Men’s Migration and Women’s Fertility in Rural Mozambique

Abstract

Labor migration profoundly affects households throughout rural Africa. This study looks at how men’s labor migration influences marital fertility in a context where such migration has been massive while its economic returns are increasingly uncertain. Using data from a survey of married women in southern Mozambique, we start with an event-history analysis of birth rates among women married to migrants and those married to nonmigrants. The model detects a lower birth rate among migrants’ wives, which tends to be partially compensated for by an increased birth rate upon cessation of migration. An analysis of women’s lifetime fertility shows that it decreases as the time spent in migration by their husbands accrues. When we compare reproductive intentions stated by respondents with migrant and nonmigrant husbands, we find that migrants’ wives are more likely to want another child regardless of the number of living children, but the difference is significant only for women who see migration as economically benefiting their households. Yet, such women are also significantly more likely to use modern contraception than other women. We interpret these results in light of the debate on enhancing versus disrupting effects of labor migration on families and households in contemporary developing settings.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The imbalance between the migrants’ wives and nonmigrants’ wives subsamples resulted mainly from the fact that some smaller villages did not have enough eligible women married to migrants.

  2. 2.

    Strictly speaking, a discrete-time model estimates the effects of predictors on the odds of an event, but as the number of periods of exposure to risk increases, the odds of the event approximate the rate. We therefore use the term “rate” throughout the text.

  3. 3.

    With the average schooling level in the sample being three years, most, if not all, respondents completed their education before starting their marital unions. As for religious affiliation, switching churches is not uncommon, and about 40% of the respondents said that they had changed religious affiliation at least once in their lives. However, of those, almost 80% did so because of marriage, by joining the churches of their husbands. Therefore, for more than 90% of the respondents with a religious affiliation, we can be reasonably confident that they had that affiliation throughout the entire period under observation (seven years preceding the survey or the duration of marriage, whichever is shorter).

  4. 4.

    In other socioeconomic and cultural circumstances, one can expect migration and fertility to influence each other, and therefore simultaneous models, which account for such mutual influences, may be in order (e.g., Clifford 2009; Nedoluzhko and Agadjanian 2010). However, in the context of rural southern Mozambique, where labor out-migration of married men is a well-established economic practice and social tradition, and where fertility control has barely taken root, causality can be assumed largely unidirectional—from migration to fertility.

  5. 5.

    Alternative estimations using multilevel negative binomial regression or linear regression produced nearly identical results.

  6. 6.

    Another possible compensatory mechanism that we cannot address in this study because of data limitations is polygyny. Returned migrants are typically in a better financial position than nonmigrants to marry additional and usually much younger wives, who contribute to the fertility of the entire household and, therefore, to meeting the traditional normative expectation of large families.

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Acknowledgment

The support of the NIH/NICHD Grant No. R21HD048257 is gratefully acknowledged.

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Correspondence to Victor Agadjanian.

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Agadjanian, V., Yabiku, S.T. & Cau, B. Men’s Migration and Women’s Fertility in Rural Mozambique. Demography 48, 1029–1048 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13524-011-0039-y

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Keywords

  • Fertility
  • Labor migration
  • Sub-Saharan Africa
  • Mozambique
  • Contraception