Social Science

Fertility Trends in Bangladesh

Fertility Trends in Bangladesh


At the beginning of the 20th century, the total population of Bangladesh was less than 30 million. The annual growth rate of the population was less than 1 percent until 1951, when the population reached about 44 million (Bangladesh bureau of statistics, 1998). From the early 1950’s, mortality started to decline while fertility remained high until the 1970s. owing to the changes in fertility and mortality rates, from the 1950’s the population started to grow at an unprecedented rate, reaching an all time high (about 2.5% per year) in the 1960s and 1970s. The growth rate then started to decline in the 1980s and is currently about 1.2% per year. The Bangladesh population policy indicates that the population should stabilize at 210 million by 2060, if replacement level fertility is reached by 2010. This estimates of future population science is reasonably consistent with the World Bank projection from 1994 (BOS et al., 1994), and the UN projections 1996 revisions (UN 1996), both of which estimated on mid 21st century population of 210 millions. The main source behind the decline in the population growth rate of Bangladesh in the 1980s and 1990s was a remarkable decrease in fertility during the period. In the early 1970s, the TFR was about 7 children per woman, and an estimated 2.7 children per woman obtained by BDHS 2007. The TFR is so surprisingly low that quality of the data is being questioned. The aim of the chapter is to unmark genuine trends from the BDHS 2007 data. Its aim is to reach the firmest possible conclusions about the timing, magnitude, and nature of fertility decline in Bangladesh.

Lifetime fertility:

Fertility Trends in Bangladesh since early 1970s can be examined by observing a time series of estimates produced from demographic surveys filled over the last 2 and half decades, beginning with the 1975 BFS in 1978, the government of Bangladesh declared population pressure as the leading problem of the country. Since then, the government as well as non-governmental private and international organizations has undertaken several programs to solve population problems. Some success in different areas has been achieved.

Table: 3.2: cumulated number of children ever born to all women, by age group, various sources

Source15-1920-2425-2930-3435-3940-4445-49All ages
Census 19610.
BRSFM 19740.
CPS 19810.
CPS 19830.
CPS 1985-860.
BFS 19890.
CPS 19890.
CPS 19910.
BDHS 1993-940.
BDHS 1996-970.
BDHS 1999-
BDHS 20040.
BDHS 20070.

 For example, female field workers, known as Family Welfare Assistants (FWAs), have established a well-designed net work for providing door-to-door family planning services. As a result, a substantial increase contraceptive use and remarkable decline in fertility have been achieved in the past two decades. The Bangladeshi family planning program is therefore now considered a model for less developed countries. However, despite these achievements, the present TFR is far above the replacement level and the population problem remains leading problem in the country. A convenient starting point for the discussion of fertility is a cohort analysis of cumulative number of children ever born. Table 3.2 displays the relevant information from all major sources over the last 30 years. At first glance, there appears to be no obvious pattern to the results.

Means number of children fluctuate erratically between 3.1 and 3.8 births. The oscillation reflects differential completeness of reporting between surveys as, for instances, have occurred in surveys conducted 1981. The problem is not clearly seen with regard to the differences between the census 1961 and the BFS a year later. A detailed evolution in these years suggests strongly that appreciable omission of children occurred among older age groups (Blacker 1977). The adjusted means are close to those reported in the 1975 BFS.

When attention is confined to the more reliable sources, a pattern emerges. Starting in 1983, the CPS has been conducted by Mitra and associates under contract to USAID, employing high standards of fieldwork supervision. A comparison of three most recent Contraceptive Prevalence Surveys reveals a decline in fertility among all age groups except the oldest. Similarly, comparison of the two Bangladesh fertility surveys both of which laid particular stress on accuracy of measurements shows an appreciable decline. The overall standardized mean changes from 3.79 births in 1975 to 3.14 in 1989, a fall of 17 percent. While deterioration in completeness of birth reporting or discrepancies in sample design could account for both the CPS and BFS comparisons, a genuine decline in fertility is a more likely explanation.

A comparison of the mean of number of children ever born reported in the 2004 BDHS and various other surveys does not highlights recent changes in fertility, but rather is an indication of the cumulative changes in fertility over the decades preceding the 2004 BDHS. Despite the fluctuations between surveys, the data generally show only modest declines until the late 1980s. Between 1985 and 1989, the decline in the mean number of children gain declined considerably between 1991 and 1993-1994 and 1999-2000 at all ages except 15-19. The most recent data showed a decline in the mean number of children between 1999-2000 and 2007 among women age 30and above.

 Fertility levels and trends:

Bangladesh has been cited a remarkable decline in fertility that has begun in 1980s this is the main force behind the decline in the population growth rate of Bangladesh during this period. In the early 1970s the TFR was about seven children and women in the first demographic and Health Survey 94. TFR remained almost unchanged at 3.3 children per woman in the next two DHSs conducted in 1996-97 and 1999-2000. (Mitra and others, 1997, BDHS 2000). According to the BDHS 2007, the estimated TFR is 2.7. This shows a very small change in TFR in recent years. The following table also represents the trends in current fertility.

Table: 3.3.1: Trend in current fertility according to national survey:

Year1975 (BFS)1989 (BFS)1991 (BDHS)1993-94 (BDHS)1996-97 (BDHS)1999-00 (BDHS)2004 (BDHS)2007



 This unexpected halt in TFR naturally raises questions about the factors of fertility dynamics and the future prospect of fertility decline in Bangladesh and has created concern among planner and policy marks.

Other predictors of fertility are the age at first birth. The onset of childbearing has a direct effect on fertility. Early initiation into childbearing lengthens the reproductive period and subsequently increases fertility. In many countries, postponement of first births reflects an increase in the age at first marriage has an important role to decline fertility. Early childbearing involves substantial risks to the health of both the mother and child and restrict educational and economic opportunities for women. The following table gives the relevant evidence from the 1989 BFS and 2007 BDHS in terms of median age at 1st birth:

Table: 3.3.2: Age t 1st birth according to the 1989 BFS and 2007 BDHS:

Current Age

Age at 1st birthSurvey20-2425-2930-3435-3940-4445-49
BFS 198918.017.617.317.217.016.9
BDHS 200719.018.117.818.217.817.6

The median age at first birth, is about 18.2 years across all age cohorts, except for women age 45-49 years, whose median age at 1st birth 18 years, indicating a slight change in the age at first birth. This light increases in age at 1st birth is reflected in the smaller proportion of younger women whose 1st birth occurred before age 15, 18% of women in their late forties report having had their 1st birth before age 15,compared with only 6 percent of women age 15-19. Comparison of data from the 1999-2000 BDHS and the 2007 BDHS shows little change in the median age at first birth for women age 20-49. At this point, it is useful to introduce a different type of evidence to buttress the emerging conclusion that Bangladesh indeed has experienced a recent, large fertility decline. In successive surveys, currently married woman have been asked whether or not they are pregnant. As an indicator of fertility, current pregnancy data have one great virtue compared to birth data: they do not suffer from misdating problems. However, it is well known that understatement occurs, partly out of shyness but mainly because women are often uncertain about their status in the first trimester of pregnancy (Goldman and West off 1980). Nevertheless, it is likely that the degree of understatement is constant over time and to the extent that this proposition is valid, trends in the proportions pregnant can be interpreted in a straightforward manner. These proportions are given in the table 3.3.3

The prevalence of reported pregnancy is slightly lower in 1975 than in the subsequent 3 surveys; probably because of an effect on fertility of the severe 1974 famine (The Matlab data series shows a marked fertility response to the famine). Percentage of currently married women who reported that they were pregnant, 1975 and 2007 BDHS.

Table 3.3.3: Percent of pregnant in 1989 and 2004

SurveyPercent pregnant
BFS 197512.5
CPS 197913.2
CPS 198114.1
CPS 198313.2
CPS 1985-8610.5
BFS 19899.3
CPS 199110.7
BDHS 1993-948.7
BDHS 1996-977.7
BDHS 1999-007.8
BDHS 20046.6
BDHS 20076.1

After that declining trend has started and stalled around 6.1 percent. The above table gives a detailed comparison of the 1975 and 2007survey results. At younger ages, the fall in proportions pregnant is modest, but the difference widens among older women, comparison of the total pregnancy rate reveals on overall fall of 47 percent. The conclusion can be drawn that a large decline in marital fertility has occurred, in response to increased birth control in the later stages of marriage.

The above discussion revealed the factors behind the fertility decline in Bangladesh. There is another important factor which has important role in this decline the contraception prevalence which is discussed in later.

Fertility Trends in Bangladesh