Key drivers of fertility levels and differentials in India, at the national, state and population subgroup levels, 2015–2016: An application of Bongaarts' proximate determinants model

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Article (peer-reviewed)

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Objectives: The transition to small family size is at an advanced phase in India, with a national TFR of 2.2 in 2015–16. This paper examines the roles of four key determinants of fertility—marriage, contraception, abortion and postpartum infecundability—for India, all 29 states and population subgroups. Methods: Data from the most recent available national survey, the National Family Health Survey, conducted in 2015–16, were used. The Bongaarts proximate determinants model was used to quantify the roles of the four key factors that largely determine fertility. Methodological contributions of this analysis are: adaptations of the model to the Indian context; measurement of the role of abortion; and provision of estimates for sub-groups nationally and by state: age, education, residence, wealth status and caste. Results: Nationally, marriage is the most important determinant of the reduction in fertility from the biological maximum, contributing 36%, followed by contraception and abortion, contributing 24% and 23% respectively, and post-partum infecundability contributed 16%. This national pattern of contributions characterizes most states and subgroups. Abortion makes a larger contribution than contraception among young women and better educated women. Findings suggest that sterility and infertility play a greater than average role in Southern states; marriage practices in some Northeastern states; and male migration for less-educated women. The absence of stronger relationships between the key proximate fertility determinants and geography or socio-economic status suggests that as family size declined, the role of these determinants is increasingly homogenous. Conclusions: Findings argue for improvements across all states and subgroups, in provision of contraceptive care and safe abortion services, given the importance of these mechanisms for implementing fertility preferences. In-depth studies are needed to identify policy and program needs that depend on the barriers and vulnerabilities that exist in specific areas and population groups.