This report is a review of reproductive preferences in 60 countries based on data from Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) conducted between 1998 and 2008. Several measures of preferences are used: the number of children considered ideal, the proportion of women who want no more children, the planning status of recent births, and the Wanted Total Fertility Rate. For those countries that have conducted more than one survey, trends in reproductive preferences have been documented. For a subset of mostly sub-Saharan African countries, men’s reproductive attitudes are also described.
A review of the most recent DHS estimates of levels and trends of reproductive preferences indicates that the number of children desired is declining in most of the developing world with the exception of some countries in western and middle sub-Saharan Africa where, on the whole, an average of 6.0 children are still desired. In southern and eastern Africa, the mean number desired is 4.5. In contrast, in Asia and in North Africa the average is 2.9 and in Latin America and the Caribbean 3.0 children.
In most of the 60 countries reviewed, there has been a decline in the Total Fertility Rate which is due largely to a decline in the number of children wanted rather than to a reduction of unwanted births. The highest proportion of unwanted births is in Latin America and the Caribbean, as high as 39 percent of all recent births in Bolivia.
Among men, the number of children desired follows a similar pattern to that of women but typically at slightly higher levels. There is little evidence that this gender difference is diminishing.
Although the long-familiar negative association between women’s education and reproductive preferences continues, there is evidence of a decline in preferences among women with no formal education even in sub-Saharan Africa but more strongly in Asia and Latin America.
A special analysis of unmet need and reproductive preferences focuses on several countries in sub-Saharan countries where unmet need is low because preferences are very high (Chad, Guinea, Mozambique, Niger and Nigeria). The number of children desired is associated with child mortality, Muslim affiliation, women’s education and empowerment, and exposure to the mass media.