Background: The widespread increase in the use of contraception, due to multiple factors including improved access to modern contraception, is one of the most dramatic social transformations of the past fifty years. This study explores whether the global progress in the use of modern contraceptives has also benefited the poorest.
Methods and findings: Demographic and Health Surveys from 55 developing countries were analyzed using wealth indices that allow the identification of the absolute poor within each country. This article explores the macro level determinants of the differences in the use of modern contraceptives between the poor and the national averages of several countries. Despite increases in national averages, use of modern contraception by the absolute poor remains low. South and Southeast Asia have relatively high rates of modern contraception in the absolute poor, on average 17% higher than in Latin America. Over time the gaps in use persist and are increasing. Latin America exhibits significantly larger gaps in use between the poor and the averages, while gaps in sub-Saharan Africa are on average smaller by 15.8% and in Southeast Asia by 11.6%.
Conclusions: The secular trend of increasing rates of modern contraceptive use has not resulted in a decrease of the gap in use for those living in absolute poverty. Countries with large economic inequalities also exhibit large inequalities in modern contraceptive use. In addition to macro level factors that influence contraceptive use, such as economic development and provision of reproductive health services, there are strong regional variations, with sub-Saharan Africa exhibiting the lowest national rates of use, South and Southeast Asia the highest use among the poor, and Latin America the largest inequalities in use.