Life after Loss: A Prospective Analysis of Mortality and Unintended Fertility

Emily Smith-Greenaway , University of Southern California
Sara Yeatman, University of Colorado Denver

The interplay between mortality and fertility is central to demographer’s principal theoretical obsession: demographic transition theory. Current theories posit that high mortality props up fertility by encouraging women to purposefully replace deceased children (replacement effects) and/or to pursue larger families to offset anticipated child deaths based on what they observe among others around them (insurance effects). These hypotheses, however, treat fertility as a volitional outcome even though nearly one-half of births worldwide are unintended, raising questions of whether high mortality conditions also increase unintended fertility. In this paper, we extend theories of mortality and fertility to consider unintended fertility. We analyze panel data on a representative cohort of women in Malawi, which features information on mortality exposure and fertility intentions measured soon before conception, which are confirmed via frequent pregnancy testing. Preliminary results show that exposure to mortality increases women’s likelihood of becoming pregnant within the next four months, and specifically increases their likelihood of becoming pregnant despite having professed an intention to not do so. This study will advance understanding of fertility in high-mortality contexts.

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 Presented in Session 123. The Relationships between Fertility and Mortality