Between natural fertility and intentional control: evidence from the African Demographic and Health Surveys, Jennifer Johnson-Hanks
This article examines patterns of marital fertility in age and time (AFMFR and AIBI by parity) from 18 African Demographic and Health Surveys, and compares them to the patterns found in North America and Europe in the seventeenth through nineteenth centuries. On the basis of such birth spacing and timing data, demographers have long made inferences about reproductive intentions and reproductive behavior (e.g. Coale 1973, 1986; Knodel 1977, 1987). In the DHS data, however, we have information about both intentions and reproductive practice on the one hand, and birth spacing and timing on the other. Thus, it is possible to compare inferences about intentional states from population rates to selfreported intentional states themselves. The article demonstrates that the shape of age-specific marital fertility rates and the patterns of interbirth intervals among women in 18 African countries who assert that they have no intention to limit fertility and have never used contraception differ quite substantially from that of 19th century Europe and North America. On the basis of this and related data, the article argues against the widely assumed indexical relationship between specific population-level reproductive patterns and individual intentions. As the social organization of reproduction in contemporary Africa differs fundamentally from that of historical Europe, the quantitative methods
developed in that context are inapplicable to Africa.