Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

The Dynamics of Timing and Spacing of Births in Ghana

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

The Dynamics of Timing and Spacing of Births in Ghana

Article excerpt


For the past half century, several theoretical approaches have been developed and refined to explain variations in fertility (e.g., Blake and Davis, 1956; Becker, 1960; Easterlin, 1975; Bongaarts, 1978). While these models have undoubtedly broadened our perspectives on differentials in fertility, they mostly focus on completed or cumulative fertility as the key dependent variable. It is equally important, however, to study the variations in fertility in such entities such as timing and spacing of births. This is particularly relevant in societies characterised by low levels of contraceptive use where the interval between successive births is a key indicator of completed family size.

Studying the dynamics of birth spacing, defined as the interval between successive births, is of interest for several reasons. First, several inferences are consistent with the view that in much of the developing world, couples with large families have shorter birth intervals than those with smaller families. This suggests that the timing of births may be inversely related to completed or cumulative fertility. Further, the timing of births has a significant bearing on maternal and child health through the dynamics of sibling competition, maternal depletion and interval effect hypotheses (Hobcraft et al., 1985; Palloni and Millman, 1986; Majumder et al., 1997; Rafalimanana and Westoff, 2000; Pedersen, 2000). According to the competition hypothesis, the birth of each successive child generates competition for scarce resources among siblings in the household which subsequently leads to a lower quality of care and attention to each child. The family resources may also be stretched to the limit, increasing the probability of children in such households becoming malnourished (Gribble, 1993).

Again, successive births may physiologically deplete the mother of energy and nutrition which may lead to premature births or pregnancy complications, increasing the risk of infant or maternal death, or impairing the mother's ability to nurture her children. It has also been argued that women with closely spaced births may still have very young children and, as such, are less likely to attend prenatal care services. Additionally, the early arrival of a new child necessitates the premature weaning of the previous child, often exposing the latter to malnutrition and increasing his/her vulnerability to infectious and parasitic diseases. Invariably, longer duration of the inter-birth interval has been found to increase profoundly the probability of infant survival (Bicego and Ahmad, 1996; Kuate Defo, 1997; Pedersen, 2000).

An examination of the timing and spacing of births thus provides a thorough understanding of attitudes toward family size as well as differentials in fertility and childhood mortality levels. The median length of birth interval in Ghana is about 38 months but differs significantly among groups in a bivariate context (GSS and MI, 1999:34). In two related studies using World Fertility Survey (WFS) data, Oheneba-Sakyi (1989; Oheneba-Sakyi and Heaton, 1993) identified a number of socio-demographic covariates associated with birth intervals in Ghana. This paper extends this work by using more recent data and examining the relative effects of socio-economic vis-a-vis socio-cultural factors on the timing of births. The major research question is whether there are intrinsic socio-cultural factors that affect the timing and spacing of births in Ghana irrespective of socio-economic factors.


This study is premised on two theoretical perspectives on group differences in reproductive behavior; the characteristics and cultural hypotheses (e.g., United Nations, 1987; Caldwell and Caldwell, 1987a,b; Caldwell et al., 1992). The characteristics hypothesis attributes variations in fertility behavior to socio-economic and demographic differences among groups while the cultural hypothesis assigns a unique role to cultural factors. …

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