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Fertility and Poverty in Western and Coast Villages of Kenya

  • January 2015
  • Report
Jensen, An-Magritt; Khasakhala, Anne A.; Odwe, George & Wawire, Salome

Executive Summary: The Fertility and Poverty project examined fertility changes in Western and Coast Regions over a 20-year period (1988-2011). Initially, the fertility level was very high in Western and relatively low in Coast; while a substantial decline followed by a stall took place in Western, while in Coast only a modest decline has taken place. Both regions are now in the upper end of the fertility range. These two regions provide insights into regional variations in the Kenyan fertility stall. The Fertility and Poverty project combines case studies in rural villages with KDHS data for Western and Coast. Emphasis is given to examining linkages impacting fertility such as poverty, child mortality and gender relations.

The case studies included personal interviews with women and men in rural villages about 20 years apart. The first round took place in 1988 (Bungoma, Western) and 1990 (Kwale, Coast), and the second round took place in both areas in 2011. In Bungoma universal marriages and polygamy pushed fertility up, while in Kwale unstable marriages and reproductive health problems suppressed fertility. Child deaths were associated with higher fertility in both areas. Twenty years later, in 2011, poverty was manifest in the study villages. Despite more education, formal employment and stable income were very limited, child mortality remained high and polygyny prevailed. Gender relations were strained, and particularly so in Bungoma. In Kwale, women had gained some access to economic resources.

The analyses from the KDHS data revealed that the initial fertility decline continued among non-poor women over the entire period (1989–2008/09) but not among the poor. In Western, the decline stalled, while in Coast, a fertility increase (particularly among the youngest women) occurred. Furthermore, poverty, child mortality, and fertility are interlinked.

Both the case studies and the analyses of KDHS data found that poverty and child mortality were reinforcing forces pushing fertility up. However, people saw no link between poverty and the number of children in a family. To them, poverty was caused by lack of income and scarcity of land, but not from having many children. To women, children were a means to gain resources and security, while to men, they were a source of pride and a means to demonstrate power in the absence of employment and income. In conclusion, the project finds that poverty is a key to understanding the fertility stall.

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