Women In Ghana Pay Dearly For Not Having Children
By Jasmine Fledderjohann
The number of children a woman of reproductive age bears has been declining globally. Yet childbearing expectations in some parts of Africa remain high. In Ghana, for example, the total fertility rate – the average number of children expected per woman over a lifetime – stands at 4.2.
Children provide emotional fulfilment and social status, and can contribute to the household economy by helping with domestic and subsistence activities. As parents age, children become an important source of old age support.
As a result of the high value of children, the social consequences of infertility can be severe. For example, infertile women often face considerable stigma, mental distress, and potential exposure to domestic violence.
Gossip and social stigma can also arise. When members of the community see that a woman has not become pregnant after an expected period of time, rumours of infertility may begin.
About one in five couples in Ghana have difficulty conceiving or carrying a pregnancy to term.
Previous research has shown that women often report feeling that their relationships are at risk due to their infertility. The considerable pressure women are under to have children is cited as a key reason.
To test this suggested link between infertility and relationship breakdown, I analysed data collected over a six year period. The data were collected from 1,364 Ghanaian women living in six communities in the Western, Central, and Greater Accra regions. Women were asked a range of questions about factors including their contraceptive use, pregnancy histories, and current relationship status.
Fertility and social pressure
The study looked at the relationship between infertility and the stability of romantic partnerships.
I categorised infertility in two ways:
biomedical infertility – women failing to become pregnant after two or more years of unprotected intercourse, and
self-reported infertility – women reporting that either it takes them a long time to become pregnant or that it is not possible for them to become pregnant at all.
I found that a woman’s ability to conceive has a powerful effect on whether the relationship with her partner will survive. Women who had difficulties conceiving faced a much greater risk of their relationships ending.