Global Resources

Family planning: the key to sustainable development

Publication Date: Jan 2015

January 2016 saw the launch of the sustainable development goals (SDGs) encompassing a set of 17 objectives that will guide development until 2030. At the same time, the International Conference on Family Planning met in Indonesia in an event which was intimately tied to the SDGs through the fundamental importance of family planning to so many of the proposed goals. That is the message of this briefing produced by Population Matters in anticipation of the Indonesian conference, which highlights how almost all of the SDGs are negatively impacted by population growth and other factors which family planning is central to alleviating.

The briefing begins by introducing the current trends in population growth around the world, noting that current projections estimate an additional one billion people will be added to the present day population by 2030, rising to an additional four billion by 2100. The majority of this growth will be seen in developing countries, with many expecting their populations to double by 2050. Fortunately, countries across different continents, and with very different cultures, have shown that fertility rates can be rapidly reduced through such measures as reducing child marriage, enhancing women’s empowerment, increasing access to contraceptives, and other methods of family planning.

The current state of family planning provision is concisely summarised, including that there are an estimated 200 million women globally without access to safe methods of family planning. It is also estimated that the financial cost of providing universal access to family planning lies in the region of $6.7 billion per year, making it possible that family planning represents the most beneficial and cost-effective technology that can possibly be deployed in the advancement of the SDGs.

The majority of the briefing details the multitude of ways in which family planning can address challenges in a number of relevant SDGs:

  • SDGs one and two, concerning poverty and hunger: high population growth can inhibit economic growth, which is a main driver in reducing poverty and hunger. In line with this, family planning that reduces fertility rates has been shown to correlate with significant economic growth. Increases in labour supply can also negatively impact poverty and hunger, not just through unemployment, but also through lower wages.
  • SDG three, concerning health: rapid population growth, pregnancy-related deaths, HIV/AIDS prevalence, and higher child mortality through lack of immunisations or appropriate nutrition are all stresses on health systems that family planning can alleviate. Additionally, it can reduce the spread of communicable diseases by lowering population density.
  • SDG four, on education: high fertility rates has led to rapid growth in the population of primary-school age children, putting severe strain on the education systems of sub-Saharan Africa in particular, while larger families means that limited resources are disproportionately placed into boys education over girls, perpetuating inequalities.
  • SDG five, on gender equality: access to contraception is a key tool for women to take control over their reproductive rights, and therefore their life choices. Lack of access can contribute to the perpetuation of inequalities as women are more often denied the opportunity to work outside of the home, pursue an education, and participate in public life.
  • SDGs six and seven, regarding water and sanitation, and energy: continuing high fertility means governments are forced to continuously expand infrastructure, even while the needs of today are struggling to be met. Family planning can help by reducing extra demand long-term.
  • SDG eight, on economic growth and employment: if resources can move away from having to expand basic services, as described above, then governments will have more to invest in more productive areas that can boost economic productivity. Family planning can also make women more productive by giving them greater ability to participate in the economy; recent evidence suggests that even a 5% increase in access to contraception can boost a small sub-Saharan country’s GDP by up to 35%. Lower fertility rates will also stem the vast increase in labour force numbers, which currently sees 33,000 new persons per day in countries which already have huge unemployment rates.
  • SDG eleven, slum growth: urbanisation continues at a frantic pace, and it is far more cost effective to provide family planning than to continue to expand urban areas at great environmental cost.
  • SDGs twelve, fourteen, and fifteen, concerning sustainable consumption and protection of the environment: all efforts to adapt and change patterns of consumption will be made harder the more people that there are; reducing demand through family planning is therefore fundamental.
  • SDG thirteen, climate change: again, more people means more consumption, and therefore more emissions, more climate change, and greater vulnerability to weather and climate related disasters.