Unintended Fertility in sub-Saharan Africa: A Discussion of Measurement Shortfalls and Challenges

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Event Type: 
Brown Bag
Date and Time: 
Thursday, March 10, 2016
12:00 pm – 1:00 pm

Sub-Saharan African women face the highest risk of unintended pregnancy worldwide.  Unintended pregnancies bear sizeable social, financial, physical, and emotional costs for women and their families, making them an important component of global health inequality. Because the extent of our knowledge on the levels, causes, and consequences of unintended fertility hinges on the accuracy with which we measure this inherently complex phenomenon, for decades social scientists have debated how to best measure pregnancy intentions. The standard approach is to ask mothers to think back to the time they became pregnant with their child and report whether the pregnancy was wanted at that time. Though scholars have raised concern about various aspects of this approach, in this talk, I will discuss the implications of its retrospective nature. Leveraging Demographic and Health Survey data, I provide evidence that our current measurement strategy underestimates unintended fertility in sub-Saharan Africa, and in some instances, its consequences for the resulting child. The findings challenge the reliability of retrospective reports of pregnancy intentions and demonstrate the necessity of new approaches to fully appreciate how common and consequential unintended fertility is in sub-Saharan Africa, and potentially other global contexts.