Separate Lives, Different Interests: Male and Female Reproduction in the Gambia

By Ratcliffe, Amy A.; Hill, Allan G. et al. | Bulletin of the World Health Organization, May 2000 | Go to article overview

Separate Lives, Different Interests: Male and Female Reproduction in the Gambia


Ratcliffe, Amy A., Hill, Allan G., Walraven, Gijs, Bulletin of the World Health Organization


Voir page 577 le resume en francais. En la pagina 578 figura un resumen en espanol.

Introduction

"It must not be forgotten that there is no known society in which the interdependence and complementarity of the sexes is not embodied in custom and sanctioned by law and morality. To consider the status of either sex without reference to the other is to distort the reality we are trying to understand (1)".

Among West Africa's polygynous populations the reproductive experiences and interests of men are distinct from those of women. Men appear to want more children than women and, being less constrained by biological factors, are able to achieve larger completed families (2-4). Although it may seem that couples are the logical units for the study of fertility, it is becoming clear that the separate reproductive experiences of men and women need to be understood. We argue that support for high fertility cannot be understood or altered without consideration of the very different expectations and intentions of men and women in the course of marriage, family formation and child-rearing.

In general, national fertility statistics in industrialized countries and data obtained from censuses and surveys in developing countries refer only to women. Most fertility studies focus on births and intermediate variables such as marriage, breastfeeding, contraception and induced abortion, which have a direct influence on the rate at which women bear children. This approach to fertility has been useful in demographic studies attempting to enumerate births but does not help to explain fertility levels and changes in fertility patterns (5).

Demographic accounts of male fertility are rare (4, 6). National statistics on this subject are scarce, even in countries with good vital registration data and accurate censuses. Paget & Timaeus (7) found only 17 schedules of male age-specific fertility, and only five of them related to Africa. Over the last decade the Demographic and Health Surveys have attempted to include men but they have largely been limited to men's fertility intentions, contraceptive use and knowledge (e.g. 3). Men are most often considered as part of the context in which women's fertility is achieved. Men commonly enter the picture as risk factors for the transmission of infection or as barriers to women's reproductive goals, as studies on contraceptive discordance often imply (5). Men's economic contribution to families is often represented by socioeconomic indicators in models of women's fertility (8).

The lack of basic data on men has hindered the discussion of male fertility and has been a barrier to the development of a more integrated theory on the global fertility transition. The questions that have been asked about fertility have been limited by the concentration on women. Recently, however, there have been calls for a greater inclusion of men in demographic theory and reproductive health research (5, 9, 10). Much work on men has focused on contraceptive knowledge, attitudes and practice (e.g. 11, 12). More innovative approaches to men's involvement are also in evidence (e.g. 13, 14). Men are important agents in reproductive decisionmaking for couples, and their interests in fertility influence marriage behaviour (2, 15, 16). Nevertheless, the absence of fundamental demographic information on men's reproduction precludes a systematic exploration of levels and trends of male fertility or of men's contribution to declines in fertility. Furthermore, little has been done to investigate the connection of male fertility and reproductive behaviour to the reproductive health of men and women.

In polygynous populations, total fertility rates for men have been reported at nearly twice those for women (4, 6, 17). Substantial age differences between spouses are an important feature of such populations and of differences in total fertility rates (17, 18). Comparisons of fertility and fertility desires for men and women in polygynous and monogynous unions are complicated by the past experience of monogyny for those in polygynous marriages and the future possibility of polygyny for those in monogynous marriages. …

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