• Alaka BasuAlaka Basu
      Alaka M. Basu is Professor, Development Sociology, Cornell University, and a member of the Guttmacher-Lancet Commission on Sexual and Reproductive Rights and Health
      Alessandro RosinaAlessandro Rosina
      Professor of Demography and Director, Center for Applied Statistics in Business and Economics, Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore
      Andrea BrandoliniAndrea Brandolini
      Head of Statistical Analysis Directorate, Bank of Italy
      Bruno MasquelierBruno Masquelier
      Professor of Demography, University of Louvain, Belgium
      Cheikh MbackéCheikh Mbacké
      Associate Professor, Sociology department, Laval University
      Cinzia ContiCinzia Conti
      Researcher at Istat, Head of Unit on Foreign Presence and Social Dynamics
      Corrado BonifaziCorrado Bonifazi
      Director of the Institute for Research on Population and Social Policies, National Research Council, Rome Italy
      Ernestina CoastErnestina Coast
      Associate Professor of Population Studies, London School of Economics
      Wang FengFeng Wang
      Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Irvine, USA, and Professor at Fudan University, Shanghai, China fwang(at)
      Francesco BillariFrancesco Billari
      Professor of Sociology and Demography, University of Oxford
      Gilles PisonGilles Pison
      Professor at Museum National d'Histoire Naturelle and Director of Research at the French National Institute for Demographic Studies (INED) (Paris)
      Gustavo De SantisGustavo De Santis
      Professor of Demography, University of Florence, Italy
      Jacques VallinJacques Vallin
      Emeritus Research Director at INED, Paris; Honorary President of IUSSP
      John KnodelJohn Knodel
      Research Professor Emeritus, Population Studies Center, Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan (USA) and International staff, College of Populations Studies, Chulalongkorn University (Thailand)
      Letizia MencariniLetizia Mencarini
      Associate professor of Demography, Bocconi University - Dondena Centre for Research on Social Dynamics and Public Policy & Collegio Carlo Alberto; P.I. ERC P.I. ERC project n. 313617 (2013-2018) SWELLFER
      Letizia TanturriLetizia Tanturri
      Associate Professor of Demography, University of Padova, Italy
      Massimo livi BacciMassimo livi Bacci
      Emeritus Professor of Demography, University of Florence, Italy
      Monica Das GuptaMonica Das Gupta
      Research Professor of Sociology, University of Maryland, USA
      Paula Miranda-RibeiroPaula Miranda-Ribeiro
      Professor, Demography Department and Cedeplar, Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais, Brazil.
      Peter McDonaldPeter McDonald
      Professor of Demography in the Australian National University. Honorary President of IUSSP and winner of the Irene B. Taeuber Award
      Roberto ImpicciatoreRoberto Impicciatore
      Università di Bologna.
      Salvatore StrozzaSalvatore Strozza
      Professor of Demography, University Federico II, Naples (Italy)
      Stefano MolinaStefano Molina
      Senior Program Officer, Giovanni Agnelli Foundation, Italy
      our authors
    • N-IUSSP is a new IUSSP news magazine, which will disseminate scientific findings from demographic research carried out all over the world. The practical implications of current trends, the risks and potentialities of emerging situations, the pros and cons of specific laws are discussed in rigorous but plain language.

      Everybody is free to reproduce our articles, for free, provided the original source is cited.

      You are invited to contribute to this new publication: please check our guidelines and submit your 1000 word contribution to

Fertility transition in India: sub-regional evidence
La transition de la fécondité dans les districts indiens

Sanjay K. Mohanty, Günther Fink, Rajesh K. Chauhan, David Canning

Population stabilization in India is of obvious global significance. According to the latest census, India’s population was 1,210 million in 2011, accounting for 17 percent of the global population; if current trends continue, India will become the world’s most populous country in 2022.

India’s total fertility rate (TFR) has declined steadily, falling from 3.6 in 1991 to 2.4 by 2011. Over the same period, per capita income increased from 1221 US$ to 3755 US$. The increase in national income has not only yielded substantial reductions in poverty, but has also been accompanied by major improvements in female literacy and child survival. The female literacy rate increased from 39 percent in 1991 to 65 per cent in 2011; under-five mortality declined to 55 per 1,000 live births in 2011. In the composite index of human development that combines education, health and income, the country increased its score from 0.428 in 1990 to 0.609 by 2014 (UNDP 2015).

The very positive recent national trends conceal large differences across states, regions and districts of India. As of the 2011 census, India comprises 29 states and six union territories spread across 640 districts. Conventional demographic analyses examine the pattern and determinants of fertility change using four proximate determinants, namely, contraception, marriage, induced abortion and postpartum insusceptibility at state level or at individual level. The average population size of an Indian district is about two million, with large variations in fertility and developmental parameters. Disaggregated analyses at district level are useful for multiple stakeholders as districts are the central focus of planning and program implementation in India. Such analyses could also shed light on the puzzling decrease in fertility levels despite a recent decline in use of modern contraception in eight of the 15 states of India (IIPS 2016).

No evidence of fertility convergence at the district level

Schermata 2016-04-11 a 09.49.12
Schermata 2016-04-11 a 09.50.07Fertility convergence implies that fertility declines faster in high fertility areas than in low fertility areas. Maps 1 and 2 present the fertility levels recorded in districts of India in 1991 and 2011. In 2011, the TFR varied widely across districts of India; from 5 births per woman in Khagaria district in the state of Bihar to 1.1 in Kolkata district in the state of West Bengal. While one-fifth of the districts had reached a below-replacement level of fertility by 2011, about half of the districts had a TFR of more than 3.
Figure 1 shows average annual declines in TFR relative to the initial 1991 TFR levels at the district level. While most districts experienced substantial declines over the 1991-2011 period, there was no clear relationship between initial levels and subsequent changes; on average, the largest relative reductions were observed for districts with an initial TFR in the middle (3-4) range.

Pace of socio-economic change: female literacy, under-five mortality and poverty

Schermata 2016-04-11 a 09.50.17
Socio-economic change has been consistently highlighted as a key predictor of fertility change. Among other factors, the extant literature has shown that female literacy, under-five mortality and poverty are of critical importance. Female educational attainment is associated with increasing use of contraception, increasing age at marriage, and birth spacing. Maps 2(a) and 2(b) present female literacy rates at the district level for 1991 and 2011, respectively. Overall, tremendous progress in female literacy has been achieved in the last two decades, which probably triggered fertility reduction. Very low female literacy (less than 40% of women able to read and write), which was widespread in 1991 (60% of all districts) had become rare by 2011 (less than 3% of all districts). Most districts have female literacy in the range of 60-80 percent.
Schermata 2016-04-11 a 09.51.02Fig 2 plots the change in female literacy by level of initial female literacy in districts of India. The negative sign of the slope and the convex nature of the curve indicate remarkable convergence in female literacy, with greater progress observed in the districts that most lagged behind in 1991.
Schermata 2016-04-11 a 09.51.17Schermata 2016-04-11 a 09.51.37Fig 3 plots the convergence in under-five mortality across districts of India. Districts with higher under-five mortality have generally shown a greater reduction in the last two decades; the convergence in under-five mortality is undoubtedly higher than that of fertility. However, the same does not hold for poverty: in this case the trajectories were heterogeneous and bore little relation to the starting point.
When jointly analyzing poverty, literacy and mortality in multivariable models (not shown here), we found literacy to be the factor most predictive of changes in fertility; strong associations were also found between child mortality and changes in fertility, while the associations found with poverty were relatively minor and often not statistically significant.


Fertility differentials across districts of India are large. While fertility has declined in virtually all areas of India, evidence on convergence in fertility is limited, with a surprisingly large number of districts still having TFR of 4 and higher. High TFR rates in these districts, together with the generally young population, will continue to drive rapid population growth. Regional differences in population growth are likely to widen regional imbalances, increasing regional inequality and inter-state migration. Focusing on areas with high fertility will be critical; increasing access to modern methods of contraception, improving child survival and promoting female education in high-fertility districts are all potentially effective strategies for reaching this goal.


IIPS (2016). National Family and Health Survey. 2015-16. State Fact Sheet

Mohanty SK, Fink G, Chauhan RK and Canning D (2016). “Distal Determinants of fertility decline: Evidences from 640 Indian districts” Demographic Research, 34(13):373-406

UNDP (2015). Human Development Report 2015, New York: USA


By continuing to use the site, you agree to the use of cookies. more information

The cookie settings on this website are set to "allow cookies" to give you the best browsing experience possible. If you continue to use this website without changing your cookie settings or you click "Accept" below then you are consenting to this.