Husband-Wife Agreement on Desired Family Size and Fertility Preferences in Peri-Urban Malawi

Type Journal Article - Malawi Med J.
Title Husband-Wife Agreement on Desired Family Size and Fertility Preferences in Peri-Urban Malawi
Volume 23
Issue 4
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2011
Page numbers 129-160

Understanding wife-husband fertility preference is important for predicting parity and decision-making power within a couple. Total fertility rate (TFR) for women in Malawi is 5.7 children per woman (Malawi DHS, 2010); however, limited information is available regarding couple's fertility preferences. While many research studies have investigated the wife's preference for childbearing (Salway, 1994), few have examined the role of both partners in determining fertility (Razzaque, 1999; Bankole and Singh, 1998).

Investigating the influence of male fertility desires on the actual parity of the couple is essential to uncovering the reality of a woman's decision-making power and negotiations within the marriage (Gipson and Hindin, 2007). This study analyzes wife-husband agreement on desired family size and negotiations of childbearing behavior among married couples in Malawi.


This study examines baseline fertility preferences and attitudes toward childbearing of a cohort of 605 married couples aged 16–44 for women and 18–54 for men, residing in Lunzu, Malawi. The data are part of the Family Health and Wealth study examining the health and economic consequences of family size in peri-urban sites in Africa. Husband-wife agreement on desired fertility was analyzed using the kappa statistic. Preliminary trends were determined using descriptive statistical analysis and chi-squared testing of husband and wife fertility preferences.


Married couples agree 45.7% of the time on desired fertility, which is less than would be expected by chance (kappa= -0.08). There is a significant difference in husband-wife agreement of desired fertility (p = 0.03). Thirty percent of husbands are the only partner to want more children, compared to 25% of wives only wanting more children. Three-quarters of men report that they have discussed the number of desired children with their spouse, yet only 58% of men site that four children is their ideal family size compared to 70% of women.


Family size is dependent on both individual and couple fertility preferences. Husbands are reporting stronger desires to have more children when their wives are not. Understanding the intersection of husband fertility preference and women's decision making power and bargaining status within the marriage is critical for predicting fertility rates and improving maternal and infant mortality.

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