Marriage Type and Relative Spousal Power in Ghana: Changing Effects of Monogamy during Early Fertility Decline

Article excerpt


In societies where polygynous marriage is legal, monogamously married women could represent a more empowered subset of the female population as they are participating in a relatively modern social institution. Monogamy is also linked to other attributes associated with to women's empowerment like urban residence, education, and a smaller spousal age gap (Dodoo, 1998). But while social and economic modernization are associated with lower fertility, it is not wise to assume that either fertility decline or modernization of social institutions like marriage automatically confer increases in women's reproductive autonomy. A monogamously married woman may be willing to bear more children than she would otherwise desire if she fears that her husband would take an additional wife if her reproductive performance did not satisfy his fertility goals (DeRose et al., 2002a; Ezeh, 1993b; Oheneba-Sakyi and Takyi, 1997).

While the literature substantiates an association between lower fertility and women's reproductive autonomy (see Larson and Hollos, 2003 and citations therein), variations in relative spousal influence in high fertility regimes have received little attention. Moreover, the effect of fertility decline on the autonomy of women in different subgroups is unknown. Ghana experienced extremely rapid fertility decline from 1988 to 1998, but still has fertility levels far above the average for less developed countries. Thus shifts in relative spousal influence during an early phase of fertility transition can be observed using recent data. Incidence of polygyny has also been declining rapidly over this period, and consequently any advantage or disadvantage associated with monogamy would affect an increasing share of the population. My analysis compares relative spousal power in monogamous and polygynous unions before the onset of fertility decline in Ghana and early in its progress in order to understand what fertility decline and polygyny decline signify for women's reproductive control.


Contraceptive Outcomes

Many studies from developing country settings have shown evidence of men's dominance in reproductive decision-making. In poor areas in Mexico, husband's attitude towards family planning predicts use more strongly than wife's attitude (Casique, 2002). Pronatalist views of husbands in the Philippines were found to be a significant component of unmet need for contraception (Casterline et al., 1997). In Kenya, husband's education was found to condition current use more than wife's education (Omondi-Odhiambo, 1997), and in Zimbabwe both his education and his occupation mattered more than hers (Adamchak and Mbizvo, 1994). The wife's perception of her husband's approval of contraceptive use was the most important determinant of her actual contraceptive use in urban Indonesia (Joesoef et al., 1988).

Other conclusions are more nuanced, with attention to the lifecycle. For instance, Bankole (1995) argued that in Nigeria women's relative power in determining future childbearing increased as she bore more children (see also Ortega et al, 1998; Scrimshaw, 1978 for examples from Latin America). The odds of a woman contracepting if she wanted to stop childbearing when her husband did not also increased with her age in Maharastra, India, but men's influence was still higher at all ages (Jejeebhoy and Kulkarni, 1989).

And a few studies have shown women to have more sway in reproductive decisions. Women's wages and education influenced family size more than men's in Peru (Schafgans, 1991). Dodoo (1995) showed that woman's intention to stop childbearing was a significant predictor of contraceptive use in Ghana in 1988, while men's was not. Bankole and Singh's (1998) multi-country study concluded that in the 18 countries where one partner's intention was dominant in determining contraceptive use, 10 were countries where men held more sway and 8 were ones where women dominated. …


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