The compound as a locus of fertility management: The case of the Gambia

Sangeetha Madhavan*, Caroline H Bledsoe

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)451-468
Number of pages18
JournalCulture, Health and Sexuality
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 1 2001

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health

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