Land cover change and fertility in West-Central Africa: rural livelihoods and the vicious circle model

Abstract

The vicious circle argument, rooted in a neo-Malthusian tradition, states that resource scarcity increases the demand for child labor and leads to higher fertility. The rural livelihood framework, on the other hand, contends that households employ multiple strategies, only one of which involves adjusting their fertility levels as a response to environmental pressures. This study provides a unique test of both theories by examining the relationship between land cover change and fertility across hundreds of rural communities in four West-Central African countries. The findings reveal a complex relationship between natural capital and fertility. In communities where natural capital was initially low, a further decline in that capital is associated with both higher fertility preferences and levels. However, we find that fertility preferences and behavior are often discordant, with notable within-community differences in response to decline in natural capital across levels of household wealth.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The same is true for environmentally induced migration, where the empirical record is scarce and conflicted (e.g. Gray and Bilsborrow 2013; Hunter et al. 2013; Nawrotzki et al. 2013; Nawrotzki et al. 2016).

  2. 2.

    Since the associations between fertility and individual or household-level control variables are both predictable and not at the core of this analysis, we do not discuss them at length. Age has a nonlinear association with the number of recent births. On average, women with primary education had more births than those with no education, and women with secondary or higher education had fewer births. Non-married women had fewer births than married women, but religion had no significant effect. Finally, net of all other factors, women in wealthier households tend to have fewer births than those in less affluent households. Only one community-level factor was found to be statistically significant: mean household wealth was negatively associated with the number of recent births and desire for additional children. However, we kept other community-level indicators (population density, distance to nearest maintained road, and distance to the continental shoreline) in the model as control variables.

  3. 3.

    Both of which are negatively associated with desire for additional children and are statistically significant.

  4. 4.

    We tested the effect of inter- and intra-annual variation in NDVI on fertility preferences and outcomes, net of baseline vegetation cover, and neither was significant. However, we are unable to tell from our data whether respondents’ fertility preferences and behavior reflected uncertainty about future availability of natural capital in face of recent decline.

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Acknowledgments

This research was supported by grant, R24HD042849, Population Research Center, awarded to the Population Research Center at The University of Texas at Austin by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

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Sasson, I., Weinreb, A. Land cover change and fertility in West-Central Africa: rural livelihoods and the vicious circle model. Popul Environ 38, 345–368 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11111-017-0279-x

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Keywords

  • Fertility
  • Environment
  • Natural capital
  • Rural livelihood
  • Vicious circle
  • Sub-Saharan Africa