Results from multilevel ordered logit model
The objective of this analysis was to find out whether or not women belonging to 1986–1991 and 1992–1997 sterilisation cohorts have improved their educational levels since they have been sterilised. Table 2 provides proportional odds ratios, confidence intervals and random intercepts for the five models in each sterilisation cohort.
1986–1991 sterilisation cohort
In this cohort, among women who have been sterilised before 25 years of age, the proportional odds ratios of education in 1998–1999 and 2005–2006 were 1.051 (95 % CI 0.861–1.282) and 1.134 (95 % CI 0.936–1.374), respectively. This means compared to 1992–1993, the proportional odds ratio of combined primary and secondary education was 1.051 times higher in 1998–1999 and 1.134 times in 2005–2006. For women who were sterilised in the age group 25–29 years the proportional odds ratio of education in 1998–1999 was 0.954 (95 % CI 0.764–1.193) and 1.116 (95 % CI 0.901–1.382) in 2005–2006. For women who have been sterilised at 30 years or above, the proportional odds ratio was 1.001 (95 % CI 0.724–1.138) in 1998 and 1.046 (95 % CI 0.691–1.586) in 2005–2006. For women who have been sterilised with 1–2 children, the proportional odds ratio of education was 0.889 (95 % CI 0.688–1.150) in 1998–1999 and 1.084 (95 % CI 0.853–1.377) in 2005–2006. Further, for women who have been sterilised with 3 or more children, the proportional odds ratio of education was 1.022 (95 % CI 0.859–1.216) in 1998–1999 and 1.143 (95 % CI 0.970–1.348) in 2005–2006. Thus, in all the five models there was no statistically significant increase in the proportional odds ratios of education in 1998–1999 or 2005–2006 compared to the reference year 1992–1993. In all the groups, except for the group with 3 or more children, the estimated variance and standard error suggests that there is no significant variation in women’s education across villages (Table 3).
1992–1997 sterilisation cohort
In this sterilisation cohort, for women who have been sterilised at age below 25 years, the proportional odds ratio of education was 0.967 (95 % CI 0.814–1.149) in 2005–2006. The corresponding proportional odds ratio for women who have been sterilised at 25–29 years was 1.107 (0.814–1.505). For women who have been sterilised at 30 years or above, the proportional odds ratio was 1.583 (95 % CI 0.996–2.514). Further, for women who have been sterilised with 1–2 children the proportional odds ratio of education was 1.186 (95 % CI 0.860–1.634) in 2005–2006. The corresponding proportional odds ratio for the women who were sterilised with 3 or more children was 0.969 (95 % CI 0.812–1.557). Thus, there was no statistically significant increase in the proportional odds ratio of women’s education in all the five groups. The analysis also revealed no significant variation across villages in all the groups except the group in which women have been sterilised with 3 or more children.
Results from qualitative data
The quantitative data from South India clearly demonstrated that reproduction-free time provided by female sterilisation and low fertility did not help women to improve their educational levels in India. However, as the data used for this analysis were from cross sectional surveys using pseudo-cohorts, the findings can only be considered indicative. Further this analysis was restricted by the non-availability of some of the key variables that may have hindered women from improving their formal education or skill development. Therefore, this part of the analysis aims to provide context in terms of factors that may have hindered women from utilising the reproduction-free time provided by early age at sterilisation and low fertility for resumption of formal education or skill development.
Female sterilisation in Tamil Nadu and Kerala villages
In both the villages female sterilisation has been the most common method of family planning. In Tamil Nadu village not only were women sterilised late compared to Kerala village but also had more children at the time of sterilisation. The older cohort of women in Kerala were sterilised between age 30–35 years and with an average of 3 children. The more recent cohorts were sterilised at around 25 years and with an average of 2 children. In Tamil Nadu village, older cohorts were sterilised at around 35 years with an average of four children. In the more recent cohorts average age at sterilisation was around 30 years and with an average of three children. To sterilise at around 25 years and with two children is the most recent trend in the Tamil Nadu village. Thus, this study clearly shows that female age at sterilisation is declining and it is occurring with around two children. At the time of fieldwork, the reproductive norm in the two villages was to have two children and sterilise at around 25 years. Temporary family planning use before sterilisation was uncommon in both the villages as reported in other studies (Dharmalingam 1995; Pallikadavath and Wilson 2005).
With regard to education, women from the Kerala village had substantially higher levels compared to women in Tamil Nadu village. The majority of women from the younger cohort interviewed in Kerala village had a degree or professional qualification. But majority of the women from the older cohort had only secondary schooling. In Tamil Nadu village the older cohort of women had no education or very low education. However, the most recent cohorts had secondary level education; only few have a degree or higher educational qualifications. Thus, higher education is still not very common among women in the Tamil Nadu village compared to the Kerala village.
In both Kerala and Tamil Nadu villages none of the women we interviewed in this study had resumed formal education after undergoing sterilisation and completing childcare responsibilities. Only one woman in this study reported undertaking skill development training after sterilisation and completing child care responsibilities. Thus, the qualitative data also support the findings from the quantitative analysis that female sterilisation and subsequent cessation of childcare responsibilities did not help women to improve their formal education or skill development. In the following section we discuss barriers that existed at individual, household and community levels that prevented women from improving formal education and/or skill development.
Table 4 provides results of the thematic analysis of individual level factors associated with women’s education and skill development. The individual level themes that were identified include: existing levels of education; perceptions about the right age for study; lack of interest in education; and work status.
Existing levels of education
In Tamil Nadu village, one of the main reasons that women had not been able to return to formal education after sterilisation and child care were the very low levels of education they already possessed. Women who did not have any formal education or very low levels of education did not consider themselves suitable for any formal education. Uneducated women or women with very low levels of education found it inconceivable to consider undertaking formal education. They believed that formal education after childbearing is for those who have already obtained higher qualifications. In the Kerala village the existing educational backgrounds of women were not regarded as a barrier to further education, as the majority of them already possessed secondary or higher education.
In both Kerala and Tamil Nadu villages existing educational levels of women were not considered a barrier to undertaking skill development activities. Indeed women were more comfortable considering skill development training because formal educational qualifications were not required for such training. In Kerala village, women felt that their educational qualifications could be suitable for skill development training in computing and tailoring. Women with lower levels of education from lower socio-economic strata generally preferred tailoring or related training. More highly educated women from higher socioeconomic strata preferred computer-related skill development. In Tamil Nadu village women did not express any specific desire for any particular skill development. This may be because women are overwhelmingly engaged in home-based beedi making (beedi is a thin cigarette made of 0.2–0.3 g of tobacco flake wrapped in a tendu leaf (Senthil Kumar and Subburethina Bharathi 2010).
In this study the threshold level of existing education needed for women to consider resuming formal education was at least secondary level in Tamil Nadu and a degree qualification in Kerala. No threshold level of education was reported for entering into most of the skill development training. However there were significant social considerations as to what kind of skill development training women would prefer.
Perception about right age for education
An important individual-level factor that prevented women from pursuing formal education after sterilisation and childcare responsibilities was their perceptions about the right age for formal education. In Tamil Nadu village, women noted that their age was not suitable to return to formal education even if they had time and motivation to do so. Women in their 30 s considered their age not suitable for formal education as they believed in supporting their children’s education. Women in their 40 s felt that resuming formal education at lower levels, primary or secondary, was totally implausible as these are typically for young people. It is important to note that the majority of the women in this study had functional literacy—they could read and count simple things. Therefore, they did not perceive any gains from resuming primary or secondary education.
In the Kerala village, age was not considered a barrier to the resumption of formal education or skill development. Women in Kerala reported that for education there is no age limit—people can study at any age. They pointed out that age-related social and economic responsibilities often act as barriers for women undertaking formal education. Clearly, the situation in Kerala reflects higher levels of female education and higher autonomy that women enjoy in this village.
Changes in social status within family
In the Kerala village, women reported changes in their status within the family after undergoing sterilisation and cessation of childbearing. They reported increased decision-making autonomy in the household (Pallikadavath et al. 2012). They reported that as a result of sterilisation their status in the household is akin to that of their mothers-in-law. Women found their new roles in conflict with their own education. They perceived themselves as mature women in charge of the family, with many responsibilities. A key responsibility that women in Kerala shouldered is children’s education. This role is very difficult to fulfil when women themselves are in formal education, particularly in families where husbands work outside the country or state.
In the Tamil Nadu village, on the other hand, changes in women’s social status associated with sterilisation increased their economic responsibility in the family. Increased status means women are on par with their mothers-in-law and husbands in responsibility for the economic security of the family. Thus, the increased autonomy of women in the family was a barrier to resuming formal education or skill development. In Tamil Nadu, however, the added responsibility could create demand for skill development training in areas that could provide higher economic returns to the family.
Women who were already working for wages felt that further education would not help them in their current jobs. In the Tamil Nadu village, the majority of the women we interviewed were beedi workers. This is a home-based industry. As remuneration is based on the number of beedies they make, women can choose the number of hours they work each day, depending on their daily circumstances. Women reported that beedi making is the only job women can easily get in their village and further skill development or formal education is unlikely to have any positive impact.
In the Kerala village, only a few women interviewed in this study worked for wages. Those working as agricultural labourers did not consider their job a barrier to education or skill development. Those who did not work, on the other hand, did not perceive the need to undertake further education or skill development in order to get a job, as there is no social pressure for women to be in paid employment. Indeed, unemployment of women was very common in the Kerala village and it is highly unlikely that women will be able to get jobs even with added qualifications.
Table 5 provides results of a thematic analysis of the household level factors that hinder the resumption of formal education and the uptake of skill development in the post-sterilisation and post-childcare period in the Tamil Nadu and Kerala villages.
Value of wife’s contribution to the family
In the Tamil Nadu village, the value of women’s economic contribution to the family income was identified as a barrier to the resumption of formal education. As mentioned earlier, the majority of the women in the Tamil Nadu village were engaged in beedi making. These women from poor families contributed to the household economy and this was vital for the day-to-day running of the family. It may be noted here that beedi making is a regular job and provides some economic security to the family through regular income (Senthil Kumar and Subburethina Bharathi 2010; Government of Tamil Nadu 2012). Most of the women reported that their husbands have irregular jobs and therefore perceived their own jobs as having high economic value. In addition to their job women must also perform labour- and time-intensive household activities such as cooking, washing, and cleaning. For most of the women in Tamil Nadu village, the end of childbearing and childcare responsibilities did not diminish household responsibilities. Indeed, the responsibilities of meeting the expenses of education and marriage, besides the immediate daily needs for food and clothing actually increased with the cessation of childbearing. Thus, the economic value of women’s work is a hindrance to resuming formal education or undertaking skill development training.
In the Kerala village, on the other hand, women’s contribution to the family economy was limited as only very few women worked for wages. Women also reported that their income was not necessary for the day-to-day functioning of the family. In fact women reported that there is social stigma for families that depended solely on women’s income. Among younger and more educated couples there is a growing acceptance of joint income-earning and this is now increasingly becoming the preferred household economic model. The perception that the value of women to the family economy is low prevents women from resuming formal education or skill development training in Kerala village.
Economic status of the household
In the Kerala village women from better-off households did not consider it necessary to return to formal education in order to get a job to support the family. Women in such families bring a large dowry (money or kind transferred from the bride’s family to the groom’s family at the time of marriage) that is often considered compensation for income from women’s work (Bradley and Pallikadavath 2013). Thus, higher household economic status had a negative impact on women’s need to resume formal education. Among poor households, women’s work is considered positive but this did not result in resuming education as the prospects of getting a job in Kerala are bleak. Women reported that more women from poorer households would resume formal education if there were jobs that would match the newly acquired qualification or skill.
In the Tamil Nadu village, better-off households valued women’s work and contribution to their households and therefore resuming formal education was welcomed. However, they could not see how the newly acquired qualification would help to get a job. Poor households valued women’s resumption of education but their current economic contribution to the family was a barrier. There was significant support for skill development among women from poor households in Tamil Nadu village, but within the context of their current engagement in beedi making the need for any other form of skill development was not felt by women in this study.
Value of children
Two types of families are found in the study villages; child-centred and adult-centred. In child-centred families the focus is to educate children to the best possible levels. Often in such families adults sacrifice their own well-being for their children. In adult-centred families the elderly receive better attention from others including children. While child-centred families are more common in the Kerala village, adult-centred joint families were common in the Tamil Nadu village. In the Kerala village women supported their children in every aspect of children’s education. For example, in many families women reported that they make sure that they are present when children return from school to provide food and to support homework. Women reported that they could not go out for a full day, as they have to meet the various requirements of their children. In this context women felt that it was difficult to resume formal education. In the Tamil Nadu village women felt greater responsibility for looking after the needs of their husbands, as in the majority of cases they were working locally.
Husbands in both Kerala and Tamil Nadu villages recognised their wives’ workload at home. Men reported that their wives have no spare time for formal education or training activities. It is important to mention here that women undertake most of the household work even if men have free time. There are significantly gendered roles in the family and certain activities will only be done by women—mainly cooking and household chores such as cleaning and washing. It appears that husbands’ recognition of women’s role in the family supports fixed gender roles and this seems to hinder women’s resumption of formal education and training. Husbands in Kerala reported that their wives need not resume studies as they do not need them to work to support the family. However, in the Tamil Nadu village husbands considered women’s contribution important to their family income. Husbands in the Kerala village held the view that their wives are not interested in studies. They maintained that they would be willing to support their wives should they show genuine interest in studies. In both Kerala and Tamil Nadu villages, husbands were not willing to allow their wives to work in the private sector, particularly in service industries. They also reported that as there are no government jobs there is no benefit in resuming education. It may be noted that women can take up jobs in the service sector without further education and training.
Table 6 provides results of a thematic analysis of community level factors that hindered the resumption of formal education and uptake of skill development in the post-sterilisation and post-childcare period in the Tamil Nadu and Kerala villages.
In both Kerala and Tamil Nadu villages, women are traditionally married after completing their education to a level felt appropriate to the family status. Generally, women never resume studies after marriage. In recent years, women in the Kerala village have continued higher education after marriage when their marriages took place during their studies. But resuming education at any level after completing childbearing was not reported among the women interviewed in this study. Women reported that there is very little support from the community for women to resume education or to undertake a training course because such activities are seen as an act of deviant behaviour. In the Kerala context, young wives of migrants have reported social problems if they pursue studies or training courses as villagers gossip about their extra-marital relationships which in turn can lead to family problems. Women reported that such actions contravene social norms and husbands or other family members are often blamed.
Women also reported that if married women resume education or undertake any skill development training it is a clear signal that their economic situation is deteriorating and that they need financial support. As husbands and other members of the family do not like to be looked down upon by their neighbours, women are generally not encouraged to resume education or undertake training to avoid such embarrassment. Such perception was greater in Kerala village compared to Tamil Nadu village. Thus, in both Tamil Nadu and Kerala villages, there is a widespread view that education prepares women for a better marriage and once that is achieved, education does not have further value in women’s lives.
Lack of employment opportunities
An important factor that women, husbands, and in-laws considered a reason for women not to resume formal education after sterilisation and cessation of childbearing is the lack of employment opportunities. In both Kerala and Tamil Nadu village employment opportunities in the village are limited to agriculture and construction-related work. Government sector jobs are very few and must be obtained through national- or state-level competitive tests. The major employers in the village and neighbouring cities are mainly shops and educational establishments. There are no industries in and around the villages.
Lack of educational/training institutions
The majority of the educational institutions in and around the two villages of Kerala and Tamil Nadu mainly offer secondary level education. Colleges and technical educational institutions were located in cities. However, in Kerala village women were able to gain training in computing and tailoring in the village from private providers, which are located in nearby towns or in some cases within the village. In Tamil Nadu village no such provision was available for women in the village.
Admission policies in educational and training institutions
In government or aided educational institutions admission policies are based on academic performance (there are quotas for socio-economically disadvantaged groups and certain other categories) and do not take into account interruptions in education or personal circumstances. Women reported that they cannot compete with next generation children as they have higher marks and are better equipped to undertake competitive tests for admission.
Lack of women-friendly transport facilities
In Tamil Nadu village transport to the nearest city was mainly through public bus services. Many householders must walk long distances to the nearest bus stop. A long wait for buses to the nearest town was reported by women. They also reported concerns about safety in getting back home late in the evening and at night. Women reported that they find it difficult to go on their own to town for any training for these reasons. In Kerala the public transport system was far better than in Tamil Nadu village in terms of access to services, number of stops, frequency and punctuality of services. However, women reported concerns in travelling alone at night.