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A More Prosperous World: The Role of Population Dynamics and Family Planning for Economic Growth, Education, and Health

Today’s generation of youth is the largest ever in history, and their need for education and employment presents both a challenge and an opportunity. Smarter policies can give them the skills, health, and job opportunities they need to help build a more prosperous world for all of us.

Date & Time

Jul. 10, 2018
9:30am – 11:30am ET


5th Floor, Woodrow Wilson Center
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“There is a close relationship between fertility rates and health on one hand, and economic growth on the other,” said Peter McPherson, President of the Association of Public Land-Grant Universities and former USAID Administrator, at the final event in a three-part series on the role of population and family planning in supporting economic growth, health, and education.

“Family planning use directly reduces the risk of maternal death, increases the chances of higher educational achievement, and reduces the share of people below the poverty line,” said Jay Gribble, a senior fellow and deputy director of the Health Policy Plus Project at Palladium.

Measuring the Impact of Family Planning

“Fully addressing the unmet need for family planning would reduce the number of maternal deaths by about 76,000 per year,” said Gribble. And it would save money too: “For each additional dollar invested in family planning, the health system saves $2.20 on pregnancy-related care. The cost of preventing an unintended pregnancy through family planning is much lower than the cost of providing pregnancy and maternity care.”

In addition to maternal health, family planning can have a significant impact on other SDGs, including poverty, hunger, education, water and sanitation, work and economic growth, and sustainable cities and communities.  The Family Planning Sustainable Development Goals (FP-SDG) Model, developed by the Health Policy Plus Project, demonstrates the medium- and long-term impacts of different levels of family planning use on SDG outcomes in country-specific scenarios, said Gribble.

Applying the FP-SDG model to Malawi, for example, illustrates the impact family planning could have on reducing poverty, improving maternal health, and increasing the proportion of children achieving success in education, said Gribble. Expanding family planning activities in Malawi, for example, would reduce its poverty rate from 39 percent of the population today to 30.3 percent by 2050, dramatically decrease the number of maternal deaths by nearly 48 percent, and increase the proportion of children achieving reading proficiency by 18 percent.

Barriers to Women’s Health Block Women’s Economic Empowerment

 “There are significant barriers to women’s health across many areas that are preventing them from fully participating in their economies,” said Jocelyn Ulrich, the Senior Director of Global Policy and External Affairs at EMD Serono, a division of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany.  From the burden of care to diseases that disproportionately impact women, these health challenges keep women from achieving not only their own economic goals, but also from contributing to countries’ economic growth.

A policy toolkit developed by “Healthy Women, Healthy Economies,” a public-private initiative partially supported by EMD Serono,. identifies reproductive and sexual health as a key area of focus for enhancing women’s economic participation.

Sustainable economic growth really can’t be achieved if we’re leaving half the population behind,” said Ulrich.

Creating Fiscal Space for Development to Achieve the Demographic Dividend

In many sub-Saharan African countries, “you have this large opportunity, which is a growing working force, working-age population,” said Marlene Lee, the Senior Program Director of International Programs at the Population Reference Bureau.  “Even in a resource-constrained environment, accelerated economic growth is possible when the distribution of the population across age groups changes”—a phenomenon known as the demographic dividend.

By increasing the ratio of working age adults to younger dependents, lower fertility rates create more “fiscal space for development,” said Lee. “This shift in age structure produces an opportunity for economic growth because of the potential labor productivity of this group.”

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Declining fertility rates also reduce the amount of money needed to care for infants and young children, so “you will be able to find some potential savings in the budget,” said Lee. But “in order to benefit from this growing youth, working-age population, improved health systems are critical.”

“The demographic dividend is a potential for economic growth. It is not automatic; it is a result we are trying to achieve,” said Lee. “We need some investment to be productive,” such as worker training and access to health care.

From Laundry Lists to the Bottom Line

There are “long lists of the many ways family planning can be relevant” to other policies and programs, said Parfait Eloundou-Enyegue, a professor at Cornell University. These laundry lists, however, are often not clear, synthetic, or integrative. He offered four “bottom lines” to more clearly  communicate the importance of family planning across all sectors:

  • Finance: “Take people through the savings that they are going to achieve with each dollar that is invested in family planning,” said Eloundou-Enyegue.
  • Equity: Inequalities in fertility, income, and family structure “translate into very large inequality among children that will lead to even wider, larger inequality in the next generation,” he said. “Family planning can play an important role in breaking this intergenerational cycle.”
  • Durability: By investing in family planning, “you can actually start a process that is going to be sustained in a relatively long term, and for those that have a long-term vision, this is an appealing possibility.”
  • Demand: “There is actually a very large demand for family planning among youth,” said Eloundou-Enyegue. “Planning families for youth, and African youth, today, who are very concerned about their futures, is to think about how to plan their transition into work.”

For youth around the world, family planning can be part of “a large vision which is concerned about planning futures, planning families literally, and planning lives,” said Eloundou-Enyegue.

Written by Saiyara Khan and edited by Meaghan Parker.

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