Persistence of high fertility in tropical Africa: the case of the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Popul Dev Rev. 2011;37(1):1-28. doi: 10.1111/j.1728-4457.2011.00388.x.


The article explores how geography, history, and society have shaped childbearing behaviors over the last half-century, and how they are now being reshaped by modernity and the exigencies of urban life, in the democratic Republic of the Congo. The decline of prolonged postpartum abstinence and involuntary childlessness initially raised fertility to high levels (6–7 children per woman). More recently, socioeconomic differentials in fertility have emerged, suggesting that the country may be entering a phase of fertility decline. A full-blown transition, however, seems still a remote prospect. Supported both by cultural traditions and by economic rationality, Congo's people remain largely convinced of the benefits of many children for their own and their kin's security. While an eventual fertility transition may be taken for granted, the article examines the many hurdles, contradictions, and tensions that will have to be overcome to achieve that outcome.

Publication types

  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Birth Rate* / ethnology
  • Cultural Characteristics* / history
  • Democratic Republic of the Congo / ethnology
  • Fertility*
  • History, 20th Century
  • History, 21st Century
  • Population Density
  • Social Change* / history
  • Socioeconomic Factors* / history
  • Tropical Climate
  • Urban Health / history
  • Urban Population / history
  • Women / education
  • Women / history
  • Women / psychology
  • Women's Health* / ethnology
  • Women's Health* / history