Sociocultural factors affecting reproductive behavior in Malawi

Eliya Msiyaphazi Zulu, University of Pennsylvania


The focus on the role of social and cultural factors on the persistence of high fertility in Sub-Saharan Africa, in relation to other developing regions, conceals the enormous sociocultural heterogeneity that exists between national and sub-national populations within the region. This study examines the influence of sociocultural factors on differences in reproductive behavior among three rural areas with diverse sociocultural characteristics, in Malawi. The results show that the differences in fertility levels among the three areas are primarily a result of variations in the duration of postpartum sexual abstinence and primary sterility, both of which are culturally derived. The future of fertility decline in the areas, and in Malawi as a whole, will depend on people's receptivity to limit their fertility, and the availability of effective means of contraception. This dissertation's focus on traditional methods of family planning has been important in enhancing understanding of the social context in which various reproductive decisions are made and played out. The results show that the high demand for adequate birthspacing is primarily motivated by the need to enhance child survival. While people's concerns and rationalization of the operation, effectiveness and side-effects of traditional methods are also applied to modern methods, the results show that most people prefer modern to traditional methods because of the former's superior effectiveness. The main problem with modern methods relates to their side-effects on the user's health. The results also show that while men have traditionally been content to be left out of the decision-making process with respect to use of traditional methods of birthspacing, they would like to play a leading role with respect to use of modern contraceptives. The relocation of the base for family planning services from the village to the hospital is likely to to increase the role of individual level characteristics and structural differences in influencing use of contraceptives. This is because the influence of the elderly women, who control reproductive behavior in the same way across the three cultural settings, is bound to be substantially reduced. However, the family planning program can exploit the enormous influence that the elderly women have on the reproductive process with regard to traditional methods, by using them to promote acceptance of modern methods.

Subject Area

Demographics|Minority & ethnic groups|Sociology|Cultural anthropology

Recommended Citation

Zulu, Eliya Msiyaphazi, "Sociocultural factors affecting reproductive behavior in Malawi" (1996). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9713037.