Children born into smaller families in the world’s poorest nations will live an expected three years longer than those born into larger families, new Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health research suggests.
The findings, presented at the International Conference on Family Planning in Nusa Dua, Indonesia, show that while family planning programs have sometimes been pitched as ways to moderate population growth and minimize pressure on resource-strapped nations, they have real health impacts on individuals.
“For 40 years, the slogan ‘a small family is a happy family’ has been used to promote contraceptive use in developing countries,” says study leader Dr. Saifuddin Ahmed, an associate professor with the Bloomberg School’s department of population, family and reproductive health and Bill & Melinda Gates Institute for Family and Reproductive Health. “Our new research shows that being born into a small family has health benefits that last throughout the course of your entire life.”
Past studies have shown that contraceptive use reduces pregnancy and child mortality, averts maternal deaths, and improves the general health of women and children, but little attention has been paid to the actual effect on families of having fewer children. Dr. Ahmed and Jose “Oying” Rimon, director of the Gates Institute, found that in families considered small (four or fewer children), the children have a life expectancy that is three years longer than the children in larger families (five or more children), even controlling for infant mortality.