Despite recent strong interest in the link between fertility and subjective well-being, the focus has centered on developed countries. For poorer countries, in contrast, the relationship remains rather elusive. Using a well-established panel survey—the Ethiopian Rural Household Survey (ERHS)—we investigate the empirical relationship between fertility and life satisfaction in rural Ethiopia, the largest landlocked country in Africa. Consistent with the fertility theories for developing countries and with the sociodemographic characteristics of rural Ethiopia, we hypothesize that this relationship varies by gender and across life stages, being more positive for men and for parents in old age. Indeed, our results suggest that older men benefit the most in terms of life satisfaction from having a large number of children, while the recent birth of a child is detrimental for the subjective well-being of women at reproductive ages. We address endogeneity issues by using lagged life satisfaction in ordinary least squares regressions, through fixed-effects estimation and the use of instrumental variables.
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According to the original framework, parents have children in order to satisfy nine values or needs: affection and primary group ties, stimulation and fun, expansion of the self, acquisition of adult status and social identity, achievement and creativity, morality, economic utility, power and influence, and social comparison.
Women were offered free access to contraceptives and assistance from a family planning nurse through a voucher, either received in private or in the presence of the husband. In the former case, women were much more likely to ask for (concealable) contraception and much less likely to report undesired births afterward. Because rural Ethiopian men are more pronatalist than women (Short and Kiros 2002), Ethiopia is likely to share with other African countries (such as Zambia) the same asymmetries in the intracouple bargaining regarding fertility.
Considering the difficulties in collecting data in a rural area of a developing country, panel attrition in our data does not seem remarkable. We nevertheless account for potential attrition bias by weighing all estimates by the inverse of the estimated probability of attrition (inverse probability weighting (IPW)). Results are robust to this check; see Online Resource 1 for further details. Consider also that the use of the IV mitigates the effects of attrition bias in linear regression models.
We repeat the IPW analysis (see footnote 3) to account for a potential source of bias due to selection on the age cut-off. Results are robust to this check; see Online Resource 1 for further details. Consider, however, that the potential measurement error is addressed also through the IV approach.
Results do not change if we consider women aged 50–60 or 55–60. Results are available upon request.
These results are obtained through a fixed-effects regression of our economic variables on the number of children ever born plus additional controls (coresident partner, schooling, physical limitations, and shocks), separately for young men and women and with standard errors clustered at the village level. Results are available upon request.
We also explored the effect of children’s gender. None of our findings change significantly when accounting for the differential role of the children’s gender on parents’ subjective well-being. We ran this robustness check by (1) replacing the number of children variable in the regressions in columns 5–6 of Tables 2 and 3 with two different variables capturing the number of daughters and the number of sons; and (2) replacing the dummy variable for a newly born child in columns 1–4 of Tables 2 and 3 with two dummy variables separately accounting for whether the respondents had a male or a female child in the last five years (the omitted category being no newborns). Regression results are available from the authors upon request. This result provides further support to the exclusion restriction when we implement the IV approach.
Potential weak-instrument problems are addressed in Online Resource 1.
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The authors gratefully acknowledge financial support from the European Research Council under the European ERC Grant Agreement no StG-313617 (SWELL-FER: Subjective Well-being and Fertility, P.I. Letizia Mencarini).
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Conzo, P., Fuochi, G. & Mencarini, L. Fertility and Life Satisfaction in Rural Ethiopia. Demography 54, 1331–1351 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13524-017-0590-2
- Life satisfaction
- Subjective well-being