Related Factors: Contraception and Family Planning
Use of birth control is significantly lower in Muslim-majority countries than in many other countries, due to more recent adoption of family planning practices, among other factors. This directly contributes to higher fertility in Muslim-majority countries.
Fewer than half of married women ages 15-49 in Muslim-majority countries (47.8%) use any method of birth control. By comparison, 63.3% of married women in the same age group who live in non-Muslim-majority, less-developed countries and 68.5% of those living in moredeveloped countries use some form of birth control. Moreover, the proportion of married women ages 15-49 who use modern methods of contraception (devices or procedures such as condoms, birth control pills, spermicidal foams, intrauterine devices and tubal ligations) is much lower in Muslim-majority countries (39.4%) than in non-Muslim-majority countries (about 58%).
Notwithstanding these differences, use of birth control has become a more accepted practice in Muslim-majority countries since the 1990s, contributing to the decline in fertility rates in many of these countries.15
In the 44 Muslim-majority countries for which data on use of birth control are available, 20 report that half or more of married women ages 15-49 practice some form of birth control.
Ten of the 44 countries – Albania, Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Tunisia, Turkey, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan – report a rate of birth control usage of 60% or more. Topping the list is Iran, where 73% of married women ages 15-49 say they use some form of birth control, the same as in the United States (73%) and substantially higher than the world average for use of birth control among married women ages 15-49 (61%), according to analysis of a 2009 report by the United Nations Population Fund.16
In addition to the 20 countries that report a 50% or higher rate of birth control use, 11 other Muslim-majority countries report moderate rates of use among married women (between 20% and 49%). Thirteen countries, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa, report fairly low rates of birth control use among married women (less than 20%).
As the scatter plot on the opposite page shows, use of birth control is strongly correlated with the fertility rate in each country. At one extreme, Muslim-majority countries in sub-Saharan Africa have lower rates of birth control and higher fertility rates. At the other extreme, most Muslim-majority countries in Asia-Pacific and the Middle East-North Africa, as well as Albania in Europe, have higher rates of birth control and lower fertility.
Some Muslim-majority countries, such as Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Iran, Turkey and Tunisia, have had family planning programs for several decades, but use of modern forms of birth control did not proliferate until the 1990s. Today, birth control is legal and available in most Muslim-majority countries, and many have government-supported family planning programs.
While some Muslims oppose family planning for political and social reasons, religious authorities generally have held that Islam does not prohibit the use of birth control. Indeed, a number of Islamic jurists have endorsed birth control for the health of the mother and the economic well-being of the family, often citing a verse from the Koran that states: “Allah desires for you ease; He desires no hardship for you.”17
A Note on Abortion
Many Muslim-majority countries do not collect or do not publish data on the frequency of abortions. The partial data that are available do not allow for reliable comparisons of abortion rates in Muslim-majority countries with abortion rates in other countries. However, many Muslim-majority countries either forbid abortions or allow them only under tight restrictions.
15 Studies have found that access to television and other forms of mass media plays a role in social change, including the acceptance of contraception. See, for example, Charles F. Westoff and Akinrinola Bankole, “Mass Media and Reproductive Behavior in Africa,” DHS Analytical Report No. 2, 1997, and Charles F. Westoff and Akinrinola Bankole, “Mass Media and Reproductive Behavior in Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh,” DHS Analytical Report No. 10, 1999. There also is a strong correlation between use of birth control and access to the internet. For example, in the 10 Muslim-majority countries whose populations have the most access to the internet, more than half of married women of reproductive age, on average, use birth control, and the average Total Fertility Rate is 2.1 children per woman. By comparison, in the 10 Muslim-majority countries whose populations have the least access to the internet, only about one-in-five married women of reproductive age use birth control, and the average Total Fertility Rate is more than twice as high (five children per woman). (return to text)
16 United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, 2009, World Contraceptive Use 2009. (return to text)
17 Sura 2:185. See Population Reference Bureau, Islam and Family Planning, MEN A Policy Brief, 2004. For a discussion of the Islamic scholarly consensus in favor of allowing birth control, see Gavin W. Jones and Mehtab S. Karim, Islam, the State and Population, Hearst & Co., 2005. (return to text)