Collaboration and conflict among women in rural Mali: Effects on fertility and child survival

Sangeetha Madhavan, University of Pennsylvania


This dissertation investigates female collaboration and conflict in a rural African setting and their effects on fertility and child survival. Using data from the Bamanan and Fulbe communities of West Africa, I investigate the extent to which women of reproductive age compete with one another for fertility, one of the main vehicles for female status attainment, and the extent of their cooperation in the improvement of infant and child survival. This research contributes to the demographic literature that stresses the need to focus on the “extended family structure” in addition to the individual as one of the main determinants of fertility and child welfare. The data come from a study of social networks and their effects on child and maternal health in Bamanan and Fulbe communities of Mali. I draw on a survey conducted for that project that was administered to 500 women aged 15–49 in each ethnic group, and 48 life histories that I collected over the last two years in Mali. The results suggest that much of the effect of co-wives and sisters-in-law on fertility disappears once woman's and husband's ages are controlled for in both groups. However, there is an effect on fertility when we stratify the co-wives and sisters-in-law by relative age differences. In terms of infant and child survivorship, we find an effect for the Bamanan, though not in the expected direction. Additional analysis on women's network connections beyond the household suggest that the effects of co-wife and sister-in-law interactions on fertility and child survival may be mediated by factors such as the size of a woman's network and the frequency of contact with network members. The qualitative data illustrate the importance of cultural norms of conflict and collaboration in each ethnic group but do not suggest any direct effects on fertility or child survivorship.

Subject Area

Demographics|Womens studies|Sociology

Recommended Citation

Madhavan, Sangeetha, "Collaboration and conflict among women in rural Mali: Effects on fertility and child survival" (1998). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9913494.