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Urbanization and fertility decline: Cashing in on Structural Change

Interest in population growth, and thus in family planning is resurging in the wake of increasing concern about climate change and recurrent food crises. Often overlooked is the fact that, at the aggregate level, all population growth will occur in urban areas and that urbanization is linked to fertility decline. Earlier writings in demography took it for granted that urbanization itself was a major factor in the reduction of fertility. However, this perception began to change, due in part to mixed findings in later studies, but also to political reasons, as the flourishing population establishment focused on a fertility determinant that would seemingly be more amenable to hands-on policy interventions – namely family planning. The literature on migrant adaptation to urban fertility patterns generally confirms earlier views on the role of urbanization in fertility decline, but other mainstream literature counters them.
After reviewing the arguments from both sides, this study provides bivariate and multivariate analyses of recent data from 181 countries, as well as a detailed analysis of the data on Brazilian micro-regions. Overall, the results of this research are consistent with urbanization making an important contribution to fertility reduction, particularly through its indirect influence via other fertility-reduction factors. The paper also suggests that, contrary to past perceptions, urbanization is indeed amenable to policy intervention that can make a huge difference. Given the massive ongoing urban transition, well-managed urbanization is a structural change that could prove a formidable ally, not only to improving reproductive health, but also in bettering millions of lives.

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