Impacts of Schooling on Fertility Rates Journal

Education and Fertility Rates

Fertility and Educational Attainment

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Women around the world are starting to become more empowered through higher education attainment levels. Millions of women are now finding more educational opportunities at their fingertips, which empower them as well as the economic capacity of their respective nations. Yet, education also has an impact on fertility rates; as education levels rise, fertility rates tend to decrease. Nations with higher education expectations thus tend to have women with decreased fertility rates and who tend to have children at much older age groups than in nations where there are less educational opportunities for women.

Education is a major factor of improving a woman’s quality of life. At the same time, education also impacts the rate at which women give birth. The research suggests that “educational attainment has long been considered the most important measure of socioeconomic status in describing fertility differentials” (Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 1994, p 1). Levels of education prove a clear marker that indicates differences in fertility rates among women around the world. Essentially, “material education has been shown to be associated with the number of children per woman, the timing of childbearing and contraceptive use” (Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 1994, p 1). Thus, the variable of education can be seen as one which decreases overall fertility rates. As education levels around the world begin to see some promises increases, so does the knowledge and use of contraceptives, which then in turn also has an impact on reducing fertility rates (Robinson, 2011). The higher a women’s education is, the more they tend to know and use contraceptives. Education about contraceptives specifically also has a huge impact on fertility rates.

The United States is one of the most educated countries with a sophisticated education system and options for secondary education in some of the most prestigious colleges in the world. Therefore, education levels here in the United States also provide insight on the levels of fertility rates among American women. A 1994 report conducted by the Center for Disease Control clearly linked educational attainment with fertility trends here in the United States. Essentially, women who had between zero and eight years of education, barely in high school, were the group with the highest fertility rates in the United States (Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 1994). In women who are between 20 and 24 years old, the less educated groups saw huge differences in fertility rates. These differences slowly tapered off as the age groups increased, but still remained quite high above other age groups, like women between 25 and 29. Oddly enough, this same report showed that women who had started, but not completed, college were the group that had the lowest fertility rates, showing that women who had college degrees did have slightly higher fertility rates that the group that had less education than them (Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 1994). In fact, older demographics of women who had college degrees had much higher fertility rates. Women between 30 and 34 saw higher fertility rates from the most educated women. This illustrates that the fertility trends for women change with time, and that different age groups tend to show different aspects regarding fertility rates. In this, women with higher levels of education attainment tend to wait until they are much older to begin having children. This could account for the spike in fertility rates for that age group, which was relatively low in comparison to women with less education at younger age intervals. Moreover, women in the United States tend to have fewer children than other nations, and the more educated the women is, the less children she tends to have throughout her lifetime. Women who have higher levels of education do tend to have higher rates of first born birth rates, but then the number of births after that drops dramatically when comparing this group to less educated women, who tend to have more childbirths (Kravdal, 2000). As such, education attainment levels tend to impact fertility rates from a number of different aspects, including the age in which women have children and how many children those women have. At the same time, increases in educational attainment also signify increases in contraceptive use (Center for Disease Control, 1994). The higher the education, the more informed women seem to be in regards to their sexual health and the nature of modern contraceptive use. This may be because there is more influence to use contraceptives in high school and college. Overall, there is also a clear link between education and contraceptive use that has an impact on fertility rates among women of various demographics.

Economic factors can also influence both the variables of fertility and education, as seen in studies reviewing fertility rates in the United States. First off, there is the clear evidence that during rough economic times, the fertility rates of various groups of American women tend to drop dramatically as well. As such, “in the United States and other developed countries, fertility tends to drop during periods of economic decline” (Mather, 2012, p 1). One of the greatest drops in fertility rates was seen in the period of the Great Depression, where the average number of children per woman dropped from 3.5 to 2 in the same time as the GDP went plummeting down because of the Stock Market Crash and widespread unemployment. As the U.S. healed from the Great Depression, it once again saw a spike in GDP during World War II. The result was an increase in fertility rates, where the average children per woman once again soared above three. Yet, as we continue to struggle in what many are calling “the Great Recession,” the fertility rates have once again plummeted to below an average of two children per woman (Mather, 2012). During this same time, education levels have actually increased, which can also be seen as a contributing factor to drops in fertility rates.

Meanwhile, in India there is a continuing trend that shows decreasing fertility rates at the same time that more of the population is increasing their educational attainment levels. Behind China, India is one of the most populated countries in the entire world. For generations, fertility rates spiked to rates unimaginable in more developed countries. Yet, this trend has changed dramatically over the past decade or so, especially with the enormous increase in education offered to women in India. Since the turn of the millennium, fertility rates in India have dropped a dramatic 19 (Sinha, 2012). In more urban areas, where there are greater educational opportunities like Punjab, fertility rates have dropped even more at 28%. These are some pretty serious declines in one of the most populated regions of the world. Researchers have connected these declining fertility rates with increases in educational opportunities for women in India that have also had a positive impact on the nation’s average GDP. Here, the research illustrates that “on average, an illiterate woman in India is bearing 1.2 children more than a literate woman” (Sinha, 2012, p 1). Women with who have completed their primary and secondary education also see much less children birthed per individual. This is all occurring during the same time that more of the Indian population are finding themselves pursuing college educations. Today, India has 504 major universities, 25,951 colleges, and 26,455 institutes of higher education that provide educational opportunities for millions of Indians (Gupta & Gupta, 2012). This has increased the GDP of the nation dramatically and thus has also had an impact on how late women are having children and how many children they have throughout their lifetimes. Women are becoming more educated in both their chosen fields, but also their reproductive health. Along with increases in education and GDP, India has seen an increase in contraceptive use and understanding by these new educated and empowered women (Sinha, 2012). This helps allow women to pursue their academic goals before having children later on in life, thus illustrating how India’s developments in fertility rates are beginning to mimic more developed countries, like the United States.

In Colombia, one can also see the connection between education and fertility rates. In much of the Twentieth Century, the population of Colombia exploded in enormous growth. Prior research has shown that “the fertility of Hispanic women is among the highest of any groups for which fertility can be reliably measured” (Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 1994, p 6). Yet, during the 1980s and 1990s, that growth began to slow dramatically. Researchers have begun to try to understand what has quelled the massive population growth. The World Factbook shows that the average woman in Colombia has 2.1 children during her lifetime (Central Intelligence Agency, 2013). This is a decline from previous generations. Yet, unlike in India, there have not been massive gains in terms of opening up educational opportunities for the women of Colombia. Yes, Colombia has universities and colleges that are open to women, but many women live in remote jungle areas that make travel to such facilities quite difficult. SO, what is causing the decline in fertility rates and the more controlled population growth? According to the research, there have been heavy investments into family planning programs that work with local communities to educate women on the use of contraceptives (Tuman, Ayoub, & Roth-Johnson, 2007). As such, it is clear that although women may not be going more often to traditional schools, they are receiving much more educational about their sexual health and contraceptives through community family planning programs. This is a direct influence on the nation’s declining fertility rates.

Yet, in much less developed countries with rampant rates of abject poverty, like the African nation of Chad, there is still high fertility rates based on a less educated female demographic. Looking at the nation’s profile by the International Human Development Indicators list, it ranks at 184 on the Human Development Index. Essentially, this means that there is a high rate of poverty, low life expectancies, and low education rates that tend to place the people of Chad at a greater disadvantage compared to more developed nations. The GDP of the nation sits at only $9.49 billion, with small increases over the past few years. The average years of school for women in Chad are only at 1.5 years (International Human Development Indicators, 2013). This is a fraction of what women see on average in developed nations like the United States in regards to the number of years they are receiving an education. With education and GDP levels being so low, it can be assumed that the women in Chad are less knowledgeable about contraceptives and they tend to have higher fertility rates as a result. According to the World Factbook, the average woman in Chad has roughly about 4.8 children (Central Intelligence Agency, 2013). This incredibly high number coincides with the poor educational infrastructure and the low income of the average woman in Chad. Unfortunately, this is just one example of the downsides of the correlation between education and fertility rates. Hopefully, as the GDP continues to show small advancements, more reinvestment will be undertaken by the government and be put into strengthening the country’s educational opportunities, thus leading to more empowered women.

Overall, it is clear that education attainment levels do impact fertility rates. By examining the United States, India, Colombia, and Chad, this research has uncovered the correlation between education and fertility rates, both in a positive and negative context. This information can then be used as a way to model social programs to help better empower women in developing nations.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (1994). Birth and fertility rates by educational attainment: United States, 1994. Monthly Vital Statistics Report, 45(10). Web.

Central Intelligence Agency. (2013). The World Factbook. Web.

Gupta, Deepti & Gupta, Navneet. (2012). Higher education in India: Structure, statistics, and challenges. Journal of Education and Practice, 3(2), 17-26.

International Human Development Indicators. (2013). Chad: Country profile. Countries. Web.

Kravdal, Oyestein. (2000). Main effects of aggregate education in birth rates. Demographic Research. Web.

Mather, Mark. (2012). Fact sheet: The decline in U.S. fertility. Population Reference Bureau. Web.

Robinson, Krista Maynard. (2011). Education and traditional contraceptive use: An analysis of nine countries using demographic and health survey data. Department of Health Behavior and Health Education. Web.

Sinha, Kounteya. (2012). Fertility rate in India drops by 19% in 10 years. The Times of India. Web.

Tuman, John P., Ayoub, Ayoub S., & Roth-Johnson, Danielle. (2007). The effects of education on fertility in Colombia and Peru: Implications for health and family planning policies. Global Health Governance, 1(2). Web.

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