Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Gender, Lineage, and Fertility-Related Outcomes in Ghana

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Gender, Lineage, and Fertility-Related Outcomes in Ghana

Article excerpt

A growing literature examines the empirical relationship between the joint reproductive preferences of marital partners and reproductive outcomes in Africa. Less explored is how spousal power in decision making may be influenced by lineage type. Using pooled data from Ghana, we investigate how lineage affects gendered reproductive decision outcomes and find some evidence that matrilineal women are more able than nonmatrilineal women to translate their reproductive preferences into action consistent with their goals.

Key Words: decision making, ethnicity, gender, Ghana, power, reproductive outcomes.

Interest in men's influence in reproductive decision making in sub-Saharan Africa has surged over the last decade, reflecting the acknowledgement that sociocultural and institutional processes affect fertility behavior (Caldwell, 1982; Lesthaeghe, 1989). Researchers have examined, among others, the influence of cultural and institutional supports on reproductive outcomes (Bongaarts, Frank, & Lesthaeghe, 1984; Caldwell, 1982; Caldwell & Caldwell, 1987, 1990), the status of women in relation to reproductive behavior (Bulatao & Lee, 1983; Mason, 1987), and attitudes toward fertility control (Robinson, 1992).

Recent assessments of men's involvement in fertility decisions have focused on gender relations, spousal power, and behavioral outcomes within families (Bankole, 1995; Dodoo & Tempenis, 2002; Ezeh, 1993; Oheneba-Sakyi & Takyi, 1997). That men have substantial authority over their wives' reproductive choices in much of Africa makes differential power relations and how they affect fertility decisions a legitimate line of inquiry.

Critical aspects of the African cultural nexus that plausibly affect decision making-lineage type and kinship arrangements-have received little scholarly attention. This neglect is unfortunate because in Africa's highly patriarchal societies, lineage and kinship arrangements potentially confound household decision making, and hence, reproductive outcomes. Particularly in matrilineal societies, where women presumably have more authority in decisions regarding children than do their patrilineal counterparts, wives with fertility goals that diverge from those of their husbands may be more able than their patrilineal counterparts to implement their preferences. This article contributes to the growing literature on gender power dynamics and reproductive decision making by investigating the relationship between lineage type and contraceptive use in Ghana. Specifically, we ask whether in cases of spousal disagreement, matrilineal women are more able than nonmatrilineal women to implement their fertility preferences. Ghana is a useful setting for this study because roughly half of the population is composed of the matrilineal Akan ethnic group, which has higher fertility than non-Akans (Gaisie, 1981).


Across the postcolonial period, sub-Saharan African nations have been characterized by early age at marriage, high fertility, and low contraceptive use. In Africa, however, social, economic, and cultural institutions ascribe varying costs and benefits to childbearing (Beckman, 1983; Beckman & Aizenberg, 1983; Fapohunda & Todaro, 1988). The differential costs and benefits associated with childbearing translate into gender differences in reproductive goals. Thus, the logic that interprets individual reproductive preferences as representative of the household is faulty, particularly when these are solicited from wives who may not have power to implement them. For example, Bankole and Singh (1998) reported that even in situations where women in the region are educated and motivated to practice contraception, they frequently do not because of opposition from their husbands.

Although this recent literature has improved our understanding of how gender and power intersect to influence reproductive outcomes in sub-Saharan Africa, there has been no empirical assessment of the role of lineage and kinship arrangements. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.