African Exceptionalism Explained: Social Isolation and Stalling Fertility in Rural Communities in sub-Saharan Africa

Jeroen Smits , Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen
Lamar Crombach, ETH Z├╝rich KOF

Our models for understanding fertility in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) fail. Population estimates for the region are extremely unstable and fertility reduction is much slower than in other parts of the world, like Latin America or East-Asia. The patterns are described extensively in the literature, but a satisfactory explanation of why the SSA fertility transition differs so much from this transition in other developing regions has not yet been given. The current paper provides an answer. Based on data for 206,000 women in 14,400 rural communities in 34 SSA countries we show that the a major cause of the exceptional pattern is the profound social isolation of the rural areas of the sub-continent, where most of the population used to live. Lack of TV reception and infrastructure until very recently prevented the diffusion of new ideas regarding family size and contraceptive use towards the rural women and their families.

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 Presented in Session 44. Low and Middle Income Countries' Fertility Dynamics