WOMEN AND ECONOMIC GROWTH: New evidence from over 100 countries

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01 Apr 2016

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Giving women the freedom they need to take charge of their own fertility will be central to reducing global poverty in the years ahead. That is the conclusion of research by Dr Victoria Bateman, to be presented at the Economic History Society’s 2016 annual conference in Cambridge. Her study, which analyses data on women, fertility, growth and poverty in over 100 countries for the period 1970-2015, finds that: 

  • A reduction in fertility of one birth per woman raises the economic growth rate of an economy by around 0.5% a year and lowers the poverty rate by seven percentage points. 
  • In 1970, China’s birth rate was around 5.5 children per woman and, ten years later, 88% of the population were still living in poverty. By 2010, the birth rate was a much lower level of 1.7 children per woman and the poverty rate had fallen to 11.2%. 
  • The decline in the number of births per woman reduced the poverty rate by about 26 percentage points. In other words, if Chinese women were still giving birth to 5.5 children, the poverty rate in China today would be 37% instead of the current 11%. 
  • In India, the poverty rate is double that of China, at over 20%, and 70% of this difference in the poverty between the two countries can be explained by China’s lower birth rate. 
  • Sub-Saharan Africa is the part of the world with the highest birth rate: at around five children per woman. Reducing fertility to 2.1 births per woman (the level required for a stable population) would cut the poverty rate in the region by half, lifting one in two people out of poverty. 
  • Not only is there potential to lower poverty in poor countries, there is also significant potential to do so in rich countries like the United States, where 60% of births to young unmarried women are unplanned. Unfortunately, recent attacks on Planned Parenthood are turning the clock back rather than forwards, reducing American women’s access to family planning at precisely the time it is most needed. 

Dr Bateman concludes: 

‘Giving women the freedom they need to take charge of their own fertility will be central to reducing global poverty in the years ahead.’ 

‘Policy-makers, economists and politicians need to take family planning much more seriously than they do at present.’ 

‘Where they fail to do so, it often reflects a vision that sees the world through male eyes, neglecting to think about life from the point of view of the opposite sex.’ 


Women and economic growth: the European marriage pattern in the context of modern day countries

Dr Victoria Bateman

Fellow in Economics Gonville & Caius College Cambridge




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