Fertility decline, women’s well-being, and gender gaps in well-being in poor countries

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Kathryn Yount, Emory University, Sarah Zureick-Brown, Emory University; Nasifa Halim, Boston University; Kayla LaVilla, Emory University

We examined how declining total fertility and women’s increasing median age at first birth have been associated with changes in women’s and girls’ well-being and gender gaps in children’s well-being in panels of 60–75 poorer countries using 124–187 Demographic and Health Surveys spanning 1985–2008. In adjusted random-effects models, these changes in fertility were associated with gains in women’s and girls’ well-being, particularly access to prenatal care and trained attendance at delivery, survival at 1–4 years, vaccination coverage at 12–23 months, school attendance at 11–15 years, and nutrition at 0–36 months (for later childbearing). Benefits were equal for boys and girls with respect to vaccination coverage and school attendance. Declining total fertility was associated with greater gains for boys relative to girls with regards to child mortality and malnutrition; however, increases in women’s age at first birth were associated with greater advantages for girls relative to boys on these same measures. Family planning programs in higher-fertility societies may wish to encourage equitable investments in children.

This research is part of the Fertility & Empowerment Network Working Paper Series, which is examining whether and to what extent increasingly smaller family sizes in lower and middle income countries have empowered women or resulted in fundamental transformations in inequitable gender systems.