JUST short of two-thirds (60%) of South African girls and women aged 15-49 used modern contraceptives, a rate far higher than the sub-Saharan average of 20% and akin to the global average of 57%, according to research released by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) on Wednesday morning.

Family planning might be among the most effective, and cost-effective, interventions for poverty alleviation, improving gender equality and giving the youth the power to plan their own lives, the UNFPA said in its State of the World Population Report, which had its South African launch in Cape Town.

Poverty, inequality between classes, races and genders, and massive youth unemployment (70%) are some of South Africa’s most knotty problems.

"Improved access to family planning extends life expectancy for both mothers and children, increases incentives to invest in schooling and other forms of human capital (development), creates opportunities for participation in labour markets, and results in higher incomes and levels of asset accumulation," according to the report.

A fertility rate was absent from the Census 2011 results, which nonetheless — and controversially — showed an acceleration in population growth since 2007, to 1.63% a year, from 1.01% a year between 2001 and 2007.

Several possible explanations have been offered, from a return to normalcy after the worst of the HIV/AIDS pandemic to a simple rise in fertility that would mark the reversal of the decades-long trend of declining fertility.

The world fertility rate was 2.5 births per woman, while the rate for "more developed" countries was 1.7, "less developed" 2.8, "least developed" 4.5 and sub-Saharan Africa 5.1.