Chief, Fertility and Family Planning Section, Population Division, DESA
Two UN Plaza, Room DC2-1988, New York, NY 10017
Senior Monitoring and Evaluation Adviser
United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)
Postal Address:605 Third Avenue, New York NY 10158 USA
Telephone: +1 212 297 5281
Fax: +1 212 297 4915
Women with unmet need for spacing births are those who are fecund and sexually active but are not using any method of contraception, and report wanting to delay the next child. This is a subcategory of total unmet need for family planning, which also includes unmet need for limiting births. The concept of unmet need points to the gap between women's reproductive intentions and their contraceptive behaviour.
For MDG monitoring, unmet need is expressed as a percentage based on women who are married or in a consensual union.
The standard definition of unmet need for family planning for spacing births includes in the numerator women who are fecund and sexually active but are not using any method of contraception, and report wanting to delay the birth of their next child for at least two years. Included are:
Excluded from the numerator are infecund women. Women are assumed to be infecund if:
Postpartum amenorrheic women are women who have not had a menstrual period since the birth of their last child and their last child was born in the period 0-23 months prior of the survey interview. If their period has not returned and their last child was born 24 months or more prior to the interview, women are considered fecund, unless they fall into one of the infecund categories above. Note that in previous definitions of unmet need for family planning, women were classified as being postpartum amenorrheic if their period had not returned for up to 5 years after the birth of their last child.
Women who are married or in a consensual union are assumed to be sexually active. If unmarried women are to be included in the calculation of unmet need (in national monitoring supplementing global reporting for the MDGs), it is necessary to determine the timing of the most recent sexual activity. Unmarried women are considered currently at risk for pregnancy (and thus potentially in the numerator) if they have had intercourse in the month prior to the survey interview.
The diagram below indicates the procedure for the computation of the number of women of reproductive age, either married or in a consensual union, who have an unmet need for family planning.
Further information on refinements in the operational definition over time, survey questions needed and statistical programs to calculate unmet need for family planning can be found on the following website:
Source: Based on Bradley and others (2012). Revising Unmet Need for Family Planning.DHS Analytical Studies No. 25, Calverton, Maryland: ICF International.
According to the standard definition, women who are using a traditional method of contraception are not considered as having an unmet need for family planning. As traditional methods can be considerably less effective than modern methods, additional analyses often distinguish between traditional and modern methods and also report on unmet need for effective contraception. The indicator “contraceptive prevalence” provides complementary information to this indicator by focusing on those women that are currently using a contraceptive method.
In some countries, surveys exclude women who are neither married nor in a consensual union. These women are not considered to be sexually active, while married women are assumed to be sexually active and at risk of pregnancy. The assumption of universal exposure among married women increases the estimate (additional questions probing reasons for non-use of family planning often elicit reports of low risk due to infrequent sexual activity).
There can be differences in the precise definition being used. Those differences are flagged with footnotes in the data series.
As estimates of unmet need are affected by changes in definition some caution needs to be adopted when interpreting trends. Strict comparisons between estimates based on different definitions should be avoided.
The global estimates are based on unadjusted figures published in the national-level survey report unless the reported figure is known to be erroneous (i.e., it contains an errata note in the publication or elsewhere). Thus, there should not be any discrepancies between global and national figures arising from adjustments to national data. However, some published national measurements of unmet need are not included in the dataset for global MDG monitoring because they were judged to depart too much from the core concept of unmet need employed here or because the estimation procedures were considered to produce results that were not comparable.
Information on unmet need for family planning is collected through household surveys that are internationally-coordinated, such as the Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS), Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS), Reproductive Health Surveys (RHS) and national surveys based on similar methodologies. These surveys tend to be undertaken every three to five years. Other survey programmes, like the Pan-Arab Project for Family Health (PAPFAM) and the European Fertility and Family Surveys (FFS) may be considered as well.
Differences in the questions included in particular surveys may sometimes affect the estimates of unmet need for family planning and make comparability difficult over time or across countries. For example, some surveys do not gather all the information required to estimate infecundity in the same way. Differences in questions about contraceptive use, fertility desires and assessment of postpartum amenorrhea may also indirectly affect the measured level of unmet need for family planning. These differences are flagged with footnotes in the data.
The data are taken from published survey reports or, in exceptional cases, other published analytic reports. If clarification is needed, contact is made with the survey sponsors or authoring organization, which occasionally may supply corrected or adjusted estimates in response. The data are not adjusted.
For information on the source of each data point, see United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2015). 2015 Update for the MDG Database: Unmet Need for Family Planning (POP/DB/CP/B/MDG2015) (http://www.un.org/en/development/desa/population/publications/dataset/fertility/data/2015_Update_MDG(5.6)_UMN.xlsx)
There is no attempt to provide estimates when country data are not available, except for the estimation of regional and global averages.
Data are available for 121 countries and areas and for 325 data points. For 76 countries and areas there are at least two available data points.
Data are most often published the year after the reference year of the survey.
Frequency of data production: Typically the surveys are undertaken every 3 to 5 years.
The dataset is updated annually and results are published in the United Nations Population Division’s World Contraceptive Use.