Funding for new demography programme on fertility

11 February 2013

The role of education and environment in changing the fertility decisions and behaviour of women in developing countries will form the basis of a new Demography Research Programme to be undertaken by the Oxford Institute of Population Ageing, a member of the Oxford Martin School.

Funded by a four million euro research grant from the European Foundation, Life Sciences Research Partners (LSRP), the programme will fund new posts in demography as well as establishing international collaborations.

Maximum world population will reach somewhere between 6 and 15 billion by 2100 according to the UN. The high variant (15 billion) is generally recognised to place significant strain on the earth’s resources. The medium variant (10 billion) will be better but will still require a significant increase in the requirement for food, fresh water, energy and minerals. World population growth over the rest of the century will be focused in Africa, responsible for 2 billion of the predicted extra 3 billion under the medium variant scenario. Such rapid population growth and high fertility threaten the well-being of individuals and communities in the poorest developing countries.

Professor Sarah Harper, Director of the new Programme said: “While family planning/sexual and reproductive health programmes have made significant advances globally in helping women achieve the family size they desire, in some parts of the world, in particular sub-Saharan Africa, fertility decline is slowing or even stalling. It is now widely recognised that we need more understanding of the drivers behind the uptake of family planning methods, and in particular the role that education and environment can play.”

“It is thus important that the drivers of fertility reduction are understood so that women can be able to choose the family size they desire. This is not only because the growing population will place a considerable burden on the planet’s resources, but also because governments in the least developed countries increasingly recognise that such high birth rates are reducing the potential for development, and women in these countries are themselves calling for measures which will improve their own well-being and those of their existing children.”

The Programme will explore the role of education and environment in fertility decision making.

“The population-environment-development debate is important to us because it provides a framework for understanding inter-sectoral linkages. Many researchers and policy makers are beginning to realise that holistic approaches to improving people’s lives and livelihoods including sexual and reproductive health along with preserving their natural environment are needed” said Professor Harper.

This will be the first research programme to integrate both education and the environment into analysis of the fertility decisions of women. It will collate and develop research which emphasises the key importance of education as a driver of fertility reduction and the growing importance of environmental change as a factor in household reproductive decision making, and the necessity of placing both at the centre of fertility reduction programmes,

The Programme will extend the Institute’s existing expertise on population change in Africa, and their existing relationship with the African Population and Health Research Centre (APHRC).

It will be named the Collen Programme in recognition of the academic vision of Professor Désiré Collen, Chair of the Life Sciences Research Partners.