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Women's Empowerment and Fertility in West Africa


The objective of this dissertation is to challenge a common assumption in demography and a prevailing development narrative that increases in women’s empowerment is a cause of fertility decline. The association between women’s empowerment and fertility is studied with a place-based approach in the context of West Africa where fertility rates are high with much variability, and where “empowerment” may not share the same meaning between researchers and research participants.

In “The Geography of Women’s Empowerment in West Africa”, I test the association between various putative indicators of women’s empowerment contained in the Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) in West African countries, using multivariate methods to identify classifications of empowerment to see if there is evidence of it as a unidimensional phenomenon. I test for spatial association among the empowerment classification (outcome) and determine if responses to women’s empowerment questions vary significantly geographically across the region.

In “The Role of Men’s and Women’s Agency in Fertility in Dakar, Senegal” I do a more in-depth analysis of the relationship between agency and fertility focusing on Senegal and its capital region, Dakar. Using an iterative, mixed-methods approach I use fieldwork conducted in Dakar to inform the analysis and interpretation of DHS data, using statistical methods. The results of this study show no consistent significant relationship between women’s and men’s agency and either fertility preferences or fertility outcomes. Furthermore, this study sheds light on a cultural ideal and preference favoring cooperative decision-making over individual autonomy among men and women in Dakar.

In “Partner Cooperation, Family Planning, and Contraceptive Effectiveness” I investigate how the degree of cooperation that women have in their relationships with their partners may influence contraceptive effectiveness by analyzing associations between relationship cooperation and interbirth interval most proximate to the survey date. While this study failed to show an association between relationship cooperation and contraceptive effectiveness, results do show that relationship cooperation has a significant and positive effect on interbirth interval length regardless of contraceptive method use. This suggests that women in more cooperative relationships are better able to successfully postpone pregnancy, particularly when not using contraception.

Overall, this dissertation provides a compelling case against the association of empowerment and fertility in West Africa and compels future work in unpacking the empowerment concept into observable constituents that can be analyzed separately in their possible linkages with fertility. This dissertation also underscores the importance of population geography in conducting place-based research when studying fertility and associated culturally-contingent processes.

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