(Boserup, 1985; World Bank, 1986; Caldwell and Caldwell, 1987, 1988, 1990; Lesthaeghe, 1989; van de Walle and Foster, 1990; Caldwell et al., 1992).

The level of fertility in sub-Saharan Africa, as measured by the total fertility rate (TFR),1 is approximately 6.0–6.5 births per woman. This figure masks considerable variation between regions and between individual countries. For example, the most recent estimate of the total fertility rate in Rwanda (8.5 births per woman in 1983) is almost double the most recent estimate for the population of black South Africa (4.6 births per woman in 1987–1989). More generally, fertility rates in East and West Africa are greater than those in Central Africa, in part because of the historically high prevalence of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) in certain areas of Central Africa (Frank, 1983; Tambashe, 1992). The prevalence of STDs is associated with unusually high rates of infecundability in the region especially prior to the 1970s. Fertility was probably higher in East Africa than in West Africa during the 1970s and 1980s, although the difference appears to have lessened in the more recent past. Reported fertility rates rose in certain parts of Africa in the late 1960s and 1970s; however, it is not clear what proportion of the increase was the result of improvements in data accuracy.

In addition to the regional and national variation in fertility rates, there is often considerable variation in fertility within countries. Repeatedly, fertility surveys have recorded substantial differences in rates among ethnic, geographic, and socioeconomic groups. For example, fertility rates are consistently lower among women who live in urban areas, women who have more than primary school education, and women who work in the formal labor market. In Africa, the number of women in each of these socioeconomic groups has, at least until recently, been small, and the groups overlap considerably. Consequently, lower fertility among these women has a minimal effect on national-level TFRs.

The objective of this chapter is to summarize existing knowledge on levels, trends, and differentials in achieved fertility in sub-Saharan Africa. Although there have been several comprehensive reviews of fertility levels in Africa in the past (see, for example, Brass et al., 1968; Page and Coale, 1972; United Nations, 1987), new sources of data make it possible to update


There is no single, readily agreed upon best measure of fertility. The total fertility rate is a synthetic measure that expresses the total number of children a hypothetical woman would have if she survived to the end of her reproductive years (taken to be 49) and if she experienced the same level and pattern of fertility throughout her reproductive life as women at the time the data are collected. An advantage of using the TFR over other measures of fertility, such as the crude birth rate, is that it is independent of the age structure of the population.

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