• Authors: Narae Park, Sangita Vyas, Kathleen Broussard, and Dean Spears
  • Published in Demographic Research
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Objective: To compare fertility in India to both low-to-middle-income and high-income countries (LMICs and HICs) and describe the patterns that have accompanied India’s transition to low fertility.

Methods: We use data from the Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS), the United Nations (UN), and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) to observe factors associated with fertility decline in 36 Indian states and 76 countries.

Results: Although fertility in India has declined to levels similar to HICs, women’s entry into marriage and initiation of childbearing are more in line with patterns found in LMICs. The vast majority of women in India (97%) are married by age 30, and their average age at first birth is only 21.3 years old. In spite of these patterns, average fertility has declined in India as a result of earlier termination of childbearing. Among more recent cohorts, fewer women progressed to higher-order births and about half of women obtained a sterilization by age 35.

Conclusions: India has reached low fertility by mechanisms outside the traditional indicators of fertility decline. In contrast to countries that have achieved low fertility through delayed age at first birth, women in India have continued to enter unions and bear children early, lowered their age at last birth, and increasingly ended their fertility via sterilization following the birth of two children.

Contribution: Evidence from India reveals an alternative pathway to low fertility, highlighting the limitations of traditional socioeconomic indicators for explaining fertility decline.

Photo by Evan Clark.