Record high fertility in sub-Saharan Africa in a comparative perspective

  • Michel Garenne University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg
Keywords: Natural fertility, Maximum fertility, Proximate determinants, Nuptiality, Primary infertility, Secondary infertility, Breastfeeding, Kenya, Niger, Hutterites, sub-Saharan Africa


The study documents cases of extremely high fertility in sub-Saharan Africa. The DHS surveys were used for the analysis, with straightforward calculations of period and cohort fertility. Two case studies were further analysed: Kenya (1965-69) and Niger (1982-86). In both cases, total fertility in rural areas reached 9 children per woman, as high as among the Hutterites of North-America (1921-1940). However, the complete family size never exceeded 8.0 children per woman in Kenya (cohorts 1939-1946) and 8.2 children per woman in Niger (cohorts 1960-1967). Compared with the Hutterites, in both African countries the age pattern of fertility was earlier and with a lower mode, age at marriage was earlier, birth intervals were longer because of long breastfeeding, and secondary infertility was more frequent after the 5th birth. Other proximate determinants of fertility appeared similar in the three populations, with the probable exception of health and nutritional status. Implications for modelling are discussed.

Author Biography

Michel Garenne, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg
MRC/Wits Rural Public Health and Health Transitions Research Unit, School of Public Health, Faculty of Health Sciences15