Promoting Human Capital Development through Demographic Transition: A Bangladesh Story

This delivery note examines how Bangladesh achieved a rapid decline in fertility despite severe economic constraints. At its independence in 1971, Bangladesh’s population growth was high, and faced with rampant poverty, the government concluded that if the population continued to increase at the same rate, it would outpace available resources. The government wanted to reduce the fertility rate and curb population growth, and managing population growth became a priority in the national policy agenda and the Planning Commission included it in its First Five-Year Plan (1973–1978).

The clearest and strongest conclusion that can be drawn from the available evidence is that the country’s rapid decline in fertility, especially between 1975 and 1990, was driven primarily by the national population program, although other contributory factors—economic growth, female education, female participation in an expanding ready-made garment industry, and related contextual factors—did reinforce the program’s impact at subsequent stages of Bangladesh’s development.

The results of Bangladesh’s national population program demonstrated the efficacy of the “whole of government” approach that, according to the World Bank’s Human Capital Project, can overcome challenges countries face in developing their human capital. The three elements of this approach are: continuity (sustaining effort across political cycles), coordination (ensuring that sectoral programs and agencies work together), and evidence (expanding and using the evidence base to improve and update human capital strategies). This delivery note looks at Bangladesh’s success in coordinating the work of government and nongovernment actors and in developing partnerships to build a strong evidence base.