Academic journal article International Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health

Stability and Change in Fertility Preferences among Young Women in Malawi

Academic journal article International Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health

Stability and Change in Fertility Preferences among Young Women in Malawi

Article excerpt

CONTEXT: Although studies have demonstrated change in fertility preferences over time, there is a lack of definitive knowledge about the level and direction of change among individuals, especially young and unmarried women. Furthermore, little is known about the factors associated with changes in fertility preferences over time.

METHOD: The analysis uses the first five waves of data from a longitudinal study of a random sample of women aged 15-25 in southern Malawi. The data were collected four months apart over an 78-month period, between June 2009 and December 2010.Multinomial logit regression models were used to calculate relative risk ratios and identify associations between four categories of life events--reproductive, relationship, health and economic--and shifts in fertility timing preferences.

RESULTS: In each four-month period, more than half of the women reported changes in the desired timing of their next birth, and delays and accelerations in timing desires were common. Several life events, including having a child, entering a serious relationship and changes in household finances were associated with changes in the level and direction of fertility preference.

CONCLUSION: Shifts in fertility timing preferences often occur in response to changes in life circumstances. Understanding the reasons for these shifts may aid family planning providers in meeting women's contraceptive needs.

International Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, 2012, 38(1):34-42, doi:70.7363/3803412

Fertility preferences are important measures for forecasting fertility, calculating levels of unwanted or mistimed fertility and assessing unmet need for contraceptives. One of the assumptions underlying the use of fertility preferences for these objectives is that they are relatively stable over time. (1) However, in Sub-Saharan Africa--where fertility, both desired and actual, remains comparatively high and childbearing patterns are increasingly heterogeneous--fertility preferences are likely to be unstable. * Very little research has focused on how individuals' fertility timing desires change over time; however, there is evidence that other fertility preferences respond to changes in life circumstances. (2), (3) Indeed, researchers in the region have argued that even individuals who are committed to a particular family size may temporarily alter their fertility preferences in response to changes in economic or reproductive circumstances. (2), (3) In studies from Africa, fertility preferences reported in surveys are often tentative and malleable. (2-6) Such flexibility may allow for change in fertility preferences, even over short time periods. Understanding how fertility timing preferences change over time is particularly useful, because the timing of births is likely to influence timate family size, perhaps even more so than individuals' ideal number of children.

In fertility transition research, which has traditionally focused on aggregate measures of fertility preferences and their predictors, structural changes, such as economic development. and societal improvements in education and health, are associated with changes in country-level fertility preferences. (7-12) However, fertility preferences are characteristics of individuals and couples, not countries. Rarely have studies, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa, examined how changes in life circumstances relate to an individual's fertility preferences.

The present study uses five waves of longitudinal data collected in rural Malawi in 2009-2010 to examine the stability of women's fertility preferences over time and the life events that are associated with delays or accelerations in the desired timing of the next birth.

Charting Preferences over

Time Fertility is highly valued in Sub-Saharan Africa, and the desire to stop childbearing is rare among younger women. Still, a woman may be reasonably certain that she wants to have another child, but she may be less sure about when she wants to have a child; equally, she may be more focused on whether now is the right time to have a child with a particular partner than on precisely how many children she plans to have over her lifetime. …

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