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A typical family had a minimum of six, some five decades ago. Today, that number has shrunk to four or less. Nairobi, Kenya’s capital city and the wealthiest county, has the smallest household size, according to latest data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS). Mandera County has the largest with an average family size of seven people.

The shrinking of the family, whose credit largely goes to women, has had some positive ripple effects in the society. 

Happier units

By taking control of their bodies and minds, Kenyan women have profoundly changed the course of this country from one sitting on a powder keg of population explosion to one with families of manageable sizes. The result has been a people that are relatively happier as they enjoy better living standards than their grandparents.

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More single-parent families

Today, one family has about four people, mostly a mother, father and two children. Family has also increasingly comprised of just a mother or father with children. While there is a long debate on the merits and demerits of single parenthood, few appreciate that it is one of the hallmarks of women empowerment. This can be attributed to the drive for girl-child empowerment that has seen increased abstinence from early sexual intercourse, increased number of women choosing to stay unmarried and reduction in number of early marriages. Even more critical, she has a bigger say on when to give birth, and the number of children she can conceive.

Also noted was the increased incidences of sex before marriage for the woman. And accompanying this, more awareness on how to keep unwanted pregnancies at bay. Chief among these is an array of modern family planning methods. For those who are married and for some reason would like to space or limit the children she bears, they have used such contraceptives as injectables and implants.

Unlike before, as many girls as boys are going to school. This has not only shielded them from the snare of early-marriage trap, some of which were forced, it has also opened their minds to the importance of family planning. Data shows that there is a correlation between education and use of contraceptives. They can space or limit their children as they deem fit.

Educated mothers and infant mortality

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Official data shows that mothers who are learned not only have fewer children but are most likely to have vaccinated their kids than those with no education at all. As a result, women who are better educated are less likely to lose their children before their fifth birthday.

For every five women with secondary education and above, three used some form of modern contraceptive. Three out of every 20 women without any education used any form of contraceptives.

Use of any modern method of contraceptives among married women has skyrocketed from 32 per cent in 2003 to 53 per cent in 2014.

Moreover, there is a high risk of losing a child if they are not spaced well. A mother who gives birth to a baby within two years of conceiving another stands a higher chance of losing it before they celebrate their first and fifth birthday.

Death among children aged five and below is also high among women who give birth at an early age, 15 years and below, and women who are 40 years and above. It is also high among women with four or more children.

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But data also shows that counties in Kenya with low birth rates are also better off economically. There is a correlation between counties with high use of modern contraceptives with smaller family sizes. But this, also, reflects in the economic well-being of these counties.

In 2014, 18 per cent of married women had an unmet need for family planning with nine per cent wanting to space the birth of their children while another eight per cent wanting to limit children.

This was a drop from 28 per cent in 1998.  

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