Essays on Fertility and Fertility Preferences in India
In this dissertation, I examine at the aggregate and individual levels, why contemporary fertility preferences diverge from actual fertility. I use three waves of cross-sectional survey data from the National Family Health Surveys from India (also known as the Indian Demographic and Health Surveys), fielded in 1992-3, 1998-9 and 2005-6 to investigate the disjuncture between preferences and behavior. The first empirical chapter outlines and operationalizes a new framework to decompose the incongruence between stated preferences and actual fertility into a set of parameters, such as unwanted births, gender preference and postponement of births to later ages, each of which varies in its level and intensity between societies and over time. By delineating the societal constraints that women do not incorporate in their childbearing intentions, this model provides a useful framework to explain variability in fertility in contemporary intermediate- and low-fertility populations. Equally important, the framework provides avenues to enquire into the fundamental structural and cultural correlates producing differences between family size preferences and actual fertility.
Subsequent empirical chapters explore various aspects of fertility preferences in detail. The second chapter probes a key socioeconomic correlate of individual-level fertility preferences, namely educational differences in preferences. In brief, I find that educational differences in family size preferences have considerably converged over time using two-way fixed effects models. However, there is still considerable heterogeneity in the implementation of preferences (as manifested by the use of contraception). Accordingly, in the third chapter, I analyze the multilevel sources of variation in the use of contraception by young women, given that they express a preference to space or stop childbearing. Using multilevel models, I find that community norms play a strong role in the use of contraception by young women to meet their fertility preferences to space or stop childbearing. I argue that community norms are an influential determinant of young women's ability to regulate their own fertility - serving to enhance or constrain their use of contraception to either space or stop childbearing.
Overall, findings from this dissertation highlight the macro-level factors that explain variation in contemporary fertility, of which fertility preferences emerge as a critical parameter. This dissertation also illuminates the growing convergence of fertility preferences across socioeconomic categories, while focusing attention on local community forces that influence fertility behavior even in the face of women's stated preferences.
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