The number of children born to women during their reproductive years is referred to as the total fertility rate.
A dramatic decline in fertility rates during the 20th century coincided with decreased child mortality, access to family planning, economic development, increases in girls’ and women’s education, and urbanization. Other factors—including stiffer competition for jobs, housing shortages, and government efforts to lower birth rates—also encouraged fertility decline.
Fertility rates have fallen in every major world region, but in some regions, the rate remains quite high. Worldwide, the average number of children per woman fell from 5.0 around 1950 to 2.7 in 2007. Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest average at 5.5, falling from a level of 6.7 around 1950.
Couples were able to reduce family size by adopting methods of family planning. Worldwide, use of contraception rose from less than 10 percent of married women of childbearing age in the 1960s to 62 percent in 2007. Again, regional variations provide stark contrasts. In Africa, 28 percent of married women use contraception; in Latin America, the share is 71 percent; North America, 73 percent; Europe, 67 percent; and Asia, 66 percent.