From time to time, people ask us about unexpected consequences of our work to improve health in poor countries. They’re committed to that goal, but they wonder about the link between improved child survival and ongoing population growth.
How do improved child survival rates affect overall population? Over the years, data from many countries show that when the death rates of children ages five and younger decline, fertility rates also eventually drop. In other words, when children survive, parents have smaller families.
For a vivid and entertaining demonstration of this trend, watch this video of Hans Rosling speaking at a June 2010 TED conference. Rosling, a professor of global health at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute, has developed visualization software that brings to life the link between childhood mortality estimates—mostly taken from United Nations data—and fertility rates. His conclusion? Child survival is essential to stabilizing global population.
To plan a family
What contributes to child survival? Public health services, such as immunization, prevention and treatment of diarrheal disease, improved nutrition, safe birth, and family planning. In many instances, people already want smaller families. UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, estimates that more than 200 million women worldwide who aren’t using contraceptives want to delay or avoid pregnancy. From our beginnings 35 years ago, PATH has been committed to providing women and men with tools and information to help them plan when and whether to have children.
The real reason
Our work may contribute to population stabilization, but that’s not the reason we do what we do. We work to improve health so that all children have a chance to grow up—to live long past their fifth birthdays, unaffected by disease—and become healthy, productive adults that can build thriving communities wherever they live.
Interested in more?
We’ve compiled a short list of resources:
- For more about Hans Rosling and his work, see the Gapminder website.
- For an overview of the population issue, including a discussion of what influences fertility rates, see The State of World Population 2012: By choice, not by chance on the UNFPA website.
- For a look at four countries in four phases of population transition, see The World at 7 Billion on the Population Reference Bureau’s website.
Global health quiz
On Tuesday, we asked if lowering childhood death rates raises population. Data show that as childhood survival rises, fertility rates decline over time, which may stabilize population growth.