Women’s Reproductive Choices and Behaviors: A Study in Madhya Pradesh, India

Project Duration

1999 - 2009

Project Countries


Project issues/theme

Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights

Lead Project Partners

International Institute for Population Studies, Mumbai; Government Medical College, Nagpur

ICRW Project Director

Anju Malhotra; Project Team: Sunayana Walia, Laura Nyblade, Kerry MacQuarrie, Jeffrey Edmeades, Susan Lee-Rife


Women’s control over their own childbearing is a key component of reproductive health and rights. In order to understand the full range of factors that define women’s options regarding childbearing, ICRW designed an innovative, large-scale, household-based study in Madhya Pradesh, India to explore the domestic, societal, service-related and policy-related context of women’s reproductive choices and behaviors.

In partnership with the International Institute for Population Studies, Mumbai, and the Government Medical College, Nagpur, ICRW designed and developed an innovative data collection approach through a survey that combined a unique narrative interviewing technique with rigorous quantitative survey methodology. Data collection took place between 2000 and 2002, beginning with a qualitative phase and culminating in a large-scale, representative survey. In total, data were collected on 11,341 individual pregnancies from 2,444 women aged 15 to 39, providing a unique insight into women’s entire reproductive lives. This approach was shown to produce higher quality and more detailed data than standard household surveys.

The following central research questions were explored:

  • How are women’s reproductive choices and behaviors manifested in the decision-making processes that determine contraceptive use, the occurrence of unwanted pregnancies and the resolution of unwanted pregnancies?
  • Under what circumstances are the actions that women take – or fail to take – indicative of their ability to formulate and act upon reproductive choices?

Findings from the data show that the vast majority of women had limited reproductive choices and rights despite the fact that abortion has been legal in India since 1972. The data also point to the unequivocal link between contraceptive access and abortion. Further analysis of the data explores the role of household members in shaping women’s reproductive behavior and better understanding women’s decision-making process regarding fertility control.

The data collection and research were funded by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation and the Hewlett Foundation.