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NFHS-5 data: Total fertility rate dips, sharpest decline among Muslims

In NFHS 5, the country’s overall fertility fell below the replacement level of two children per woman, falling from 2.2 in NFHS 4.

Written by Esha Roy | New Delhi |
Updated: May 10, 2022 12:54:23 pm
An accelerated decline in Muslims’fertility rate has taken place twice – between 1992-93 and 1998-99 as well as between 2005-6 and 2015-16, when it dropped by 0.8 points. (Representational)

Muslims’ fertility rate has seen the sharpest decline among all religious communities over the past two decades, shows data from the National Family Health Survey (NFHS), conducted by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

In keeping with the downward trend seen over the years, the community’s fertility rate dipped to 2.3 in 2019-2021 from 2.6 in 2015-16. While all religious communities have shown a decline in fertility, contributing to a dip in the nation’s total fertility rate, the fall has been sharpest in the Muslim community, from 4.4 in NFHS 1(1992-93) to 2.3 in NFHS 5(2019-2021).

In NFHS 5, the country’s overall fertility fell below the replacement level of two children per woman, falling from 2.2 in NFHS 4.

The Muslim community’s fertility rate, however, remains the highest among all religious communities, with the Hindu community following at 1.94 in NFHS 5, down from 2.1 in 2015-16. The Hindu community had a fertility rate of 3.3 in 1992-93. NFHS 5 has found that the Christian community has a fertility rate of 1.88, the Sikh community 1.61, the Jain community 1.6 and the Buddhist and neo-Buddhist community 1.39—the lowest rate in the country.

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An accelerated decline in Muslims’fertility rate has taken place twice – between 1992-93 and 1998-99 as well as between 2005-6 and 2015-16, when it dropped by 0.8 points.

“The fertility gap between Hindus and Muslims is narrowing. High fertility is mostly a result of non-religious factors such as levels of literacy, employment, income and access to health services. The current gap between the two communities is because of Muslims’ disadvantage on these parameters. Over the past few decades, an emerging Muslim middle class has been realising the value of girls’ education and family planning,’’ said Poonam Muttreja,
executive director of the Population Foundation of India, a non-goverrnmental organisation.

The percentage of Muslim women who have had no schooling reduced from 32 per cent in NFHS 4 (2015-16) to 21.9 per cent in NFHS-5 (2019-21). In contrast, for Hindus, it saw marginal change—from 31.4 per cent in NFHS 4 to 28.5 per cent in NFHS 5.

The NFHS 5 report said the number of children per woman declined with women’s level of schooling. Women with no schooling have an average of 2.8 children, compared with 1.8 children for women with 12 or more years of schooling. Women in the lowest wealth quintile have an average of 1.0 more children than women in the highest wealth quintile, and economic betterment organically leads to lower fertility rates, the report has found.

“The data also shows that Muslims are increasingly conscious of family planning. The use of modern contraception among Muslims increased from 37.9 per cent in NFHS 4 to 47.4 per cent in NFHS 5. The margin of increase was higher than in Hindus,’’ said Muttreja.

Muslims have also increasingly adopted modern spacing methods of contraception—from 17 per cent in NFHS 4 to 25.5 in NFHS 5, which is the third highest after Sikhs (27.3 per cent) and Jains (26.3 per cent). Spacing refers to how soon after a pregnancy a woman gives birth again.

“A higher percentage of Muslim men showed a better attitude towards family planning. About 32 per cent of Muslim men feel contraception is women’s business, which men should not worry about. This number was higher for Hindus—at about 36 per cent. As per NFHS 5, the use of contraceptive pills is highest among Muslims, while the use of condoms is third highest among Muslims, after Sikhs and Jains. Thus, it is important to recognise the community’s adoption of family planning and acknowledge that Islam is not an impediment to family planning in any way. The
Muslim populations in Indonesia and Bangladesh have also seen lower fertility due to a greater number of spacing methods in their public health systems. India needs to do more and expand its basket of contraceptive choices and include implants as well in its family planning programme,’’ Muttreja said.

The total fertility rate in rural areas has declined from 3.7 children per woman in 1992-93 to 2.1 children in 2019-21. The corresponding decline among women in urban areas was from 2.7 children in 1992-93 to 1.6 children in 2019-21. In all NFHS editions, irrespective of the place of residence, the fertility rate peaks at the age of 20-24, after which it declines steadily.

Thirty-one states and Union Territories, including all states in the south, west, and north regions, have fertility below the replacement level of 2.1 children per woman. Bihar and Meghalaya have the highest fertility rates in the country, while Sikkim and Andaman and Nicobar islands have the lowest.

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