The fertility transition in South Africa: A retrospective panel data analysis

Stellenbosch Working Paper Series No. WP03/2012

Author(s): Laura Rossouw, Rulof Burger, Ronelle Burger

JEL Classification: J13, J12

Keywords: South Africa, fertility, education, marriage, social norms

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Since 1960 South Africa has seen a steep fall in fertility levels and currently the total fertility rate is the lowest on the African continent. Given the high prevailing levels of fertility in African countries, a better understanding of the factors behind the fertility transition can be valuable not only for South Africa, but also more widely for other African countries. This paper uses the National Income Dynamics Study data to construct a retrospective panel to investigate reasons for the decline in fertility in South Africa since the 1960s. The analysis attributes a large share of the observed fertility decline across birth cohorts to improving education levels and the lower prevalence of marriage. However, a considerable segment of the transition is ascribed to the unobservables. This may include HIV/AIDS, the increased use of contraceptives and changes in intra-household relationships and the social role of women.