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Lottery of birth
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5 Reproductive choices

Reproductive health, reproductive choices and reproductive rights (which have emerged as a goal since the International Conference on Population and Development in 1994) are important to individuals, but not everyone gets to choose.

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Figure 12

Decisions about what people want for themselves and what they want for their children are set within broader contexts. Analysis of reproductive decision making is a particular challenge. Women (and men) consider childlessness, or decide to delay or widely space their children, in relation to economic factors, housing, employment and career choices, availability and cost of childcare, education, attitudes, individualism, gender roles, partnership history and cultural and societal attitudes and norms (Haskey, 2013). There are then also some women and men simply don’t want children or just don’t think they would make good parents. A complicated decision indeed.

The ways women and men think about and decide on having children constantly evolves. So, for example, in countries that have introduced old age pensions, they no longer have children in order to be cared for when they get old. Or where a family’s well-being is no longer dependent on children as workers, parents no longer feel they have to replace children who die. Men and women have seized upon economic and social changes to renegotiate the boundaries between family expectations and self-fulfilment. Perhaps the biggest factor today is the transformation in the lives of girls and women whose educational and employment choices have been opened up by social change and birth control, with profound and irreversible effects on most societies.

In the next section, you will think about how some of those cultural and societal attitudes and norms might complicate decisions about having children.