Trends in contraceptive prevalence in sub-Saharan Africa: The roles of family planning programs and education

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Article (peer-reviewed)

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Since the 1990s some countries in Africa have experienced very rapid increases in contraceptive prevalence (e.g. Ethiopia, Malawi, Rwanda), while others (e.g. Nigeria) have seen little change. This study aims to shed light on the causes of these different trends which remain controversial. We assess the role of family planning programs vs. socioeconomic development (especially, women‘s educational attainment). Estimates of the effects of different explanatory factors are obtained by country level regressions in which the prevalence of modern contraception is the dependent variable and women‘s educational attainment, Gross National Income (GNI) per capita, percent urban and child mortality as well as the family planning program score are the independent variables. The statistical analysis finds no significant effects of GNI per capita, percent urban and child mortality. In contrast, women‘s educational attainment and program score have highly significant effects and are the dominant drivers of contraceptive prevalence trends. Voluntary family planning programs can increase contraceptive prevalence at all levels of female education. The best programs with prevalence impact above 30% (relative to no program effort) are found in Zimbabwe, Malawi, Kenya, Rwanda, Zambia and Ethiopia. Without family planning programs prevalence remains low even where education levels have risen substantially.