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Accelerating Fertility Decline to Trigger the Demographic Dividend in Rwanda



  1. Accelerating fertility decline from the current level of 4.2 births per woman will lower the dependency burden and open the window of opportunity for the country to harness the demographic dividend.
  2. Rwanda can build on its exceptional success in reducing birth rates between 2005 and 2010 with a focus on:
  • Improving quality, outreach and impact of family planning services by increasing uptake of long acting contraceptives and reaching young people.
  • Keeping girls in school by improving progression to secondary school, and ensuring universal access to age-appropriate sexuality education and contraception.
  • Stepping up interventions to reduce child mortality with a focus on reducing new-born mortality.


Rwanda’s fertility rate declined slowly up to 2005 when the country initiated one of the fastest fertility declines in human history over a five year period. The total fertility rate fell markedly from 6.3 to 4.6 children per woman between 2005 and 2010, buoyed by an impressive increase in contraceptive use. However, the rate of decline decelerated between 2010 and 2015, with the fertility rate dropping by less than half a child to 4.2 births per woman. The infant mortality rate declined from 86 per 1000 live births to 32 per 1000 live births, while under five mortality rate declined from 152 to 50 deaths per 1,000 live births between 2005 and 2015.

The longstanding gap between birth and death rates has led to rapid population growth, with the population size more than doubling from 4.8 million to 10.5 million people between 1978 and 20122. The population is projected to reach 23 million by 2050 and 27 million by 20703 even if birth rates continue to decline. With about 40% of the population being below 15 years, the country harbours high child dependency burden, which is a major bottleneck to the attainment of its long term development goals. High fertility increases the costs of taking care of children and undermines capacity of families and governments to save and invest for the future.

A rapid decline in the total fertility rate will change Rwanda’s age structure to one with more working age people and open a window of opportunity for accelerated economic growth called the Demographic Dividend (DD). Countries can enhance the magnitude of the DD if the fertility decline is accompanied by sustained investments in education and skills development, health, job creation and good governance. This brief highlights key policy and programme opportunities that would enable Rwanda accelerate sustained fertility decline and harness the DD.

This brief is derived from the Rwanda DD study5, which showed that reducing birth rates from 4.2 to 2.3 births per woman by 2050 would produce an age structure with more working age people than dependents (Figure 1). This would propel the country to upper income status with GDP per capita of US$ 12,555 by 2050. This would be made possible if Rwanda follows an integrated investment framework that accelerates fertility decline and concurrently focuses on human capital development, creation of decent jobs and ensures efficiency and accountability in use of public resources and service delivery.

By: Rwanda - United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)

Category: Policy brief

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