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Poverty, Gender, and Fertility in Rural Kenya

  • March 2015
  • Journal Article
An-Magritt Jensen

Publication Title: Forum for Development Studies

Abstract: Despite a global decline in fertility, in Kenya, fertility has remained at a fairly high level. This article is based on two studies in rural villages in Western Province, Kenya in 1988 and 2011. In 1988, this province had the highest fertility level in the country. By 2011, fertility had fallen, but remained high in the national context. The analysis explores the interaction of poverty and gender relations in order to understand this. The Bukusu ethnic group, traditionally strongly patriarchal, is the focus of the article. Methodology and data collection followed the same basic principles in the two studies: collecting focused biographies among randomly sampled women (and a few men), and with information from community leaders. The 2011 case study re-interviewed some of the informants from 1988 and their descendants, supplemented with a few informants acquired through snowballing. Greater emphasis was now given to men. The findings show that despite increasing education, people are facing even harsher realities in 2011 than they did 20 years ago. The Bukusu retain a form of patriarchy in which men’s obligations have been reduced, while their privileges have been sustained. Persistent poverty has triggered risky behavior in terms of excessive drinking and sex for money, both of which are likely to push up fertility. However, limiting births also represents a risk. Present fertility levels correspond to the significance of children for both women and men. But changes can be traced in women’s attitudes, with a vision of less dependence on a husband.


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