Network Launches Innovative Working Paper Series on Fertility Declines

Article Date

01 May 2012

Article Author

By ICRW Communications Staff

Media Contact

Anne McPherson

Vice President, Global Communications email [email protected]

A network of academic and applied researchers led by the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) this week will launch a series of working papers that explores how dramatic fertility declines over the last 40 years have affected women’s lives and gender relations in low- and middle-income countries. 

The group, called the Fertility & Empowerment Network, is testing the following important questions: Does demographic change – specifically, having smaller families – alter women’s well-being and the gender norms in a society? Are women in developing countries becoming more empowered – that is, are they able to exercise control over strategic life choices – as they gain greater access to birth control and have fewer children – and if so, how? Have fertility declines helped create more equitable relationships and opportunities for women? 

To be sure, it is difficult to prove that access to contraception and reductions in family size contribute directly to empowering women and transforming gender relations. However, the network’s findings provide indications that having fewer children may indeed be shifting roles and norms within a household. For example, researcher Keera Allendorf shows in her case study of a village in Northern India that — in the context of smaller families — daughters are increasingly being tapped to support aging parents. It’s a role that once was expected only of sons, and a reason that families traditionally invested more in sons than in daughters.

“Women’s empowerment and gender equality are widely recognized as key to achieving our broader development goals to reduce poverty and improve health,” said Kirsten Stoebenau, ICRW’s gender and population specialist. “The network’s goal is to provide insights on how programs and policies can maximize the positive outcomes of the connection between declining fertility and women’s empowerment.” 

Network members, including ICRW experts, will debut six of the papers in the 13-study series during the annual Population Association of America conference May 3 – 5 in San Francisco. The first three are now available for download: 

Related: Commentary: Does Access to Contraception Empower Women?