These are some of the same reasons that contraceptives matter to women in developing countries. Like all parents, they want their children to grow up healthy and go to school. Contraceptives don't do all this, of course. They are a single link in a long chain that includes proper nutrition, vaccines, clean water, productive farms, and high-quality public schools. But they are the first link, and they give parents a much better opportunity to complete the chain. As one young mother in Kenya told me, "I want to bring every good thing to my child before I have another."
There are convincing data showing the long-term impact of contraceptives. The leading study, ongoing in Bangladesh for the past 35 years, proves that people who have access to and education about contraceptives have a higher quality of life in almost every conceivable way than those who don't. They are healthier, less likely to die in childbirth, and less likely to have children who die. They are better educated, with sons and daughters who have more schooling. And they are more prosperous: Their households have more total assets, including land, livestock, and savings. On an even larger scale, economists have argued convincingly that the so-called East Asian economic miracle of the 1980s was due in large part to parents in the region deciding to have fewer children.
Contraceptives unlock one of the most dormant but potentially powerful assets in development: women as decision-makers. When women have the power to make choices about their families, they tend to decide precisely what demographers, economists, and development experts recommend. They invest in the long-term human capital of their families. They don't do it because they're worried about GDP; they do it because they're worried about their children's futures. But the two fit together beautifully.
Today I tell people that I want to help put women at the center of global health and development work -- and that contraceptives are one of the best ways to do that. Because when women everywhere have the power to achieve their goals, they will be doing the majority of the work of development by themselves.