Vol 17, No 2,June 2002
This special issue of the Asia-Pacific Population Journal, entitled “Gender, Family, and Fertility in Asia”, contains a selection of papers presented initially at the Workshop on Fertility Decline, Below Replacement Fertility and the Family in Asia: Prospects, Consequences and Policies, held at Singapore from 10 to 12 April 2002.
The Workshop was jointly organized by the Asian MetaCentre for Population and Sustainable Development Analysis and the Family Studies Research Programme at the National University of Singapore, and financially sponsored by Wellcome Trust, United Kingdom.
We are especially indebted to Angelique Chan, Department of Sociology, National University of Singapore and Brenda S.A. Yeoh, Department of Geography and Asian MetaCentre for Population and Sustainable Development Analysis, National University of Singapore for kindly acting as guest editors of this issue and introducing the topic.
The topic, “Gender, Family, and Fertility in Asia”, is very timely considering the region’s notable decline in fertility and mortality over the past 50 years, which has created new challenges and needs for rethinking the conventional policies and programmes. The total fertility rate for Asia dropped from approximately 6 children per woman in the period 1950-1955 to approximately 2.7 children per woman in the period 1995-2000. Currently, 14 countries in Asia have fertility rates below replacement level. This trend is leading to serious social and economic concerns, such as population ageing, labour force shortages and increased elderly dependency ratios.
Articles in this issue represent important contributions to this relevant topic and address the persisting problem of gender preference. It is hoped that the wide dissemination of these results will encourage other researchers to enhance our understanding of this topic and lead to more fruitful dialogue.
Chief, Population and Rural and
Urban Development Division
- Gender, Family and Fertility in Asia: An Introduction (pdf format 42 KB)
By Angelique Chan and Brenda S.A. Yeoh
- Fertility Decline, Family Size and Female Discrimination: A Study of Reproductive Management in East and South Asia (pdf format 165 kb)
By Elisabeth J. Croll
A study of demographic narratives across East and South Asia suggests that, region-wide, there is increasing tension or conflict between preferred family size and preferred family-sex composition which in most societies is only resolved by intensified reproductive management, technological intervention and excess female mortality. Simultaneously, ethnographic studies in villages and cities in these societies suggest that beliefs and behaviours associated with the management of reproduction are rooted in notions of gender difference, complementarity and unsubstitntability. Within the new and now preferred smaller families, daughters, rarely able to substitute for sons, are subject to new trade-offs which are increasing. This is reflected in rising masculinity rates and worsening sex ratios at birth.
This paper approaches fertility decline from a cultural and political-economic perspective by locating micro-level fertility strategies in a Yi community. Drawing on the author’s fieldwork data gathered in 1999 and 2000, the paper provides an understanding of the effects of remarkable demographic changes brought about by the state birth control policy in China and its implications for gender relations and politics in the household. The focus is on the roles people (especially women) play through their own voices and behaviour in reproductive experiences. Individual attitudes and experiences are examined in the context of the demographic transition, revealing how women balance state policy and traditional social norms, leading to the emergence of new meanings relevant to fertility behavior. The paper challenges a passive/active analytic framework since traditional cultural constraints and people’s conscious manipulation exist side-by-side. Women’s subjectivity is singled out in the analytic repertoire because fertility is embedded in gender relations in the community; women are using the state policy actively and positively in dealing with both state and traditional patriarchal customs.
- Reproducting the Asian Family Across the Generations: "Tradition", Gender and Expectations in Singapore (pdf format 147 KB)
By Elspeth Graham, Peggy Teo, Brenda S. A. Yeoh and Susan Levy
Trends in fertility and the future of the “Asian family” are important topics of current debate in Singapore where the Government has been more proactive than its European counterparts in trying to ensure the future reproduction of its population. Yet, the changing role and status of women in Singaporean society appear to have dampened the effect of pronatalist policies. Over the last decade, fertility concerns have become embedded in a wider public discourse about “traditional Asian values”. The paper focuses on how ordinary Singaporean women are interpreting the Government’s message by examining understandings of “tradition” in relation to the family. The discussion draws on data from in-depth interviews with a group of Chinese Singaporean women; eight graduates of reproductive age (the parent generation) and their mothers (the grandparent generation). It explores variation and ambiguity in constructions of “tradition” in the narratives of these women and traces subtle intergenerational differences in expectations and experiences of gender in relation to understandings of “family” and its reproduction. The analysis exposes the active agency of women within an enduring but changing patriarchal conception of the family. The paper concludes by drawing out implications for the impact of the Government’s promotion of “Asian” values on family reproduction.
- The Effect of Social Interaction on Fertility Goals and Behaviour Among Women in Bangladesh (pdf format 182 KB)
By Lisa Marten
This paper uses the concept of social interaction to try to understand the decline of fertility in Bangladesh, a decline that occurred despite minimal change in conventional measures of development. Two measures of demographic change are analysed: the proportion of women wanting no more children and the proportion of women using either traditional or modem methods of fertility control. Two sets of data are used: the 1993-1994 Bangladesh Demographic and Health Survey and a set of ethnographic interviews. The data lend support to taking social interaction into account in our analyses of fertility change. The attitudes held and information passed on by a woman’s social network (husband, female peers and family planning workers) influence her judgements on appropriate family size, whether she should regulate her fertility and the “best” method for her to use.
Vietnamese families are patrilineal and patrilocal. To conform to a patrilineal, patrilocal model, couples must fulfil the demographic precondition of raising at least one son to adulthood. Among the “mid-transitional” cohorts reaching reproductive ages in the late 1940s and the 1950s, the proportion fulfilling this precondition was unprecedentedly high. Among the “ post-transitional” cohorts reaching reproductive age after about 2005, the proportion fulfilling the precondition will be much lower. Many couples have evidently been willing to forgo conformance with the patrilineal, patrilocal model. This could be taken to mean that patrilineal, patrilocal norms are relatively weak in Viet Nam. A review of the available evidence suggests, however, that the norms are strong. It appears, then, that fertility decline has seen couples making different trade-offs between the conformance with the patrilineal, patrilocal model and other objectives. Trade-offs of this sort are awkward for models which distinguish sharply between wanted and unwanted births. The continued need for trade-offs may also presage a weakening in the patrilineal and patrilocal model, and presents an opportunity for policy makers wishing to shape any such changes.