Reproductive Health Laws, Contraceptive Use, and Fertility Trends Around the World

David E. Bloom, Harvard University
David Canning, Harvard University
Jocelyn E. Finlay, Harvard University

In this paper we examine the effect of changes in reproductive health laws on contraceptive use and fertility outcomes around the world. We develop an index of abortion, contraception, and voluntary sterilization laws around the world dating from 1970 to the present. Merging this with data from the Demographic and Health Survey, we analyze how changes in the laws affected contraceptive use, and then how the laws and uptake of abortion, contraception, and sterilization affected the fertility rate over time and across countries. Using data from the 76 DHS countries merged with the reproductive health index, we find that more liberal abortion, contraceptive, and sterilization laws are associated with higher contraceptive prevalence and lower fertility rates. However, religion and a country’s legal origins play key roles in explaining the heterogeneous relationship between the law, use, and fertility trends across countries and over time.

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Presented in Session 131: Contextual and Policy Influences on Reproductive Health and Fertility