Academic journal article Population

Education, Ethnicity, and Reproductive Practice in Cameroon

Academic journal article Population

Education, Ethnicity, and Reproductive Practice in Cameroon

Article excerpt

The inverse correlation between women's schooling and their fertility is one of the most remarkable and resilient findings of social science in the latter half of the twentieth century (Basu and Aaby, 1998, p. 10). Throughout the developing world, educated women generally bear fewer children, and start bearing them later, than do their less educated counterparts (Adamchak and Ntseane, 1992; Bledsoe et al., 1999; Castro Martin, 1995; United Nations, 1995). The relationship is not always monotonie: throughout the 1970s and 1980s, fertility in many African countries followed an inverted-j pattern, in which women who attended a few years of school had higher fertility than the never-schooled, and fertility decline was associated only with advanced schooling (Lesthaeghe and Page, 1981)(1). Even where and when fertility declines steadily with rising education, both the slope and the intercept vary substantially (see Jejeebhoy, 1995 for a review). Despite these nuances and partial counter-examples, the near universality of the negative correlation is striking, and has generated substantial academic and policy interest.

What are the social and demographic processes that underlie the relationship between education and fertility, and what kinds of political, economic, or cultural institutions enable these processes to persist? This article asks these questions in reference to one concrete case - the African country of Cameroon - as a critical part of a comparative theory. Data from the 1998 Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) of Cameroon, along with ethnographic information, show that educated Cameroonian women marry later and bear fewer children than their uneducated counterparts, in keeping with patterns established comparatively. However, they also have significantly higher premarital fertility rates than do women who have never been to school, a finding that contrasts with both the comparative literature and educated Cameroonian women's own claims about their reproductive behaviour. This apparent paradox generates a new set of questions about what school does or signals that matters for reproduction. Treating school as an institution imbued with certain kinds of social capital (Bourdieu, 1984, 1990) allows for a different understanding of the relationship between education, marriage, ethnicity, and childbearing.

In taking this position, the article builds on a corpus of scholarship that has focused on the relationship between demographic rates and social, political, or economic institutions or processes (e.g. Caldwell and Caldwell, 1987; Carter, 1995; Greenhalgh, 1995, 1997; Hammel, 1990; Kreager, 1982; Lesthaeghe, 1980; McNicoll, 1980; Pollack and Watkins, 1993; Watkins, 1990). In particular, the article responds to recent developments in the cultural demography of Africa. Scholars such as Agadjanian (2001), Bledsoe et al. (1998), and Zulu (2001) have sought to use qualitative methods not only to complement standard statistical analyses, but also to challenge classical interpretations and theories. This work suggests that the contribution of qualitative research is as much analytic and theoretical as it is methodological (Obermeyer, 1997, p. 815).

I. Education and fertility in Africa

The widely observed inverse correlation between schooling and fertility has drawn significant interest, both as a case study of social causation and as a potential locus of policy intervention. Much of the research on the topic has attempted to sort out the mechanisms - causal, selective, or otherwise - that might link schooling and fertility. Causal explanatory models have predominated, and been largely of two types, which are characterized here as cognitive and instrumental change models. The cognitive theories propose that schooling alters people's values and ways of seeing the world, changing women's perspectives, ideas and modes of thought (see Goody, 1968; Goody and Watt, 1963; LeVine and White, 1986; Ong, 1982; van de Walle, 1992). …

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