Title Page
 Table of Contents
 Non-demographic reasons for promoting...
 Employment-fertility relationship:...
 Methodological considerations and...
 The argument
 Class factors influencing...
 Policy implications

Group Title: Women's employment and fertility : demographic transition or economic needs of mothers?
Title: Women's employment and fertility
Full Citation
Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00080520/00001
 Material Information
Title: Women's employment and fertility demographic transition or economic needs of mothers?
Physical Description: 43, 11, 6, 19 p. : ; 28 cm.
Language: English
Creator: Youssef, Nadia Haggag
International Center for Research on Women
Publisher: International Center for Research on Women
Place of Publication: Washington D.C
Publication Date: 1979
Subject: Women -- Employment -- Developing countries   ( lcsh )
Fertility, Human -- Developing countries   ( lcsh )
Income generation   ( wot )
Genre: bibliography   ( marcgt )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )
Bibliography: Includes bibliographical references.
Statement of Responsibility: report prepared by Nadia H. Youssef.
General Note: "Report submitted to: AID/PPC."
General Note: "August 31, 1979."
 Record Information
Bibliographic ID: UF00080520
Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier: oclc - 38168949

Table of Contents
    Title Page
        Title Page
    Table of Contents
        Table of Contents
        Page 1
        Page 2
    Non-demographic reasons for promoting employment and income-generation programs for women
        Page 3
        Page 4
        Page 5
        Page 6
        Page 7
        Page 7a
        Page 7b
        Page 7c
        Page 7d
        Page 8
        Page 9
        Page 10
        Page 11
        Page 12
        Page 13
    Employment-fertility relationship: The debate
        Page 14
        Page 15
        Page 16
        Page 17
    Methodological considerations and interpretive problems in the employment and fertility relationship
        Page 18
        Page 19
        Page 20
        Page 21
        Page 22
        Page 23
    The argument
        Page 24
        Page 25
        Page 26
        Page 27
        Page 28
    Class factors influencing fertility
        Page 29
        Page 30
        Page 31
        Page 32
        Page 33
        Page 34
        Page 35
    Policy implications
        Page 36
        Page 37
        Page 38
        Page 39
        Page 40
        Page 41
        Page 42
        Page 43
        Page A-1
        Page A-2
        Page A-3
        Page A-4
        Page A-5
        Page A-6
        Page A-7
        Page A-8
        Page A-9
        Page A-10
        Page A-11
Full Text




Report prepared by:

Nadia H. Youssef

International Center for Research on Women

Report Submitted to AID/PPC
P.O. No. AID/OTR-147-79-27
August 31, 1979




I. Introduction

II. Non-Demographic Reasons for Promoting Employment and Income
Generation Programs for Women

General Impact on Women's Status
The Economic Needs of Mothers
Women as Heads of Households
Female Family Headship and Poverty

III. Employment-Fertility Relationship: The Debate

IV. Methodological Considerations and Interpretive Problems in
The Employment and Fertility Relationship

V. The Argument

VI. Class Factors Influencing Fertility

Family Planning and the Poor

VII. Policy Implications

Legal and Other Status Changes
Type and Scope of Policy
Program Intervention
Health Services
Support Services
Job Creation


1. Percentage of "Potential" Heads of Household
Selected Countries

2. Deviations of the
"Expected" Female
Year Age Groups

3. Deviations of the
"Expected" Female
and the Caribbean

4. Deviations of the
"Expected" Female
by Country and by

who are Women in

"Observed" Rural Female to Male Ratio from the
to Male Ratio for Africa by Country and by Five

"Observed" Rural Female to Male Ratio from the
to Male Ratio for Latin America: Central America

"Observed" Rural Female to Male Ratio from the
to Male Ratio for Latin America: South America
Five Year Age Groups


or Economic Needs of Mothers?

I. Introduction

The interrelationship between women's involvement in economic activities

and their fertility behavior has been debated in the demographic liter-

ature for several years. Is the fertility of working women lower than
the fertility of non-working women? From an academic stance, the

polemic of whether or not there is a consistent pattern among all sub-

groups of women who work outside the home in remaining celibate, in

delaying marriage, or in having fewer children within marriage than

women who do not work, can remain a subject of controversy, pending

further theoretical specification and methodological refinement.

In the field of development, however, particularly where policy

formulation and project implementation are involved, the issue assumes

a different dimension. At stake here is the influence such "academic"

findings may have upon plans of action designed to involve poor women

in productive economies by means of skills and vocational training

programs and employment/income generation activities allowing them to

meet their own and their family's basic needs.

From the standpoint of population policy, current interest in

the subject of female labor force participation in developing countries

stems from the proposition derived from the industrial nations' historical

I/ For a comprehensive review of empirical evidence from developing coun-
tries refer to: Nwanganga Shields, "Female Labor Force Participation
and Fertility: Review of Empirical Evidence from L.D.C." Population
and Human Resources Division, World Bank, 1977.


experience that gainful employment outside the home is one of the most

effective structural means by which non-familial roles begin to compete

significantly with familial ones, thereby influencing fertility and

family-size motivation (Blake, 1965). Women's work outside the home

may thus be regarded as crucial to the reduction of population growth.

The inverse relationship between the two variables, whether fertility

is measured by actual, desired, ideal, or expected number of children

is found in numerous studies and is stated to be one of the strongest

correlations between a social variable and fertility behavior (Blake,
1965).- This, of course, reflects the experience of the industrial world.

In developing societies, the association between female activity and

fertility is neither perfect nor consistent among specific subgroups

of women. It appears to be linked to the specification of other struc-

tural factors affecting a society's fertility and which are associated

with women's working or non-working status.

The major thrust of this paper is towards the identification of

women in particular strata within the developing world who are or who

could be made receptive to family-size limitation. However, as a preamble

to the discussion of the employment-fertility relationship, we suggest

that the issue of women's employment must be considered more concretely
than simply in terms of national population decline goals. We cannot
"prove" categorically that working women in developing societies have a

2/ Studies in the United States (Kiser, Grabil and Campbell, 1968;
Westoff and Potvin, 1967; Blake, 1965; D. Freedman, et al, 1963;
Freedman, Whelpton and Campbell, 1959; Ridley, 1959; Pratt and
Whelpton, 1956), in Western Europe and North America (Collver, 1968;
Collver and Langlois, 1962; Freedman, Baumert and Bolte, 1959).

- 3 -

lower fertility than non-working ones. Pending evidence of such a

relationship, there is a compelling case for the promotion of female

employment and income generation capacity, with or without demographic


From a development-oriented perspective, there are two reasons

for this approach. Women's employment has been shown to influence and

change attitudes and behavior related to women's condition and self-

perception. More pertinently, women's changing economic roles and

responsibilities, particularly among the rural and urban poor, make

women's work necessary for economic survival. The opportunity to earn

money is the only mechanism through which an increasing number of

mothers -- still in the reproductive age -- can support themselves and

their children under an increasingly heavy burden of economic respon-


II. Non-Demographic Reasons for Promoting Employment and Income-Generation

Programs for Women.

1. General Impact on Women's Status

Economic and productive roles can bestow upon women an economic identity,

providing them with a secure power base they can control. As a conse-

quence, they may cease to view childbearing as their major source of

status and prestige CSafilios-Rothschild, 1977). This is particularly

relevant to countries in which modernization processes have undercut

women's traditional economic role, causing not only economic deprivation

but also social insecurity and strain. No longer able to rely on their

productive role, women have replaced it by reaffirming their domestic/

reproductive power as source of social and psychological security

(Safilios-Rothschild, 1977; Youssef, 1978a).

- 4 -

Incentives, such as education and labor force participation in

the modern sector, are expected to raise women's marriage age. Work

and earnings in young women's lives can persuade parents not to marry

off daughters who contribute to household earnings and improve the young

woman's bargaining position over the timing of marriage and choice of


Women's life opportunities, including employment and education

prior to marriage, are crucial in determining fertility behavior within

marriage. They influence their future aspirations, experiences, and

range of options. The socialization of young girls to traditional roles

in conjunction with limited education and employment is almost guaranteed

to foster a motivational structure geared towards early marriage and high

fertility (Youssef and Buvinic, 1977).

Female employment alone or within the context of higher education

is thought to have a direct bearing on age at marriage for several reasons.

. Employment provides women with alternative means of status attainment

than does being a wife and mother (Collver, 1968).

. Employment outside the home may serve to broaden a woman's horizons

by introducing her to other people, ideas, and other influences that

may help to alter traditional behavior patterns, such as early marriage

(Ryder, 1967).

. When the young girl augments family income, her employment may reduce

parents' need or desire to marry her off early (Mamdani, 1977).


The effect of female labor-force participation on delaying marriage

is substantiated by data from Sri Lanka (Duza and Baldwin, 1975), and Malaysia

(Von Elm and Hirshman, forthcoming) among others. At the same time, an

increase in the marriage age and changes in the percentage of married

women account for a major portion of recent declines in birth rates in

Hong Kong, Korea, Singapore, Sri Lanka, the People's Republic of China,

and Tunisia (Germain, 1975; Lapham, 1975).

Women's employment outside the home and resultant economic independence

more effectively enhances their influence in family/marital decision-making

than does employment within the home. At the same time, changes in the

dynamics of marital relationships, enlarging women's influence in conjugal

decisions, information, and planning correlates with smaller family size,
birth planning, use of contraception, and actual lower fertility.

2. The Economic Needs of Mothers

For women in poverty, work is not a matter of choice but of survival.

Under such conditions, the work role cannot be seen as an alternative

to childbearing. Effective intervention is necessary to maximize women's

access to training, financial credit, and other means through which they

can obtain jobs that are both productive and provide some income stability.

3/ This is empirically substantiated in Hong Kong (Mitchell, 1972),
The Philippines CGoldberg, 1974), Brazil (Rosen and Simmons,
1971) and India (Mukhrjee, 1975), among others. Oppong argues against
the universal applicability of the two-person decision making process
as crucial to fertility theory. Segregation of male/female roles in
some societies restricts the communication between spouses essential
to joint decision-making. In this sense, modernization and change are
seen as bringing about a shift from a model in which role segregation
predominates towards a system in which jointness gains ground (Oppong,


The economic reality in which the bulk of Third World women function

has only surfaced recently. Stereotypes of the stable family -- with

a male head of household and economic provider, with the non-Western

family providing female-kin with psychological, legal, and economic

protection -- are now being demystified. Traditional support systems

are collapsing; family obligations are fragmenting in the process of

economic modernization. Yet, the image of women/mothers as secondary

or sole economic providers, as de facto household heads, and as single

parents do not yet typically come to mind in program planning.

Current data collection practices unfortunately do not make visible

to policymakers the "real" economic need of women. When economic need

is indexed by female labor force participation rates or female unemploy-

ment rates, the picture is deceptive because of definitional and measure-

ment problems intrinsic to census reporting (Youssef and Buvinic, 1979).

The total number of economically active women (including many parried

women at risk of pregnancy), is much larger than aggregate data would

have us believe. Among married women in Malaysia, 76% in rural areas

and 90% living in households headed by plantation workers are engaged in wage

labor. So are 85% of Sri Lankan women with husbands working in plantation

production (WFS-1978b;Standing and Sheehan, 1978b). In Nigeria, economic

activities inside and outside the home are recorded for 47% of all

married women aged 20-24, for 70% aged 30-39, and for 50% aged 50-59

(Standing and Sheehan, 1978a). Four out of ten women aged 14-45 years

(40,997) in Trinidad and Tobago work; six out of ten of these working

women have children; another 15,000 (9,500 of them mothers) are searching


for jobs (United Nations, 1978). In some rural areas, hiring practices

favor women because of wage differentials by sex, leading to high male

unemployment and increasing the numbers of women who are breadwinners

(Wolfe, 1979; Germain, n.d.).

3. Women as Heads of Household

An outcome of rapid but unbalanced economic growth and modernization

has been the rise of households headed by women. These are said to
range between 25 and 30% of all households (Newland, 1977; Tinker, 1976).

An index to identify women in 74 developing countries who are "potential"

heads of household, when computed as a ratio of the total number of

"potential" household heads, yields an estimated variation ranging from
10% to 46% (see figure 1). For 13 Latin American countries, the

proportion is much higher in urban than in rural areas; in labor-export-

ing countries, the percentage is much greater in rural areas. An estimate

of the rural sex ratios in Africa, Central and South America is presented

in graphic form in figures 2, 3, and 4. These show the extent of male-

dominated rural outmigration in the case of Africa and of autonomous female-

dominated migration in Central and South American countries.

Each type of migration pattern causes the emergence of female family


4 Women who head households account for 35% of family headship in many
parts of the Caribbean; their proportion is estimated to be 18% in
India; 23% in Indonesia; 15% in Iran; 40% in parts of Kenya, 45% in
the urban slum areas of Brazil and Venezuela. Between 1960 and 1970
the proportion of such households has doubled in Brazil and increased
by 33% in Morocco (BuviniC and Youssef, forthcoming).
5. Not all national censuses provide data on mother/child ratios by
current marital status. For the few that do, the child/mother
ratio for divorced/widowed/single combined ranges from from 3:4 (Peru),
5:1 (Botswana) to 6:6 (Honduras). Widowed and divorced women aged
35 in Guatemala have on the average five children--still too young
to be able to help support the family.

- 7a -

Figure 1. Percentage of "Potential" Heads of Household
who are Women in Selected Countries

BOTSWANA (1971) 46

PANAMA (1970) 40
HONDURAS (1974) 26

MOZAMBIQUE (1970) 25

'INDONESIA (1971) 23

"MOROCCO (1971) 22

PERU (1972) 19

*INDIA (1961) 19

*KENYA (1969) 19
Countries *TUNISIA (1966) 18
*THAILAND (1970) 18

-BRAZIL (1970) 818
-IRAN (1966) 16

'CUBA (1970) 16

15 'PHILIPPINES (1970)

15] *ECUADOR (1974)

11i VENEZUELA (1974)
10] KUWAIT (1970)

10 *NEPAL (1971)

I I I I 1 I
0 10 20 30 40 50 60
*Single mothers are not included as data were not available.

NOTES: The magnitude of households that might be headed by women was
defined by the percentage of "potential" women heads to "potential"
total household heads. "Potential" women heads of household include
all women who are widowed, divorced, separated or single mothers.
"Potential" total household heads include "potential" women heads of
household plus men over the age of 20 who are not single.

Data were obtained from national censuses or U.N. Demographic
Yearbooks. Dates for the different data analyzed are given in
parentheses in the figure.

SOURCE: Buvinic' Mayra, and Nadia H. Youssef. "Women-headed House-
holds in Third World Countries: An Overview." Paper presented at the
International Center for Research on Women Workshop "Women in
Poverty: What Do We Know?" Belmont Conference Center, Elkridge,
Md., April 30--May 2, 1978 (Table 2).

- 7b -

Figure 2. Deviations of the "Observed"
"Expected" Female to Male Ratio for Africa

Deviations from expected
105 rural ratio of women per
10 100 men
100 -
95-- \

90 -
85 -

80 -

70 -
65 -

60-- eee

55- e ,

50 -
45-- *

4 -- ** ..**";..
a oo ...... "

O .* *.
35 v_ .

25 -

(MMI) 20 0

15 ':,: *.:: 0
10 -- .
5 f .-v

Rural Female to Male Ratio from the
by Country and by Five Year Age Groups.

**** Kenya 1969
ooooo Lesotho 1972
- Libya 1973
xxxxx Mauritania 1975
r-:::-1 Morocco 1971
........ Rwanda 1970
e C er South Africa 1970
oas r Tanzania 1967
- Botswana 1971


%. ..


0 o 0 0 0- -------* ooooo o otL.ooooo P
u-: ~.~f oooooo CC ,o 0 0oo0oooooooo ++:o ^ 0

-35 -

-40 -- -
-(FMI) -20 \ ..**' .


-45 Five Year
15-19 20-24 25-29 30-34 35-39 40-44 45-49 50-54 55-59 60-64 Age Groups

Source: Rural Population data for the "observed" sex ratios were obtained from the UN Demographic Yearbook. 1976 Date noted for
each country refers to year data were collected Data for the "expected" sex ratios were derived from the U S Bureau of the
Census estimated life table values
Note: Positive deviations from the "expected" sex ratio indicate male dominated rural out-migration (MMI). negative deviations
reveal female dominated rural out-migration (FMI)

- 7c -

Figure 3. Deviations of the "Observed" Rural Female to Male Ratio from the
"Expected" Female to Male Ratio for Latin America: Central America and the

105 Deviations from expected
100 rural ratio of women per
100 men
95 -Costa Rica 1973
ooooooCuba 1970
90 -- unDlc Dominican Rep. 1970
--Guatemala 1973
sooco Haiti 1974
80 ....... Honduras 1973
r.- Mexico 1976
**** Panama 1976
70 -- xxxxx Puerto Rico 1970




45 -

35 -


+(MMI) 20 ,* 00

10 -- e f"10 5_ 6%* xxxxxxx

; ....* .. oo *
-5 0 %*%
-5 -o ".
0 ...--..*-------

-5 -- ooo"ooooooooo -o

-30 -- oo
-35 0 0 0 +O
-(FMI) -20 --ro ojd' 1C3

-40 --

-.45 1 Five Year
15-19 20-24 25-29 30-34 35-39 40-44 45-49 50-54 55-59 60-64 Age Groups

Source: Rural Population data for the "observed" sex ratios were obtained from the UN Demographic Yearbook, 1976 Date noted for
each country refers to year data were collected. Data for the "expected" sex ratios were derived from the U S Bureau of the
Census estimated life table values.
Note: Positive deviations from the "expected" sex ratio indicate male dominated rural out-migration (MMI). negative deviations
reveal female dominated rural out-migration (FMI)

- 7d -

Figure 4. Deviations of the "Observed" Rural Female to Male Ratio from the
"Expected" Female to Male Ratio for Latin America: South America by Country
and by Five Year Age Groups.
105 Deviations from expected
100 rural ratio of women per
100 men

90 xxxxx Bolivia 1972
L::.: Brazil 1970
85 -**** Chile 1967
80 0 ooooo Ecuador 1974
rno- Guyana 1970
75 ...... Paraguay 1972
70 ---- Peru 1973




50 -
45 -


35 -



+(MMI) 20
15 -

10 -


-5 % -
0 .J .
-5 *-% '' '+ .F-
-15 0 o .o'

-15 *

-(FMI-) -20 -- --o, 4-, 4 -.. 55000000eO

-25 -


-40 I
.45 Five Year
15-19 20-24 25-29 30-34 35-39 40-44 45-49 50-54 55-59 60-64 Age Groups

Source: Rural Population data for the "observed" sex ratios were obtained from the UN Demographic Yearbook. 1976 Date noted for
each country refers to year data were collected Data for the "expected" sex ratios were derived from the U S Bureau of the
Census estimated life table values.
Note: Positive deviations from the "expected" sex ratio indicate male dominated rural out-migration (MMI), negative deviations
reveal female dominated rural out-migration (FMI)

8 -

It is important to emphasize that women heads of household are

not all older women with adult sons to support them. Many of them are

within their,reproductive years -- hence at risk of pregnancy -- and

almost all have children to support.

The syndrome of the single mother appears to be bypassed in program plan-
6 7
ning. Even family planning programs are directed towards married women. Docu-

mentation for Central-South America and the Caribbean countries is ample

enough to identify the majority of single mothers as lower-income,

young, of migrant stock, economically self-supporting with little chance

of employment in other than domestic service (Buvinic and Youssef, forth-

coming). There is no institutionalized support system for this group

of women. The availability of sexual-unions outside the legal structure

offers lower income women a narrow range of expectancy punctuated by a

series of loosely binding relationships in all or most of which they

will bear children.8 Such consensual unions are unstable, particularly

in urban areas. With the advance of years, the women's chances of count-

ing upon successive serial mating decreases. The continued presence

of children from previous unions makes it imperative for women, even when

contracting new relationships, to assume or retain economic responsibilities.

The average number of children per single mother is 2.2 in Chile; 3.0 in
Colombia; 3.2 in Honduras; 3.3 in Guatemala; 3.4 in Peru; 3.3 in the
Caribbean. The percentage among the total adult population of single women
who are mothers is 27% in Guatemala, Colombia, and Peru when computed on
the basis of those single women whose parity is known. When all single women
who have children are counted--but for whom the exact number of children is
not known--the percentage of mothers in the single adult female population
is more than double (Buvinic and Youssef, forthcoming).
Robert Berg, personal communication, April, 1979.
In Jamaica, nearly all women aged 24 and over classified as "no longer
living with common law partner" are mothers; two-thirds of them are in
the labor force (Denton, 1975).

- 9 -

The single mother syndrome in the Central,South American, and
Caribbean countries is induced by poverty. Successive

births outside highly unstable formalized unions are part of women's

strategy for coping with poverty (Brody, et al, 1976). These women

assume that childbearing proves mutual affection, thereby stabilizing

the union. Men desire children from such informal unions as a way
of reinforcing women's dependency and faithfulness (Denton, 1975).

When abandoned by the father of the first child and unable to

survive economically on her own, the woman becomes involved with another

man by whom she bears more children, and so on. The pattern is associated

with male seasonal and marginal employment (the male gives support until
loss of his job forces him to migrate). The multiplicity of sexual

unions and consequent fertility is also perpetuated by the woman's

inability to survive economically on her own once a union is terminated.

The phenomenon of the single mother emerges from the statistics

of some African countries, but we know little of that designation's

meaning within African society? Neither the social context in which

reproduction outside marriage takes place nor its consequences for the

unwed mother have been clearly established. Some immediate questions

which need to be explored are: Does the appearance of single mothers in
the census stem from institutional traditional practices or does it result
from some arbitrary categorization decided upon by census officials? Are

customary or contract marriages in which either the dowry or "dot" have not
been paid deprived of legal recognition, although the woman and child may

actually be living in de facto stable unions CWeekes-Vagliani, 1976a;

Poole, 1972)?

t According to the census figures for all adult single women, 20% are
mothers in Mozambique, 46 in Botswana. The average number of children
per single mother is 2.7.

- 10 -

4. Female Family Headship and Poverty

The evidence linking female family headship with poverty is compelling.

In Santiago, Chile, a recent field inquiry in marginal slums showed

that 10% of male family heads and 29% of female heads fell into the

lowest income bracket (CEPAL, 1973). In Guayaquil, Ecuador, a similar

survey indicated that 17% of male and 37.5% of female family heads fell

in the lowest income brackets. A representative sample survey of

metropolitan Belo Horizonte revealed 26% of male-headed households and

41% of female-headed households to be at poverty levels. Moreover, when

households headed by prime age, divorced, and separated women were singled

out, the proportion at poverty level reached 60% (Merrick, 1977). For

15 Commonwealth Caribbean countries, 59% of female-headed households and

only 21% of male-headed households reported no income or "not stated"

income; on the other side of the spectrum, 54% of male-headed households

earned a thousand dollars or more a month while only 13% of the female-

headed households earned these amounts (Buvinic, Youssef and Von Elm,

1978). In parts of Java, Indonesia, among economically active urban

women who are widowed or divorced, 65% do not earn enough to support

even one person (Redmana, 1977). In rural areas among all economically

active widowed/divorced women, 32% earn enough to support only a

single person's needs; one-half could not support themselves (Redmana,


- 11 -

Women in poverty are ill-prepared when as wives, divorcees,

widows, or single mothers they are compelled to add financial

support to their child care responsibilities. The sparsity of

their own employment resources is compounded by limited opportuni-

ties in the unskilled urban labor market and by the erosion of

traditional support systems with no concomitant growth in public

Women are being systematically squeezed out of the work force

in both rural and urban areas. As their traditional economic

activities are being displaced through modernization of food produc-

tion and processing, crafts manufacturing, and markets, women need

alternative ways of continuing their traditional contributions to

family welfare (Tinker, 1976). As industries modernize, they adopt

capital intensive technology, displacing labor, more often women

than men on the grounds that women lack skills and are illiterate.

The introduction of farm technology in Indonesia has put 1.2

million women out of work. In India, total employment in

Activity rates and unemployment are both high for the non-married
category of women. In Nigeria, separated, divorced, and widowed
women aged 20-38 report activity rates ranging between 61 and 85%
(Standing and Sheehan, 1978). In a rural Java sample, 63% of all
widows and 74% of all divorcees were economically active. Of all
the divorced population actively seeking employment in Morocco,
65% were women; among all those who were widowed and looking for
jobs, 78% were women (Buvinic and Youssef, 1978). Employment
rates for women "no longer in consensual unions" range between 40
and 77% in San Jose and between 50 and 75% in Mexico City (Uthoff
and Gonzales, 1978).

- 12 -

this sector fell from 11.5% to 9% between 1951 and 1971 as a result

of the application of capital intensive technology. In Peru, the

proportion of economically active women dropped from 22% to 15% between

1961 and 1971 (Newland, 1977). In the Commonwealth Caribbean, female

employment fell three times faster than employment for males in 1960-

70--by 11% in the least developed areas and by 23% in the most devel-

oped region (Chernick, 1978). Guatemala, in 1950 had 193 non-agri-

cultural male workers for every 100 female workers in the same sector.

By 1973, the men outnumbered the women by 229 to 100, and two-thirds

of the women worked as domestics (Newland, 1977). In Colombia, women's

participation decreased in the industrial sector from 36.4%to 12.5%

and increased in the service sector from 24% to 44% (Leon de Leal, 1977).

The over representation of women in the informal sector in many

Third World nations has been well documented.11 Some of these

The size of the informal sectors in Bombay, Jakarta, Belo Horizonte,
Lima, and eight other Peruvian cities encompasses between 53 and 69%
of the working population. Female workers and workers who have not
completed primary education are disproportionately represented in
this sector. Merrick reveals that 54.1% of the women workers in Belo
Horizonte are in the informal sector as compared to 20% of the men.
Even if the women working as domestics are excluded from the defini-
tion of informal sector, the sex differential continues to be strong;
40% of the remaining informal sector labor force and 60% of the self-
employed are women--against only 18% for the formal sector. In
India, between 41%and 49% of the female labor force participates in
the informal sector while only 15%to 17% of the male labor force
contributes to this sector (Mazumdar, 1976; ICSSR, 1975). In
El Salvador and in Bahia, Brazil, the proportion working in domes-
tic service and petty production is 21% among males and 56.4% among
women. In Mexico City women were reported to make up 72% of all
unskilled service workers (including domestics) and street vendors.
In Peru, women make up 46% of the urban traditional sector; they
account for only 18% of the modern sector. In Cordoba, Argentina,
women constitute 63% of the "informal" sector (Jelin, 1977).

- 13 -

"informal" activities are reflected in the low-level service

categories recorded in the labor force statistics. Within the in-

formal sector, women are in the most marginal and least paying

kinds of jobs, and their earnings are generally lower than those
of men holding similar jobs. Among entrants to the informal

labor sector, women are noted for remaining there throughout their

working lives,while men seem to be better able to move into the

formal sector.

In general, women appear to have more difficulty than men

in earning a living. The problem is only in part due to their

lower levels of training and education. Social restrictions on

women's access to and mobility within the urban formal labor force

seem to be equally important. 'In addition, women become more

"dispensible" than men after the introduction of capital intensive
In Lima, Peru, women comprise 46% of the workers in the informal
sector; their average income is around 40% that of men. In Malay-
sia, women's earning distribution has definitely shifted to the
lower end because of the relative preponderance of self-employed
females in the bottom income groups. In Belo Horizonte, Brazil,
male and female heads of households do not differ markedly in age
or education, but more than 50% of the females work in the informal
sector compared to 12% of the males. Although working in the
informal sector curtails male earnings, the negative effect for
females is twice as great. A study of the urban informal labor
markets in India points out that although men and women work the
same amount of time, men earn RS 200 monthly as compared to RS 105
for women. Among the self-employed, men earn RS 392, women only
RS 250 (Papola, 1978). The Indian study shows how women's location
in the different sectors of the informal labor market relates
inversely to the corresponding hierarchy and status of jobs.

- 14 -

III. Employment-Fertility Relationship: The Debate

Earlier we mentioned the reasons for current policy interest

in the subject of women's gainful employment outside the home as

a structural means of reducing fertility in general and family

size motivation in particular.

Broadly speaking, the studies on sources and processes of

fertility decline fall into three categories, those which

aim at proving or disproving the demographic

transition theory

focus on measuring the impact of family planning programs

aim to identify and quantify the significance of socio-

economic development in relation to fertility decline.13

Studies focusing on the female employment/fertility relation-

ship fall into the first two categories. Many of them contain un-

resolved problems in interpretation in the reported findings, stem-

ming largely from methodological problems of measurement and concep-


Economists and sociologists have postulated an inverse relation-

ship between female employment and fertility. Children are perceived

in terms of their economic and non-economic value or Utility for

A fourth category of research aims to quantify the relative
significance of and interaction between socioeconomic development
and family planning program inputs in explaining family planning
performance or fertility decline (Faruqee, 1979).

- 15 -

either parents or household, depending upon whether the economic

or socioeconomic context of reproduction behavior is stressed.

Most conventional economic research treats children like consump-

tion goods, valuable as participants in the household's produc-

tive and servicing activities and as potential sources of security

to parents in their old age. For mainstream economists, fertility

decisions are rational choices made between husband-wife within the house-

hold and are based on the maximization of (household) utility principle. The
assumption is implicit that husband and wife entertain a commonality
of interest in desiring and planning children.

Sociological models emphasize the social and cultural context

of reproductive behavior, the social and psychological roles of

children, the social opportunity costs to parents of childrearing,

and the particular psycho-social needs--beyond the economic function--

that children fulfill.

There is a view gaining credence among social scientists that

reproduction can be viewed as an allocative process--couples choose

the mix of family size and other activities to maximize their own or

Criticisms have been voiced against the "household approach," par-
ticularly because it contends that rational maximization of utility
principles are necessary components of fertility-related decisions
(Liebenstein, 1977) and that an identity of interest exists within
the household or the conjugal unit regarding fertility decisions
(Birdsall, 1975; Oppong, 1978; Liebenstein, 1977). It is argued
that husband and wife may entertain differential aspirations/
interests in the number of offspring and that they have differential
resources and power to enable them to achieve their own aspirations
(Oppong, 1978).

- 16 -

their children's perceived welfare.

A favorite position among economists is that women's employment

affects reproductive behavior in that childbearing increases the

opportunity cost of the woman's time in non-market activities,

inducing her to reallocate her time in favor of work. If childcare

takes the wife more time than doAnon-market activities, the opportuni-

ty cost of children increases more than that of other demands on her

time, and she will choose to have a smaller family (Ridker, 1976).

Drawing upon a more psychologically-oriented approach,

economists have also argued that working women decide whether or not

to have children according to a calculated "cost-reward" ratio ,

incorporating both economic and psychological dimensions and perceived

by women as more or less favorable to childbearing (Birdsall, 1975).

The sociologists' model perceives employment of women outside

the home as entailing satisfactions alternative to children (compan-

ionship, recreation, stimulation, creative activity) or as providing the monetary

means to such satisfactions(Blake, 1965). Employment is seen as

introducing into women's lives the subjective awareness of opportunity

costs in having children. Foregoing employment will thus be experienced

as a cost--one of the costs of having children (Blake, 1965).

The premise for this particular model bears some relevance to

conditions characterizing a tiny minority of upper and middle class

women whose education gives them access to stimulating, creative, and

ego-fulfilling jobs that offer satisfaction and rewarding alternatives

to childbearing. The explanatory variables lose much of their appeal

in interpreting the employment/fertility relationship among low-income


17 -

Recently, a number of sociologists have begun to focus on

the interrelationship between socioeconomic strata, women's work,

and fertility behavior (Wolfe, 1979; Young, 1977; Hull, 1977).1

Their central concern is that, since most working women are poor,

interpretation of the relationship between employment and fertility

must include the class factor. For most women, involvement in work

activities is not a choice, a search for alternative satisfactions,

or an indicator of women's higher status: the sexual division of

labor in poor households pushes females into the work force. Be-

cause married women bearing children face both time and income con-

straints, curtailment of working class fertility does not come from

a "desire" for smaller families. It is economically imposed by their

place in the social structure (Hull, 1977)--a conscious household

survival strategy, which seeks to adapt means to end (Bennett,

1976 cited by Wolfe, 1979).

The introduction of class differences into the mainstream of
fertility theory calls for new specifications in the relationship
between women's work and fertility behavior. These are:

SFertility behavior is affected by and reacts to the par-
ticular demands for and conditions surrounding female labor;
these vary according to the specific system of economic production
(Wolfe, 1979; Young, 1977).

SWomen experience conflicts associated with the worker/mother
role differentially, according to their socioeconomic strata.
The conventional concept of opportunity costs may not be
fully applicable to poor women at subsistence level. Working class
women's low wages reflect low opportunity costs. When wages are
barely above subsistence level, the opportunity costs may be very
high (Wolfe, 1979).

\1 W' ^-

18 -

IV. Methodological Considerations and Interpretive Problems in the

Employment and Fertility Relationship

A core set of methodological problems in the employment-fertility

relationship center around the issue of causality and the measure-

ment of women's work.

Research to date has failed to provide a clear and consistent

explanation of the relationship between the two variables and has

not confirmed causality. Neither has a serious attempt been made

to demonstrate whether different sets of explanatory variables need

to be evoked to interpret the dynamics of the situation in rural

and urban settings. Do fertility levels affect women's involvement

in economic activities or vice versa? Do women work only until

they have children or because they cannot have children, or does

working cause them to delay or forego childbearing? Where a negative

relation between employment and fertility emerges, four types of

causal relationships are possible:

S The observed relationship is spurious and caused by common

antecedents of both variables.

Women's family size affects their labor force participation.

Women's labor force participation affects family size.

Both family size and labor force participation affect each
other (Weller, 1977).

A negative association between the two variables can also occur
because employment affects child spacing rather than total fertility.
Whether working women ever produce as many children as those who do
not work is unclear (Namboodiri, 1964).

- 19 -

There are obvious interpretive problems associated with

aggregate data because most of these studies deal with aereal

rates rather than with data for individual women or couples (Collver

and Langlois, 1962; Bindary et al., 1973); Heer and Turner, 1965;

Kasarda, 1971), thus allowing a serious possibility of spurious

influences (Mason, 1977). Focus on aggregate level data alone

cannot establish a direct causal link between female economic

activity and fertility. Aereal rates do not prove that women who

work are also the ones who have low fertility or that incentives

for women's employment influence their fertility only when worker

and mother roles conflict (Mason, 1977). 17

The main problem of causality is further complicated because

most studies use cumulative fertility and match it with current

employment status, a procedure that ignores changes in employment

status during actual childbearing years. It cannot be assumed that

current employment necessarily represents a woman's job when her

children were born. The varying nature of the relationship between

woman's work and childbearing at different stages of the life cycle

are lost unless findings are controlled for age, family life cycle

stage, and employment history. Only then can one begin to understand

1Mason argues that the influence of macro variables in the "role con-
flict" model of fertility are rarely taken into account. It is not
just a woman's personal situation that determines potential conflicts
between working and mothering but factors outside her control, such
as the nature of the local labor market, The size of the female
labor force does not strictly represent the supply of workers availa-
ble for employment in any one sector but rather results from a
particular interaction between supply and demand (refer to Mason,

- 20 -

the situational context in which work and mothering roles can or

cannot be combined. The effect of a woman's age on the relation-

ship between her fertility expectations and plans for labor force

participation is crucial for the formulation of a successful

strategy to reduce fertility size through the promotion of employ-
ment and income generation programs.8 Safilios-Rothschild (1977)


While women's work when the children are small may
be inversely related to the number of children
born to the woman, their working only after the
children are adolescent may be positively related
to the woman's fertility. Even after controlling
for woman's work and stage of family cycle, the
potential impact of woman's work upon her fertility
must be separately assessed when the woman worked
while children were small but stopped working later

At another level, there are serious problems of interpretation

in the employment-fertility relationship centering around the
measurement of woman's work and of role incompatibility.1

Analysis of Chilean data showed that if a housewife in the modern
sector has small children, her probability of employment is 30%
lower than a woman's without small children (Peek, 1975). In
the Laguna province (the Philippines), mothers in large households
spend more time in market production than mothers in small house-
holds, probably because of the presence of older children (Quizon
and Evenson, forthcoming).

Monica Fong proposes a new methodological approach to the female
employment relationship which takes into account: units of analysis;
the life cycle aspects of work and fertility; the use of current and
cumulative measures; the nature of fertility measures, and the
nature of the work measures (Fong, 1976).

- 21 -

Foremost, it must be emphasized that for aggregate level data

reported findings on employment's influence on fertility do not

represent the childbearing patterns of the total spectrum of working
women. Because these analyses draw upon labor force statistics

which exclude a large group of women employed in informal activities

(in agriculture, unpaid family work, and urban occupations, for

example) the reported results are biased in favor of the fertility

behavior of the "formally employed" female population.

Census and survey data on women's economic activities are

more sensitive to variations in definition and enumeration procedures

and are more apt to report errors and biases than are data concerning

males (Youssef and Buvinic, 1979; Boulding, forthcoming; Mueller, forthcoming )

For example, distinction is seldom made between gainful employment,

unpaid work, productive but seasonal or periodic activities that

are paid in cash, kind or services, and productive activities unpaid

and unrecognized as work, or productive or illegal gainful activities.20

Most data classify women as working or non-working according to con-

ventional male-oriented and wage-oriented models and often exclude

both men and women in the rural and non-modern urban sectors in

developing countries (Safilios-Rothschild, 1977).

Biases in reporting also stem from women's self-concept and

cultural definitions regarding the kind of work appropriate for women

to pursue. Some rural and urban women may not "define" themselves

Women in slums in some developing nations earn considerable income
from prostitution, distilling alcohol, or black market trading.
Such women do not define themselves, or are not defined by census
or surveys as working women (Safilios-Rothschild, 1977).

- 22 -

as working because they are unaware of "their economic role" or want

to maintain a certain image in the eyes of husband, kin or community.

Cultural definitions may not only affect the extent of women's

involvement in certain jobs or sectors but also census respondent's

readiness to recognize and report their employment in certain lines

of work (Concepcion, 1974).

There are also problems related to the manner in which role

incompatibility is measured and the fertility variables to which
the measures relate (Mason, 1977).

Avoiding the issue of causality, many fertility studies

scrutinize simple associations between employment and number of

children for differences based on variations in "role incompatibility."

Fertility is low when incompatibility between working and mothering

roles is high and either zero or positive when role incompatibility

is low (Gendell et al., 1970; Weller, 1968; Hass, 1972). Yet even

when role incompatibility is high, the existence of a negative associa-

tion between the two variables does not in and of itself constitute

proof of a causal relationship (Mason, 1977).

Most census and survey data on fertility contain little informa-

tion about role incompatibility. Past analyses have devised measures

to index "role incompatibility" based pn place of residence (role

incompatibility between worker and mother roles is assumed to be higher

Some studies use actual measures of fertility (number of children
born); others use number of additional births expected or wanted,
ideal family size, or family planning, knowledge, attitudes and

23 -

in urban than in rural areas) or on types of occupation--(incompa-

tibility is lower in traditional/informal types of work than in

work in the modern-urban sectors). The urban-rural/traditional-

modern dichotomy has been criticized on the premise that it may mis-

represent true variations in role incompatibility conditions.

Social scientists often make certain assumptions about types of

occupations that are "compatible" and "incompatible" with mother

roles, without attempting empirical verification and/or seeking the

women's own "definition of the situation." In many developing

countries, urban women's involvement in trade or family business may

be no less compatible with maternal responsibilities than is the

work available to rural women. When studies use the urban-rural

dichotomy and fail to find an inverse employment-fertility relation-

ship in either urban or rural areas, the status of the hypotheses that

employment depresses fertility only when incompatibility is high

remains unclear (Mason, 1977). Furthermore, in some West African

societies, mothers who bear children do not bear the cost of rearing

them (Ware, 1977; Oppong, 1978). In Thailand, gainful work for
women and worker-mother role is the norm (Cook, 1975). The World

Fertility Survey results from Malaysia fail to confirm the hypothesis

that work and fertility co-vary inversely only when women perceive

conflicts between these two spheres. The rural status and involvement

It has been suggested that in the Thai setting non-working
women may be justifying their role through higher fertility;
higher fertility represents a value option to women who have
rejected the more usual worker-mother role of most rural Thai
women (Terry, 1974 cited in Cook, 1975).

- 24 -

in agricultural work of most Malaysian women and their presumed

compatibility with child rearing, lead one to expect a zero or

positive additive relationship between work and fertility, but it

has been shown to be consistently negative (Mason &Palan, 1978). An

unrelated study focusing on time allocation patterns among Malaysian

women reports that women engaged in agricultural occupations did not

take their children (aged 10 or younger) with them to work, while

women in sales or production-type occupations did. This particular

finding, though subject to further confirmation, strongly suggests

that agriculture-related occupations may not be as

compatible with childrearing as heretofore assumed (Da Vanzo and


V. The Argument

I do not wish to suggest that all reported findings should be discard-

ed because of their inaccuracies. Rather, I should like to call

attention to the need to

Sbe aware of the methodological flaws

Examine the contradictory findings and variability in the

relationship between employment and fertility with view to

identifying specific conditions under which the interaction

between the two variables takes on different values and

directions (Safilios-Rothschild, 1977). The working and

non-working group of women are not two separate homogenous groups.

The central question to be addressed here is: why and under what

conditions might women's work affect fertility behavior? Because

social structures and social groups are far less cohesive than is

presumed, most groups have visible lines of cleavage, strain, and

- 25 -

vulnerability. Thus, social changes can occur without a complete

socioeconomic overhaul. The task of development-related research

is to identify within the population particular sectors, layers,

or niches who are already receptive or eager to experiment to limit

family size.

It would appear that the failure to provide strong evidence for

a negative association between fertility and employment, such as is

evident in the historical experience of industrial nations, has resulted

in a certain intellectual fatalism among some people who conclude that

nothing can be done in the Third World (Minkler, 1970). In the process,

too little attention is paid to factors that do seem to motivate family

size reduction and to ways of generating such motivation in developing

countries. The fact that female employment in and of itself has not

consistently lowered fertility and brought about rapid population de-

cline should not be taken to mean that employment under specific

conditions, for specific subgroups of women--although these

may not be consistent across the board--cannot help reachthat objective.

A good starting point in the search for specific conditions under

which woman's work might lower fertility is the "role incompatibility"

hypothesis. This is based on the principle that role conflicts

emerge in the simultaneous pursuit of both economic and mothering roles.

In nature, these conflicts are both normative and economic, in the

allocation of the individual woman's energies and resources.

26 -

The findings derived from disaggregating macro-level employment

data to distinguish between occupational categories, residence, work

status, place and condition of employment, and work-related attitudes

show that low fertility is linked to urban residence and to the

upper hierarchy of the occupational structure (such as the profes-

sions, white collar jobs, high and middle-level administrative

managerial positions). The working woman who approves of non-maternal

activities for women is highly motivated to limit fertility (Hass,

1972). Women who are "committed" to their work and "satisfied" with

their jobs have fewer children than do womenwho work only because of

economic need (Pinelli, 1971; Safilios-Rothschild, 1972). Women who

hold jobs giving them a non-familial identity are the most likely

to practice birth control (Safilios-Rothschild, 1977).

Fertility levels are found to be high among rural women workers

(particularly in household-unit-type economies where the family is

the exclusive unit of production); among agricultural workers, (al-

though this probably due to the high percentage of "unpaid" family

workers included in the group); among urban women in some informal/

marginal labor market sectors and among those who disapprove of non-

maternal roles regardless of their own conformity to such standards.

Women who work because of economic need rather than commitment and

those who are not satisfied with their work, have been found in some

instances to have the same fertility as non-working women (Pinelli, 1971).

Several explanations are advanced for female employment's zero

or positive association with fertility, particularly when cumulative

fertility and current employment are indexed. The first explanation

- 27 -

leads back to the income effect hypothesis mentioned earlier,

which assumes a direct correlation between the desire to have children
and rising income affordability. Economists, however, neglect

to consider whether there might be different fertility outcomes

depending on which spouse earns and controls the money; a woman

earning half the household income will likely have more bargaining

power than a woman who earns none, even when total household earnings

are the same (Birdsall, 1976). We do not know, then, how the woman

might "use" this bargaining power (if any) in fertility-related

decisions. A second hypothesis puts the opportunity costs of children

low in some circumstances. This is because large extended families
offer substitutes for the mother's time in childrearing and because

jobs set aside for women in most developing countries are often

compatible with child care, freeing women to join the work force.

23This is suggested by an analysis on the aggregate level of the
Egyptian data (Bindary et al, 1973). It is directly implicit in
Zarate's findings for Mexico which show that as economic develop-
ment increases more people marry and at an earlier age. Whether
or not high fertility followed changes in marital patterns is not

The assumption that extended family structures facilitate female
labor force participation and high fertility among low income
households needs to be questioned. Additional children create
pressures for additional income. One must not assume that relatives
will invariably be child care substitutes rather than labor force
substitutes. The linkage between extended family and fertility
tends to be influenced by the particular quantity and quality of
interaction characterizing household members, the arrangement of
and authority over living units, and the production and distribu-
tion of economic resources (Ryder, 1976). These are not uniform
throughout all extended family systems.

28 -

Thirdly, increased cumulative fertility may force women to work

to expand family income or food supply to meet rising household con-

sumption demands. Thus, women work because they have to, and their

work will not affect fertility decisions in the expected manner (Lee

Hyo Chai and Cho Myoung, 1976; Peek, 1975).
From the standpoint of policy, such findings are discouraging.

They point directly to an elite population, and to elite-type

employment as the effective vehicles to motivate family-size restric-

tions. Yet even if more professional/white collar jobs are created

for women (and even if women entering such jobs follow the assumed

norm of restricting their family size) their proportion in the popula-

tion of any developing country is numerically too insignificant to

entail the overall birth rate.

We expect the upper socioeconomic groups to be the vanguard of
demographic transition. On the other hand, there is little reason

to be concerned with increasing work and income generation capacity

among women--as a vehicle towards eventual fertility reduction--unless
such intervention is directed towards the mainstream of the female

population in developing nations. For this reason, it seems necessary

to probe further into the linkage between poverty and high fertility,

asking whether or not appropriate intervention among particular sub-

strata of the rural and urban poor could generate opportunities or

reinforce an existing inclination to restrict family size.

Timur argues that it is only in the third phase of the demographic
transition that low-income families accept fertility control and
decide they can afford to have only a few children. Prior to this
phase, influences producing reduction in fertility operate first and
most effectively on the highest socioeconomic groups (Timur, 1978).

- 29 -

The following discussion raises central considerations to this


VI. Class Factors Influencing Fertility

The general trend has been to link low income, poverty, or sub-

sistence groups with high fertility. Three modes of explanation

have emerged:

Cultural, traditionalism, fatalism and irrationality of

the poor

institutional, the failure of institutional structures to

change sufficiently to induce motivations to reduce

fertility among the poor

structural, the risks and uncertainties felt by the poor

about the utility of children (Schnaiberg and Reed, 1974).

The latter perspective holds that poverty-strata parents are aware

of the socioeconomic benefits from children and of anticipated

returns from children. Whereas large families have known risks for

them, the prospect of a small family raises significant elements of

uncertainty since the poor do not feel they can rely on non-familial

sources in times of need (Schnaiberg and Reed, 1974; Weekes-Vagliani,

1976). In other words, however small and uncertain the satisfaction

or benefits of children, they are more predictable than the response

expected from others.

Fertility tends to be positively associated with types of jobs

typically filled by low income, poor, and uneducated women in contrast

to those occupations linked with low fertility accessible only to women

in the upper socioeconomic brackets. This suggests that attention

30 -

should focus on the combined interaction between social strata and

type of employment and its influence on fertility behavior. Does

poverty, rather than the category of job (quality of compatibility

or incompatibility) account for variations in fertility rates?

This points to the need to examine the relationship between labor

force participation and economic variables such as poverty, child

employment, costs of children, and income levels. Dichotomies of

urban-rural and modern-traditional sectors of employment are not a

sufficient distinction; women workers in each group are socially and

economically stratified, not homogenous.

Earlier, we mentioned that the concern with the class-fertility

relationship and its linkage to woman's work is recent (Hull, 1977;
Wolfe, 1979; Young, 1977). The importance this orientation assumes

in this context of policy formulation is crucial. From the economic

standpoint, mothers in poverty critically need special programs to

provide them with opportunities to work and earn money. This position

is difficult to refute. From the perspective of population-policy

planning, however, it can be legitimately asked if there are demo-

graphic justifications for such an investment in woman's programs,

insofar as eventual decline in fertility is concerned.

Let us turn to some of the economic realities surrounding specific

groups of women in poverty to discover their connections with fertility

The tendency in explaining lower fertility among the poor has been
to single out health related reasons induced by poverty conditions
but which are independent of woman's status, economic and work roles,
i.e., secondary sterility, sub-fecundity, miscarriages, still births,
post-partum abstinence. Another favorite eKplanation is the more
frequent incidence of marital disruption among the poor which depresses
fertility (Hull, 1977). This view has recently been challenged (Chapon, 1976).

- 31 -

behavior. The female wage-labor class and the urban woman migrant

are relevant points of departure. Both groups are largely composed

of women from the landless class or from the marginal urban poor

living in households where several wage packets are crucial. All women--single,

married, divorced, widowed, and separated-- work because most able-

bodied persons must seek employment. The available work entails

heavy physical labor, long hours, and lengthy travel between work

and home. The chances are that, among wage laborers, women are more

sought than men because the wage differential by sex often encourages

employers to choose females over males. This sometimes means that the

woman assumes heavy economic responsibilities for the family's

economic survival, not only through wage labor but also in off-farm

The economic marginality of woman migrants in developing societies

has been only recently explored. There is now compelling evidence

that urban women migrants are a particularly disadvantaged group with

more pronounced economic needs than male migrants and city-born women

in poverty (Youssef, Buvinic & Kudat 1979). They have the least access

to support networks, fewest resources of their own, and low aspirations

for wages. The interaction of these factors explains why migrant

women accept low status jobs and marginal wages that male migrants and

Among the landless in Indonesia, wives contribute up to 28 percent
of household earnings in off-farm activities, as compared to the
men who only contribute 11%. As property in land rises, the wife's
contribution to the household income in off-farm and other activities
gradually declines. (Stoler, 1977).

32 -

city-born women feel less compelled to take (Standing, 1978; Jelin,

1977; Castro, et al., 1978; Sudarkasa, 1977; Pernia, 1977; Singh,

n.d.; Fraenkel, et al., 1975).

Most poor women are less economically dependent on and less

subordinate to their menfolk than women from better-off households

(Deere, forthcoming; Young, 1977; Boserup, 1970). This places

definite expectations for economic performance on poor women--an

expectation not necessarily linked to higher status. This fact

alone means that restrictions on family size become important, not

as a result of a desire for smaller families but because their low

earnings and their need for additional income preclude such house-

holds from the relative luxury of a phase of high consumer-worker

ratio (Wolfe, 1979). Children's future earnings do not outweigh

the current lack of means and resources (Schultz, 1972).

It is not true that the poor consistently have the highest

fertility. Behaviorally, there is growing evidence that women from

poor households do restrict family size compared to other socio-

economic groups. The evidence is not consistent throughout because
poverty groups in and by themselves are not homogenous.2

A linkage between poverty and low fertility is reported for

For example, the Turkish data show strong fertility differentials
by social class in metropolitan centers only. The differentials
become less pronounced in other urban areas and disappear among socio-
economic groups in rural areas (Timur, 1978).

- 33 -

rural Indonesia* (Hull and Hull, 1976); rural Brazil and Punjab**

(Stys, 1957; Gendell, 1967; Jain, 1970 cited in Wolfe, 1979): rural

Sri Lanka*** (Wolfe, 1979); rural Egypt (Schultz, 1972); the urban

Philippines**** (Concepcion, 1974) Bangladesh***** (WFS, 1978a, First

Report, 1975-76).29

The negative influence of work on fertility is more salient

among the poor than among better-off women. This is borne out by

data from Peru where lower class working women showed a 20% lower

fertility level than non-working class women, as compared to a 10%

differential between the working and non-working middle class of

women, and no differential in fertility among the upper class work-

ing and non-working women (Wolfe, 1979).30

The fertility behavior of migrant women is more difficult to

assess because of dissimilarities in definitions. Three distinctive

trends--though neither consistent nor systematically tested--indicate

that there is a considerable propensity among migrant women to have

fewer children. For example, migrant women have fewer children than

non-migrant women in their place of origin (Hiday, 1978). In Thailand,

as a whole, and Manila, in particular, migrant women have a lower

fertility than native city-dwellers (Goldstein, 1973; Hendershot, 1971).

When class is indexed by *land ownership; **income; ***wage labor
status in plantation production; ****illiteracy of husband;
*****landlessness. In landless households, women had 3.7 everborn
children as compared to 4.4 among wives of sharecroppers and own-land
Likewise, high levels of income and large landownership were
positively associated with fertility in Turkey (Timur, 1978);
Indonesia (Hull, 1979).

- 34 -

When controlling for age, it is evident in several Latin American

cities and in Thailand that younger women migrants (under age 40)

when compared to native city women of the same age,have a lower

fertility than their urban counterparts. The reverse is true for

women 40 and over (Berquo, et al., 1968;Mascisco, Bouvier and Renzo,

1969; Elizaga, 1966). In Isfahan, no fertility differentials were

observed between migrant and native city women (Gulick and Gulick,


Women's access to economic opportunities and income through

participation in the cash economy and alternative sources influences

their motivations to restrict family size. This is suggested by in-

depth interviews of a small group of rural women in Kenya, Mexico, and

the Philippines (Reining, et al., 1977). The small number of respon-

dents prevents generalizations of the findings, but the subject

deserves further systematic exploration. The Reining et al. study

identifies three different strategies with respect to fertility:

a conscious continuation of large families among the more

prosperous commercial Kenyan women, because of the high status

thereby derived

acquiescence to large family size among the desperately poor

who had lost all hope and confidence in their ability to improve
their lives and those of their children

the beginning of family size limitation among cash laborers

in Kenya and among women with some independent earnings in Sierra Alta

(Mexico) and the Philippines. This last group of women were not
Arguments for the need to study the psychological dimensions of
poverty together with the strictly economic aspects of poverty are
presented in: Eva Mueller, "The Woman's Issue in Measuring House-
hold Economic Status and Behavior in Developing Countries, (forthcoming)

- 35 -

prosperous, but they had access to some steady earnings or economic

opportunities that gave them hope and confidence in their ability to

direct their own lives and help improve the lives of their children.

It is towards the expansion of this group of women that program

strategies must be directed.

Family Planning and the Poor

Reports in the family planning literature of low acceptor rates in

rural areas serve to reinforce the belief that the poor in general

and the rural in particular are not a good investment for programs to

accelerate fertility reduction. There are, of course, certain

problems involved in determining whether or not, and if so, how ade-

quately,-'demand for contraceptive services measures women's desire

to control childbearing. Some of the following points merit considera-


the question of whether the low acceptor rate in rural areas

is due to lack of accessibility to family planning programs or to

lack of knowledge of family planning programs.

the indication that rural poor women are much more receptive

to family planning services than is traditionally believed and that

improvement in orientation, management and location of clinics would

encourage more women to seek contraceptive advice (Youssef, 1978b;

Gulick and Gulick, 1978b; Scrimshaw, 1976; Bracken, 1977; Nakamura and
Fonseca, 1979).

In Sao Paulo, 61% of rural women in low income households, as
compared to 36% in high income households, expressed interest in
community-based distribution of contraceptives.

- 36 -

Sthe strong deterrent to contraceptive usage posed by the

husband's objections (Belcher, et al., 1978; Neumann, et al., 1976;

Sirageldin, et al., 1976; Mukherjee, 1975; Hollerbach, 1978) and

the cases where a high percentage of both rural and urban women use

contraceptives any way (Dixon, 1978; Morcos, 1974). The traditional

male association between verility and fertility is being questioned.

Male fertility desires do not always seem to exceed women's

desires. Woman's misperception of male fertility desires (if thought

to be larger than they actually are) may promote passive decision-

making and fertility regulation on their part (Hollerbach, 1978).
the possibility that lower income women voluntarily resort

to "less efficient" (traditional) methods of contraception, thus

depressing the acceptor rate in family planning surveys. This
other contraceptive behavior may well provide the link to low fertility.

VII. Policy Implications

1. Legal and Other Status Changes

Two objectives prompted this study:
to call attention to the need to identify sub-layers within the

Third World countries' population displaying the potential or pro-

pensity to restrict family size. For this group of women, development

Married women wage earners in the Sri Lanka plantation systems scoring
relatively high on all variables related to high fertility (poverty,
early marriage, high exposure to intercourse/conception), as com-
pared to other rural/urban socioeconomic groups, reported the relative-
ly lowest fertility levels, together with indications of lowest con-
traceptive utilization, when compared to women in other groups (Wolfe,

37 -

and population policy directed to providing training, employment,

and income earning opportunities should prove to be both economically

and demographically justifiable. The chance to find productive work

that confers this group of women with some economic identity should
further motivate them to avoid additional pregnancies.

to recommend that programs stressing employment and income

generation capacity should be made available to all mothers in

poverty--regardless of demographic expediency--because productive

employment dilutes some of the severe hardships that face mothers

with growing economic burdens.

Because the symbiotic relationship between women's employment

and other status variables, efforts must be made to provide women

with a structural support system to motivate them to reach out for

options other than motherhood. Making work opportunities available
to them without simultaneously affecting other complementary changes

through legal, social, and economic measures will not mark much
progress towards societal fertility reduction.

The provision of women with an "economic identity" is crucial.
Evidence suggests little or no influence of women's participation
in types of employment conditions in which work duties could be
combined with home duties upon fertility levels. Work outside the
home is the key variable affecting family-building activities.
Perpetuation of women in marginal economic activities may help
perpetuate high fertility levels.

Among policy measures identified by experts from the Third World that
might have the effect of reducing fertility indirectly and/or are
considered necessary for the success of fertility reducing schemes
are the following: Higher age at marriage; equalization of inheritance
laws for females; elimination of polygamy; acceptable and easy to
achieve divorce for both partners; provision of equal educational,
political, and economic rights and opportunities for women; laws re-
stricting child labor; compulsory elementary education; family life
and sex education. Such measures may be instituted on their own merit as
socially desirable with secondary effect of reducing fertility (National
Academy of Sciences, 1974).

- 38 -

In this connection a cautionary note should be introduced

regarding the enactment of protective labor legislation for working

mothers. Because this has produced pro-natalist effects in develop-

ing societies, the exact trade-offs involved must be assessed.

Does the support generated by such provisions outweigh the fertility-


There are other more pertinent legislative issues for promoting

the overall position of women. These include: legislative provisions
for women's access to all levels of wage-paying employment, self-

employment, cooperative employment, and to credit facilities, techni-

cal advice, and market outlets. The support component of overall

protective policies should provide adequate social security for

destitute and elderly women and for women heads of household. Legal
guarantees should be established to ensure that wage laws, tax struc-

tures, family inheritance laws and property laws do not leave women

at a disadvantage.
It is up to host countries to make such changes. However,

development agencies can reinforce structural support systems for

Tunisia exemplifies how determined and systematic efforts to coordinate
population-influencing policies can result in a noticeable drop in the
birth rates. This country has limited family allowance to four
children, has made social security available to all, has raised age
at marriage, has prohibited polygamy, has legalized abortion, and has
increased women's educational and occupational opportunities (National
Academy of Sciences, 1974). Attempts to improve the position of
women by changing laws governing marriage, divorce, and inheritance
have also been made in Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, and Malaysia.

- 39 -

women by placing in their general portfolios projects that directly or

indirectly encourage alternative life options for women.

2. Type and Scope of Policy

Within the framework of programs that directly and indirectly promote

employment and income generation capacity, an important target group

are the young women, unmarried as well as married. The first group can

be encouraged to delay marriage; the second can be motivated by educa-

tional and employment opportunities to postpone first birth or to space

and limit childbearing. At the same time, women under 40 with dependent

children must be given skills and opportunities to find productive


I would single out as special sub-layers within the female popula-

tion the following target groups:

* landless, rural wage-labor class, and plantation workers

* urban migrants

* post-partum women

* women heads of household, especially single mothers.

Some directions policy measures for women might usefully take are

outlined below.

3. Program Intervention

We have argued in this paper for programs enhancing directly women's

employment and income generation capacity and for others providing an

overall support system to improve the general condition, particularly

of low-income women. Along these lines, we identify four types of

possible program interventions.


Health Services

The extension of maternal and child health care services, in either

categorical or integrated fashion, is targeted to meet specific

health needs of a particular segment of the female population at

restricted phases of their life cycle. Many of women's health needs

are unrelated to pregnancy and lactation. Some of the principal

causes of female mortality include nutritional deficiencies, particu-

larly vitamin malnutrition and iron deficiency anemias and diabetes

mellitus (Buvinic and Leslie, 1979).

Health service delivery should extend beyond the maternal/child

health components. One obvious way is through integrated health

services, using training centers and employment settings as vehicles

to give women access to such facilities. In general, however, it is

important in planning for health service delivery to consider the

variability of women's health needs and the conditions that structure

her available time and access to such services and preferred mode of

delivery. (For example, whether or not she works, her type of

work, and her place of residence).

Support Services

Cooperatives. Action programs related to enhancing women's pro-

ductivity and income-earning potential must recognize the significance

of women's informal networks and support activities at the community level

as a means of mobilizing and distributing scarce resources--labor,

capital, or information. Here, the direct policy goal would be to

promote cooperative-support projects as a mechanism through which the

capacity of women in the community can be increased and their fullest

41 -

resources can be mobilized to handle the multiplicity of their tasks.

Child Care. Without proper emphasis on adequate child care

facilities, the employment of women in developing nations cannot be

approached simply in terms of the manner in which it will promote

fertility decline. Most women in the Third World are low income

women; children often will be affected by the mother's absence.

Furthermore, with the increasing scarcity of adult role substitutes,

older children are often removed from school to care for younger

siblings (UNESCO, 1978). The reconciliation between women's employ-

ment and mothering responsibilities has been attempted in some

countries by the establishment of day care centers in factories and

other places. Not all efforts at external child care have met with

receptivity and success. An alternative to be explored is the mobili-

zation of efforts within low income neighborhoods or communities to

form their own child-care facilities. Appropriate funding and other

related support could be provided by agencies to promote such coop-

erative support projects, which would, among other functions, provide

income for women staff members.


A variety of training programs can be identified. The contents of

programs should expose women to new kinds of marketable skills in

agricultural-related production and marketing and in the modern industry

sectors. Programs underway in Central and South America, the Caribbean,

Tunisia, the Philippines, and Indonesia, include such components as

introduction to new agricultural techniques, fruit and food preserva-

tion and storage and poultry raising; electric installation, repair

of household appliances and production of household cleaning items.

- 42 -

Women can also be trained in areas complementary to the income-

generation activities they are pursuing so as to enhance their

earning power. Specifically, women need to learn marketing

skills, storage and processing techniques, some administrative

and accounting basics and ways of enhancing subsistence and

home production to make these skills marketable.

The "training of trainers" is an essential part of program

activity. Some efforts in this direction are underway in Thailand,

Tanzania, and Lebanon to train a select group of women in such

areas as field work, agricultural techniques, home economics, and

primary health care so that they can, in turn, become agents in the

delivery of services to women, helping them upgrade their income-

earning capacity and improve their home production tasks and

family-life and health conditions.

A critical problem for women stems from the high rate of

female drop out from the formal educational system. Programs are

needed to upgrade educational and vocational opportunities by con-

tinuing education programs that will allow them to be reintegrated

into the formal educational structure, or by providing training in

low-level sub-professional service areas, such as primary health,

nursery school teaching, and case work, which opens new job possi-

bilities for young women. (Morocco, Jamaica, Tanzania, Lebanon,

and Ecuador, among others,have benefitted from such efforts. One

program in Jamaica, for example, is specifically directed towards

providing vocational training to single mothers).

- 43 -

Job Creation

Projects must be promoted that will produce income for women either

directly, by creating or supporting income-earning opportunities, or

indirectly, by providing training in marketable skills. In rural

areas, program and policy development must be explicitly directed

towards transforming women's home production tasks to the market-

place, supporting cooperative efforts, and providing basic managerial

assistance to protect women producers and wage laborers from exploita-

tion. In urban areas, more intensive efforts must be directed

through training centers and vocational programs toward expanding the

range of job opportunities and income-earning opportunities for women.

Suggestions for improving women's employment and income generation

capacity include the following:

* Increase the productivity of income-generating activities

available to women. In addition, provide ways of guaranteeing

that women will derive the profits from their labor.

* Introduce economic alternatives for women by supporting women's

entry into the formal sector of the economy and by developing

areas of productivity within the traditional market sector.

* Find ways to use existing skills (those used in home production,

for example) in the marketplace and public sphere in order to

protect against female marginalization.

* Labor-intensive production should be promoted in the "intermediate"

labor market sector, and more capital should be allocated to women

or to specific industries (for example, industrial sewing, tailor-

ing, textiles, food processing) in which women can function, so as

to multiply job opportunities.


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