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Fertility and Poverty: The Role of Gender and Reproductive Health

  • January 2013
  • Interview
In an interview at the Seventh Annual Conference on Population, Reproductive Health, and Economic Development in Oslo, Norway, researchers An-Magritt Jensen and Anne Khasakhala answered questions about their project on fertility and poverty in two areas of Kenya. They discussed their findings regarding spousal communication and fertility intentions, and highlighted some of the policy implications of their research. Read a transcript of the questions and answers.

Jensen is a professor of Sociology at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. Khasakhala is a senior lecturer at the Population Studies and Research Institute in Nairobi, Kenya.


What is your research topic under the PopPov initiative?

Jensen: We are doing research in two areas of Kenya. One area is located in the western part of Kenya and the other is located on the coast. This is actually a follow-up from a similar study we did about 20 years ago in the same areas. Here we are now interviewing women and men and key informants on the village conditions and also doing focus group interviews. The issue is fertility and poverty.

What are the major research findings to date?

Jensen: This is a very extensive research project with both qualitative and quantitative data sets. It has taken us a long, long time, not only collecting the data, but also systematizing it and coding it. I think this experience is quite common for many research projects: when you are finally finished with all these operations, your project is almost over, so there is very little time for analysis. So, this question is actually a bit premature, as the analysis is ongoing. We have, however, presented two papers on project: the changing nature of marital relationships and spousal communication and contraceptive use.

Khasakhala: Some of the main findings from the paper we presented on spousal communication and fertility intentions were that women tend to have many children—especially in the Bungoma area, the western Province—because they perceive that if they don’t have many children, their husbands will marry another wife. This is just a perception. Again, in polygamous union, they still continue to have many children because when it comes to the sharing of land, apparently if you have more children, you get more land. We found that to be quite interesting.

But one of the good things about it is that there was spousal communication with regard to use of family planning. They all say that they communicate, and even the excerpts show that they actually communicate on issues related to use of family planning, which was quite interesting because some researchers say that there’s not much communication between husband and wife when it comes to the use of family planning. Some of the women may, however, be using it secretly.

What research methods did you use for this project?

Khasakala: Basically, when it came to the qualitative methodology, as An-Magritt mentioned, a similar study was carried out 20 years ago and we were able to trace some of the participants who were there during that time. That is where we started—with the participants that we already knew and that were still willing to give us more information. Because some of them are fairly old, we went down to interview their relatives—that is, their children and also their daughters-in-law, in some cases.

That is how we got our sample this time in both areas. But we were much luckier in the western study because the documentation was much better there and we still had the names of some of the people. At the coast, it was slightly difficult, but we were able still to get some of the participants who were there previously. We then used the snowballing method to get more participants.

Jensen: I think I want to emphasize some of the dynamics in this methodology we were using because we started with in-depth interviews with women and men. Then we identified an issue that we needed to know more about—or actually several issues—and from there, we continued to focus groups on these particular issues where we thought we needed some broader knowledge.

One issue was the perception of poverty and the other was marriage: if they could expand on the meaning of marriage, and also, on the value of children. We had 16 focus groups where people sat together; they were young in one group and old in the others, men and women separate, and they discussed these issues. Following from this study, there will be a third step with new quantitative survey based only on poverty: What is poverty? How can we understand poverty in context?

What are some of the policy implications of your research, particularly in terms of poverty reduction?

Jensen: To me, it’s very clear that a key issue is joblessness, particularly among young men. They are educated, people have struggled to give them schooling and in many cases they have managed, so they have children who are now educated and jobless. It’s a major problem, and I would say that joblessness is the key issue.

Khasakala: My take would be that, especially in the coast province, education is a big issue. You’ll find that most of the children don’t go to school. There is a very high drop-out rate, and this is because of tourism in the area. A lot of children leave school to go and work on the beaches or to collect shells to sell to tourists. Also, the quality of education in that area is also an issue. When the results of the primary school education came out, one of the areas where we were doing our research ranked last. It was actually ranked at the bottom in the whole of Kenya, and of course that is a big issue; so there is need to intervene in education because tuition is free. It’s supposed to be free for primary and partially free for secondary, so why aren’t these children going to school? That is basically a policy issue.

And there’s also the issue of early marriage in the coast area. One of the reasons why the girls there get married early is because they don’t see what else they can do; they end up getting married so that they can, perhaps, escape from a life of idleness or poverty. Basically, that is what’s happening in that area, so there is still a need for more intervention with regard to early marriages and of course early pregnancies.

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