Contraception in Rwanda is Topic of Levitt Fellow Research

Steve Mello '11
Steve Mello '11
Among the myriad problems facing Rwanda, population control is one of the most urgent and most difficult to deal with. A 2000 Demographic and Health Survey found that only 4 percent of women in Rwanda were using contraception. Such a low frequency of contraception use gives rise to several problems: exorbitantly high birth rates, high infant and mother death rates, and the unrestrained spread of sexually transmitted diseases. With his summer Levitt Fellowship research, Steve Mello ’11, a double major in economics and English, is examining data from two demographic and health surveys to see whether an increase in contraception leads to healthier children.

The last CIA World Factbook survey found that the average Rwandan woman has 6.1 children, compared to just 2.1 in the United States. This high fertility rate is a self-perpetuating cycle in Rwanda, because population growth has been outpacing development, meaning children grow up impoverished and uneducated about birth control. The question that Mello is asking is “Are children born into families with access to contraception healthier than those born into families without contraception?”

Mello’s research, titled “Contraception and Health Development in Rwanda,” consists primarily of data analysis of Demographic and Health Surveys from 2000 and 2005. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) implemented the DELIVER project as an effort to introduce the concept of family planning to Rwandan communities. The initiative took place in 2002, and with his analysis, Mello hopes to attribute improvements in the fertility rate in Rwanda to the success of the DELIVER project.

His summer research is, in a way, an extension of his thesis work in economics from the spring semester. Mello was interested in economic development on the micro-level, and contraception in Rwanda was a phenomenon that caught his eye because Rwanda was a country that, in the last decade, experienced supply change in contraception. He found that in Rwanda, women with access to contraception were likely to have significantly fewer children than women without access to contraception, and he is treating his spring research as a jumping off point for his Levitt research.

Mello notes that his research is similar to that of Stanford University professor Grant Miller, who authored a paper titled “Contraception as Development? New Evidence from Family Planning in Columbia.” Miller found that the Profamilia family planning project in Columbia was an important part of reducing poverty and promoting development, and so far, Mello’s findings are pointing him toward a similar conclusion.

Associate Professor of Economics Stephen Wu is Mello’s faculty advisor on the project and Mello is thankful for the experience that he’s gaining. “This research is a good experience in that I am seeing how academic work can have important real-world implications,” Mello said. “That feeling is something that makes me want to continue doing this kind of academic work after college.”

Steve Mello '11 is a graduate of Western Reserve Academy, Hudson, Ohio.
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