The lottery of birth
The lottery of birth

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The lottery of birth

2.2 What choices do individuals have?

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Figure 7 A health worker in Odisha, India gives advice on contraception to mother-of-two, Tuni, so she can plan the size of her family.

Everyday, millions of individual decisions about reproduction, are made by women and men around the world.

They make decisions about whether or not to have children, whether to have another child, whether to delay having children, whether to use contraception or abortion, or whether to abort a girl child. These choices are shaped by many social and cultural, political and economic forces that may be present nationally and internationally at a particular time, but they are experienced by individuals who need to make decisions their lives.

Intentions with regard to having children or how many children, will often be developed, and be expressed, in relation to perceived societal norms and familial expectations. Over time, these intentions frequently change according to changes in circumstances.

Haskey (2013) concluded that there may be a deeper, more powerful explanation. For example, a desire for achievement might be linked to the higher social and economic status and higher education achievements of what some prefer to call ‘childfree’ women. In more competitive and individualistic societies, there seems to be greater approval of other goals for men and women such as higher status employment or financial success and the bearing and raising children can drift down personal agendas. The appearance of this trend in particular countries has led to the development of the ‘second demographic transition’. You will look at both the demographic transition theory and the second demographic transition theory in Week 4.

Clearly, to some extent, individual choices are affected by external factors such as whether the country a women is living in makes it easy or easier to combine employment and family life.

You can see some of the choices made by women, and men, in different countries about whether to have children and how many children to have in Figure 8.

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Figure 8 Percentage of women aged 40–44 who are childless or with three or more children, latest point available, low-fertility countries.

So millions of decisions made by individual women and men are then contributing to those fundamental population shifts and social and political changes we are discussing in this course. For example, the unprecedented low fertility rate (fertility rate refers to the number of children that would be born to a woman if she were to live to the end of her childbearing years and bear children in accordance with current age specific fertility rates) and longer life expectancy in some places such as some parts of Europe and some parts of Asia, the still high but falling fertility rates in other places such as some parts of Asia and Africa, continuing high infant mortality in some places such as parts of Africa and low birth rates (birth rate refers to number of live births per 1000 population per year), with a return to high mortality in others such as Russia.

In the next section, you will think about choices in relation to reproduction.

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