Adult Literacy and Fertility Rates

Last month I attended the ICAE World Assembly, which, among other things, served as helpful reminder that in most countries outside the United States improving literacy is usually associated with a larger array of public policy goals than than just those associated with employment.

Recently I came across this article, in which a writer from India visits Sri Lanka and wonders why that country “has delivered so much more for its citizens than India has been able to.” The answer:

So why has Sri Lanka been able to control its population in a way that India simply has not been able to? Economists believe that there is a direct relationship between women’s literacy rates and the number of children they have.

A study conducted by the Registrar General of India and the East-West Population Institute noted that: “The states in which female literacy rates are high, fertility rates typically are low. In those states that have low fertility rates, child mortality rates are also low.” Not only are overall female literacy rates for India way behind Sri Lanka (we are at 66% vs their 90%) but the situation is especially bad in the northern and western Indian states (literacy rates well below 60%). Interestingly, southern Indian states like Kerala (92%) and Tamil Nadu (74%) have female literacy rates and fertility rates closer to Sri Lanka’s than to northern India’s.