 65-74 year age group, about one in every five women had seven babies or more in both rural and urban areas.

The high proportion of married women reporting no babies ever born comes as a surprise, and would probably benefit from some investigation and/or cross-checking of the data.

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