To explain the persistence of high fertility and low contraceptive prevalence in rural sub-Saharan Africa, demography has relied heavily on a framework that emphasizes institutional barriers to individual behavioural change. Such an approach assumes that in traditional societies, institutions such as polygyny exert a uniform effect on fertility for all women and hence, actors have little agency in fertility decision-making. One consequence of this approach is its inability to perceive how women might use such social institutions for their own ends: most notably, their efforts to plan their childbearing and to safeguard their own health. This paper uses data from a micro-level study in the North Bank region of The Gambia to investigate the management of fertility within the context of polygynous households. The results suggest that a woman's success in pacing her childbearing, using contraception, and finally 'retiring' from childbearing depends not only on her own fertility status but that of other co-resident women. Findings underscore the need to develop new approaches to the study of fertility processes in societies that have yet to experience substantial fertility decline.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Health(social science)
- Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health