Fertility and Inequality in Latin America
The demographic evolution of Latin America, especially the decline in fertility, provides an unprecedented opportunity for economic advancement and for improving the household living conditions in the region.
This is a good stage for increasing productivity and strengthening social protection systems given the relative increase in the potentially productive population. However, it has limited duration and ends with a proportionally higher aged population.
In its latest flagship publication Social Panorama of Latin America 2011, ECLAC analyses fertility trends in the region in their economic, social and demographic context, so as to spotlight the challenges the countries will face in the short and medium term.
In the mid-1960s the women of the region were reaching the end of their childbearing years with nearly six children. Towards 2015 the total fertility rate (TFR) in Latin America and the Caribbean will be 2.1 children per women versus 1.7 children in developed countries.
Although the average number of children for all of the countries in the region is low, there are still significant differences among social groups; this reflects the sharp socioeconomic inequalities prevailing in the region.
The factors that have contributed the most to the drop in fertility are those associated with exposure to sexual relations, such as not entering a union or doing so late, or separating either temporarily or permanently. However, the impact of contraceptive use, which accounts for almost 40% of the decline, is growing quickly as contraceptives –and the use of modern contraceptive methods-become more widespread.
In the chapter entitled "Current status and outlook for fertility in Latin America", ECLAC explains that adolescent fertility is declining at a much slower pace than total fertility.
In many countries in the region, adolescent fertility rose in the 1990s. In Latin America, the fertility rate of women aged between 15 and 19 years is three times higher than the average of developed countries.
The statistics show that sexual activity is starting earlier in adolescence, tending to make pregnancy during this stage more likely. To avoid such situations, there is a need to redouble public sexual and reproductive health policies and programmes targeting this group, in order to significantly increase the effective use of modern contraceptives.
Likewise, the total fertility rate in the region continues to be invariably higher the lower women's education level. In absolute terms, this is most striking in Ecuador, Haiti and the Plurinational State of Bolivia, with differences of more than three children between uneducated women and those who have reached secondary education.
The inequality in fertility between groups with different education levels is usually particularly marked in the case of adolescent mothers.
According to ECLAC, the situation unfolding in Latin America with marked inequalities in fertility according to level of education and persistently high adolescent fertility, reveal shortfalls in prevention and barriers to accessing modern contraceptive methods.
In all of the countries considered, the contraceptive prevalence rate is lower among women with less schooling. This in turn is closely correlated with the unmet demand for family planning services.
For this reason, ECLAC reminds that the challenge facing the countries of Latin America is to adopt measures and step up efforts to meet target 5.B of the Millennium Development Goals: achieve, by 2015, universal access to reproductive health.
Women with higher number of dependants, in particular aged between 0 and 5 years, and especially those in the lowest quintiles, find it the most difficult to be inserted into the labour market, obtain jobs and access social protection mechanisms.
In this way, a negative cycle of inequality forms, in which the different patterns of fertility are linked with social exclusion throughout life.
Figure. Latin America (4 countries): Fertility in countries with rates below replacement level in 2005-2010
(Number of children per woman)