The dynamics of fertility transition In West Bengal, India

Lopamudra Paul, Jawaharlal Nehru University
Purushottam M Kulkarni, Jawaharlal Nehru University

The term fertility transition appeared in demographic literature in the early 1970’s and was given a precise meaning as change from natural fertility to family limitation. Presently, India is passing though such a transition but the timing and pace has varied spatially over the country. Transition in the eastern state of West Bengal in India began well before independence; though the pace was slow for quite some time, the state is fast approaching replacement level low fertility. This paper examines the timing and nature of the fertility transition in the state. Trends in fertility assessed using data from the Indian censuses, the Sample Registration System, and large population surveys, show a moderate fall through the 1980s and a steep drop during the 1990s. An examination of proximate determinants reveals the dominant role of contraceptive prevalence in the decline. A detailed analysis in trends in the family building process is possible from individual fertility histories. It is seen that the age at marriage has risen marginally though this is not reflected in a corresponding rise in the age at first birth. Analysis of the parity progression ratios shows that the progression to the first two parties has not changed much; however, notable fall has occurred in progressions to higher parities. The transition was quite slow initially, but quickened in the 1990’s. Contraceptive practice has increased substantially over the period and the tendency of limiting family after two or three children has become widespread. Contraceptive use in West Bengal has not been dominated by sterilization unlike that in most other states of India and there has been considerable resort to traditional contraception suggesting that couples have a wide choice. It appears that the family planning programme in the state was not coercive in nature and the acceptance has been mostly voluntary.

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Presented in Session 17: Fertility trends in developing countries