Only about a fourth of currently married women in India under the age of 49 wants another child, government data shows, a significant fall from 68% a decade ago.
According to the Union health ministry’s National Family Health Survey-4 (NFHS-4), only 24% of the married women between 15 and 49 years want another child. For men, the corresponding proportion is 27%, down from 49% a decade ago.
Experts attribute the shift to a variety of reasons, including the high cost involved in raising children, more focus on careers, and late pregnancies that are fast becoming a norm.
More urban, educated couples are coming to doctors in late 30s or early 40s for their first child.
“I see a lot of couples these days who started trying for a baby late because they were either busy settling themselves, or found a partner late,” says Dr Archana Dhawan Bajaj, Delhi-based gynaecologist and obstetrician, who also specialises in fertility treatments.
Many people are happy with one child, she adds. “There is a clear-cut shift in the trend; while earlier people would look forward to providing a sibling to their child, but now it is a categorical no.”
The NFHS numbers are borne out by numbers from the 2011 Census of India. According to it, 54% of women in India have two children or fewer.
And 16% of women between the ages of 25 and 29 had no children in 2011 (and 35% in the 20-24 age group didn’t).
According to the NFS-4, the total fertility rate — average number of children born to a woman — in India is 2.2, with 1.8 in urban India and 2.4 in rural areas.
“It is a combination of several factors: the age at which marriage happens has increased, better education, awareness and changed aspirations,” says Poonam Muttreja, executive director, Population Foundation of India.
“It has become expensive to raise a child as parents want to send their child to the best school, provide best clothes, gadgets and overall a life of luxury. Societal norms are changing because of high exposure and high aspirations, and that shows in the choices couples make.”
There’s also the issue of time.
According to Dr Bajaj: “The couples also worry about the safety of their child, especially if it is a girl child. They often discuss their fear that what if they were not able to devote adequate time to their child or didn’t have enough resources.”