Little is known about the association of women’s empowerment with fertility desires in sub-Saharan African countries where overall fertility levels remain high. This study tries to fill this gap, exploring whether women’s empowerment affects their ideal number of children and their ability to have only the number of children they want by using couples data from four recent Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) in sub-Saharan Africa: Guinea 2005, Mali 2006, Namibia 2006/2007, and Zambia 2007. Women’s empowerment was measured by women’s participation in household decision-making, and by two indices representing gender-role attitudes: attitudes toward wife beating and attitudes toward refusing sex with one’s husband. The results indicate that, in two of four countries, having egalitarian gender-role attitudes was associated with having a smaller ideal number of children, even after adjusting for other factors. Greater household decision-making was not as consistently associated with a smaller ideal number of children. In all four countries, a husband having a greater ideal number of children was associated with the woman having a greater ideal number of children, regardless of her level of empowerment. Additionally, in Namibia, empowered women were more likely than less empowered women to have more children than they desired. This finding likely reflects dissatisfaction felt by more empowered women whose fertility is high, consistent with social norms, but who personally value smaller families. Additional research is needed that evaluates the validity of the household decision-making index as an indicator of empowerment in the context of sub-Saharan communities.
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