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Determinants of fertility in India: some observations from rural areas in Punjab.


India is known as a land of many religions, cultures, races, groups, castes and classes. India is divided on regional, linguistic and on religious backgrounds. The Indian society is dominated by the Hindu society and is constituted by many minority groups of population such as Muslims, Christians, Sikhs and Buddhists, etc. The meaning, the philosophy of life and the culture in determining the behaviour of the individuals differs between these different groups. Any policy whether it is on fertility or on any other area requires the understanding and change in the behaviour of the people of different groups of population in the direction of modernization. So, proper understanding of the socio- cultural, economic, psychological, and other determinants of demographic characteristics of fertility, mortality and migration is essential for the successful implementation of any policy and program to control fertility.

Fertility, generally referred to the number of children a woman have during the process of her reproductive career by taking in to consideration the mortality conditions of the population. It is one of the most important variables of population growth and very complex phenomena which is determined by a large variety of social, economic, cultural and behavioural factors in a particular society. Some scholars emphasized on the societal or community level variables for studying the fertility behaviour, while others give more emphasis to the individual and family level variables. However, both the sets of factors operating at the personal or family level as well as at the community or societal level are important determinants of fertility. Empirical research related to the determinants of fertility both at the micro and macro levels, shows increasing significance of non- economic factors in the analysis of fertility behaviour (Macgreevy and Birdsell, 1974; Birdsell and Faruquees, 1977).

The study of fertility behaviour patterns holds a prominent place in the state of Punjab, which is known as one of the economically most advanced states in the country. The population of Punjab is dominated by the Sikhs. In the rural areas, most of the people belong to the Scheduled Castes and backward castes apart from a small proportion of Muslims and other minority groups. These people have similar poor social and economic status. The rural social, cultural and economic backwardness in addition to their involvement in traditional professions, makes them to think more about their daily needs and basic necessities of life. That is the reason why these people allow their children to cultivate their traditional professional skills from their childhood to make use of these child labours for economically productive purposes. The social environment of these people never cultivates the parental aspirations towards the education and proper upbringing of their children. They do not think of raising their standard of living by proper planning in the matter of limiting or spacing between the fertilities. These tendencies lead to a higher fertility among scheduled castes and other minority communities living in the rural areas. In this background, the present study provides some observations from the field in rural areas of Punjab, which highlight the factors responsible for fertility differential among various socio- economic groups.


The study is based on the primary data collected through a structured questionnaire and a field work conducted in the sampled villages from Amritsar and Gurdaspur districts of Punjab. For this purpose, a total 200 currently married women in the reproductive age- groups from 10 villages were interviewed. The information on their socio- economic and cultural background as well as their sexual and reproductive behaviour was gathered and processed. This followed application of various quantitative techniques such as correlation matrix, variability and factor analysis to identify the strength of various factors affecting the fertility among different socio-economic groups. The results, however, obtained from a limited geographical area provide a broad picture about the fertility behaviour prevailing in the rural areas of Punjab.

Major Findings

Age at marriage and Fertility

Age at marriage was found to be negatively correlated with the fertility level as late marriage helped the females to reduce their fertility period and reduce the total number of children they eventually bear. Another similar type of study also indicated that age at marriage had a direct influence on the reduction in fertility rates. The women who began their effective marriage in 1959 would have 17 percent fewer children, because of their older average age at nuptials, than did their mothers and grand mothers (Wyon and Gordon, 1971).

A study conducted by Khanna also noted that "the striking change in the age of women at marriage is more important. The people themselves found reasons for delaying their daughter's marriage. If maintained, this could appreciably affect birth rates; it bodes well for the future practice of birth control" (Wyon and Gordon, 1971).

Education and Fertility

Among the social factors that influence fertility, the education of females is most effective, as it helps in bringing down fertility more quickly and with continuing effect. The survey indicated that women who have attended high school have significantly fewer children, on the average, than those with less education. The general tendency is for fertility rates to go down as the number of years in school goes up. Female education generally keeps them busy with their studies and delays their marriage as well as their fertility period.

An educated couple is more interested in raising the economic standard of living rather than increasing the size of their family. Educated females are more conscious about their health and that of their children. They participate equally with their husbands in the process of family planning and use of contraceptive measures. There is a general change in the mindset of an educated girl than that of the uneducated. They have a perception towards security rather than dependence on their children in the old age.

Nutrition Level and Fertility

It was found that a better nutritious status led to a significant reduction in the fertility levels. However, before taking a decline, fertility increased for a time. This fact was also observed in the earlier studies. Those poor families whose members begin to attain better nutrition and health resources increase their fertility for a time before taking on higher status behaviour patterns that lower fertility (Datta, 1961).

Infant Mortality and Fertility

It was observed that both the higher and the lower infant mortality rates have intensifier effects on fertility rates. That is, those couples who follow a high fertility pattern tend to produce even more children, if many of their infants die, because a mother then would have a shorter infertile period following termination of pregnancy. The earlier studies also projected that "the higher the birth rate, the higher the infant mortality rate. The obverse is also true: the higher the infant mortality rates, the more off springs are produced" (Chandrasekhar, 1972). For couples who follow patterns of lower fertility, whether through traditional controls or modern ones, low infant mortality helps assure them that their children have a good chance of surviving and so they need not try for additional births as insurance.

Table-1 indicates that despite having a similar demographic background in terms of age and mutuality patterns, the fertility level among the Scheduled Caste women was relatively higher than that among the non-Scheduled Castes. There was a little difference in the age at the marriage, age at the consummation of marriage and age at the birth of first child between the two groups of respondents, the scheduled castes being at the low level in terms of all the three variables. However, a significant difference was recorded between the two in terms of average interval between the first and the subsequent birth. This was observed that among the scheduled caste women, the interval between two births was much below (19.14 months) as compared with that among the non-scheduled castes (29.40 months) (Table-1).

Family System and Fertility

Generally it is believed that in a joint family system, fertility is high because the responsibility to raise children is shared jointly by the grand parents. But in Punjab, this association seems to be reversed. Women living in joint families apparently have fewer children on the average than those in nuclear families. That finding has also been reported from studies on rural people in Puri District of Orissa (Bebarta, 1961), in Delhi (Pakrasi and Malakar, 1967), in West Bengal (Datta, 1961), and elsewhere in India and Bangladesh (Nag, 1965; Stoeckel and Choudhury 1969; Burch and Gendell, 1971). It has been suggested that because couples living in joint families have less privacy, they are likely to have less frequent intercourse and therefore fewer children (Hashmi, 1965; Nag, 1965; Gould, 1972).

However, the relation between privacy and coital frequency with the number of children produced needs further investigation, as there are other social factors like poverty and illiteracy operating simultaneously on the fertility patterns.

Female Employment and Fertility

In the field investigations, it was established that females' employment particularly in the secondary and tertiary activities helped to reduce the fertility levels significantly as the working women had less time available with them to look after the children. Moreover, the working women were more conscious about their career rather than to produce an additional child.

Desire to have a Son and Fertility

In Punjab and also in other states of northern India, desire to have a son was stronger than in other parts of the country. In rural areas of Punjab, at least one or two sons were necessary to heir and look after the property, to perform the last rituals of the parents and to continue the family name. In want of a son, people in rural areas go on producing children, in some cases 5 or 6 daughters.

In-migration and Fertility

The survey indicated that a large segment of the population in rural areas belonged to the in-migrants from eastern Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and other states of the country. These migrants are poor, illiterate and belong to the Scheduled Castes. For them, children have economic value and social advantage. This tendency leads to a relatively higher fertility among the migrants and the overall fertility levels.

Concluding Remarks

The present study indicated that fertility in rural areas of Punjab was associated with a large number of social, economic, demographic and behavioural factors. Prominent among them included age at marriage, female education, status of women in the society, use of modern contraceptives, female participation in economic activities, nutrition level, infant mortality rates, family system, desire to have a son and proportion of in-migrants to the total population.


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Table 1: Demographic Characteristics of the Respondents Surveyed

Characteristics                 Scheduled Caste   Non-Scheduled Caste
                                        N = 128                N = 72

Mean Age (yeas) Husband                   29.71                 30.14
Wife Mean age at the                      26.32                 26.53
  consummation of marriage
Husband                                   22.43                 25.30
Wife                                      19.07                 19.73
Average duration of                       15.21                 13.07
  married life (years)
Average number of                          3.54                  2.97
Number of live births                      3.46                  2.89
Number of living children                  3.05                  2.63
Mean age at the birth                     20.17                 22.29
  of first child
Average interval between the               1.52                  1.66
  age at consummation of
  marriage and first birth
Average interval between                  19.14                 29.40
  the first and subsequent
  births (months)

Source: Field Work, 2012.
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Author:Goel, Sanjeev
Publication:Political Economy Journal of India
Article Type:Report
Date:Jan 1, 2015
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