Across the world, size of families is shrinking

NEW YORK (AP) The size of the family is shrinking all over the world because women in most countries want fewer children, according to a study to be presented at a United Nations conference on women.

The report, ''Hopes and Realities: Closing the Gap Between Women's Aspirations and Their Reproductive Experiences,'' examines aspects of family planning, pregnancy and birth shared by women in 42 developed and developing countries, including the United States.

''We hope it helps bring to the fore the issues of reproductive health,'' said Susheela Singh, author of the report and associate director of The Alan Guttmacher Institute, which issued the survey.

A key finding is that the average family size has dropped from six to three children in the last 25 years in many Asian and Latin American countries. ''That's just one generation,'' Singh said Tuesday.

But the study also found that one in six women worldwide still lack access to adequate birth control methods and the levels of men using birth control was low.

Women worldwide reported they spent half to three-quarters of their childbearing years, defined by the survey as ages 20 to 45, trying to avoid pregnancy.

Having to spend as much as 20 years practicing birth control reflects ''how much effort a woman needs to make to achieve a small family,'' said Singh. ''You can more easily understand why she may not succeed in doing so for all of that time.''

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