Background: Traditionally Nepalese society favors high fertility. Children are a symbol of well-being both socially and economically. Although fertility has been decreasing in Nepal since 1981, it is still high compared to many other developing countries. This paper is an attempt to examine the demographic, socio-economic, and cultural factors for fertility differentials in Nepal.
Methods: This paper has used data from the Nepal Demographic and Health Survey (NDHS 2006). The analysis is confined to ever married women of reproductive age (8,644). Both bivariate and multivariate analyses have been performed to describe the fertility differentials. The bivariate analysis (one-way ANOVA) was applied to examine the association between children ever born and women's demographic, socio-economic, and cultural characteristics. Besides bivariate analysis, the net effect of each independent variable on the dependent variable after controlling for the effect of other predictors has also been measured through multivariate analysis (multiple linear regressions).
Results: The mean numbers of children ever born (CEB) among married Nepali women of reproductive age and among women aged 40-49 were three and five children, respectively. There are considerable differentials in the average number of children ever born according to women's demographic, socio-economic, and cultural settings. Regression analysis revealed that age at first marriage, perceived ideal number of children, place of residence, literacy status, religion, mass media exposure, use of family planning methods, household headship, and experience of child death were the most important variables that explained the variance in fertility. Women who considered a higher number of children as ideal (beta = 0.03; p < 0.001), those who resided in rural areas (beta = 0.02; p < 0.05), Muslim women (beta = 0.07; p < 0.001), those who had ever used family planning methods (beta = 0.08; p < 0.001), and those who had a child-death experience (beta = 0.31; p < 0.001) were more likely to have a higher number of CEB compared to their counterparts. On the other hand, those who married at a later age (beta = -0.15; p < 0.001), were literate (beta = -0.05; p < 0.001), were exposed to both (radio/TV) mass media (beta = -0.05; p < 0.001), were richest (beta = -0.12; p < 0.001), and were from female-headed households (beta = -0.02; p < 0.05) had a lower number of children ever born than their counterparts.
Conclusion: The average number of children ever born is high among women in Nepal. There are many contributing factors for the high fertility, among which are age at first marriage, perceived ideal number of children, literacy status, mass media exposure, wealth status, and child-death experience by mothers. All of these were strong predictors for CEB. It can be concluded that programs should aim to reduce fertility rates by focusing on these identified factors so that fertility as well as infant and maternal mortality and morbidity will be decreased and the overall well-being of the family maintained and enhanced.