BREAD 2021: Insights on family planning and marriage

Blog State, family planning and fertility

The IGC hosted the BREAD Conference on Economics of Africa from 7-9 July and our new blog series explores key findings from research presented during the conference, including the following publicly available papers on family planning and marriage. Some interesting findings are below.

Many women in sub-Saharan Africa wish to avoid or delay pregnancy but are unable to use modern contraception. The papers below discuss some of the barriers to contraceptive use – including limited knowledge, lack of support from male partners, and historical factors – along with possible ways to address these disparities.

The media or the message? Experimental evidence on mass media and modern contraception uptake in Burkina Faso (Glennerster, Murray, and Pouliquen 2021)

Finding: Exposure to a family planning mass media campaign increased modern contraception use and reduced births in Burkina Faso.

A quarter of women in sub-Saharan Africa report desiring to stop or delay childbearing, but do not use modern contraception. Introducing women to existing mass media by giving them radios decreased modern contraception use. Giving women radios and at the same time exposing them to a 2.5-year mass media campaign addressing key barriers to contraception, however, led to a 5.9 percentage point increase in modern contraceptive use. Women between the ages of 29-49 exposed to this campaign were 10% less likely to give birth in the year prior to the endline survey, likely due to the increased uptake of contraception.

Polygyny, men’s involvement and fertility: Evidence from a field experiment in rural Burkina Faso (D’Exelle, L’épine, Bakyono, and Tapsoba 2019)

Finding: Giving women access to a contraception voucher alone versus with their male partner increases the likelihood they will take up the contraception in monogamous relationships but not polygynous ones – but women in monogamous relationships who receive the voucher have lower levels of wellbeing.

In sub-Saharan Africa, only 17% of women who want to avoid pregnancy are using modern contraception; and women are more likely than men to want to cease childbearing. Free contraceptive vouchers for clinics carrying pill, IUD, implant and injectable methods were distributed to women either with their male partner or alone in Burkina Faso. Rates of unintended pregnancy were high and 40% of these women were in polygynous relationships. Women in monogamous unions were significantly more likely to redeem the voucher for concealable methods if given it alone versus with their male partner. For women in polygynous unions, however, there was no difference, possibly due to incentives for co-wives to have equal or more children than their co-wives. Women in monogamous unions who received the voucher had higher levels of domestic violence and lower wellbeing at endline.

Colonial origins and fertility: Can the market overcome history? (Canning, Mabeu, and Pongou 2020)

Finding: Women in former British colonies in sub-Saharan Africa are more likely than women in former French colonies to delay sex and marriage, and have fewer children, but only in areas with lower market access.

Colonial powers arbitrarily broke up ethnic homelands in sub-Saharan Africa and then imposed their contraceptive laws on these colonies. France had pronatalist laws and Britain did not; and to the present, in areas with low market access, fertility is lower and marriage age is higher in former British colonies than in former French ones. It is likely that this is due to the impact of colonial reproductive laws on modern contraceptive use. But areas with greater market access, such as coastal areas, were likely to become more economically developed regardless of who colonised them. In these areas, childbearing remains lower across the board due to higher opportunity cost of having a child.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this post are those of the authors based on their experience and on prior research and do not necessarily reflect the views of the IGC.