This study examines the levels, trends, and determinants of unmet need for family planning in Kenya between 1993 and 2003. Data come from the 1993, 1998, and 2003 Kenya Demographic and Health Surveys (KDHS). A starting point for this study is the observation that contraceptive prevalence and fertility in Kenya have levelled off in the recent past. These trends have implications for the Kenyan family planning program, and in particular the demand for contraception and access to services. The concept of unmet need for family planning brings these two issues together. Presumably, if most of the potential demand for family planning could be met with supplies and services, then contraceptive use would rise again, and fertility would fall further.
Between 1993 and 1998 total unmet need declined, but then remained constant between 1998 and 2003, at about 25%. The same pattern is observed with regard to unmet need and total potential demand for modern contraceptive methods. Among the salient differentials the study identified based on descriptive statistics, total unmet need decreases with women’s age, level of education, household wealth, exposure to family planning messages, and employment. However, total unmet need is higher among women with a higher number of living children and those who have primary-level education. While working women with unmet need are more likely to report method-related reasons for non-use of family planning methods, they are less likely to report opposition to family planning than their counterparts who do not work.
Regression analysis shows that several variables are significantly related to total unmet need. These include women’s age, number of living children, secondary or higher level of education, household wealth, current work status, exposure to media messages about family planning, and discussion with the partner about family planning. Contact with health services is also significantly linked to unmet need for family planning. This finding emerges as the most interesting result of the study, with its implication that contact with health services generates demand for family planning but often does not meet this demand. It is therefore recommended that health care services make full use of opportunities to provide family planning information and services.