Uncertain future, non-numeric preferences, and the fertility transition: A case studyof rural Mozambique

Sarah R. Hayford, Victor Agadjanian


In many high-fertility countries, and especially in sub-Saharan Africa, substantial proportions of women give non-numeric responses when asked about desired family size. Demographic transition theory has interpreted responses of “don’t know” or “up to God” as evidence of fatalistic attitudes toward childbearing. Alternatively, these responses can be understood as meaningful reactions to uncertainty about the future. Following this latter approach, we use data from rural Mozambique to test the hypothesis that non-numeric responses are more common when uncertainty about the future is greater. We expand on previous research linking child mortality and non-numeric fertility preferences by testing the predictive power of economic conditions, marital instability, and adult mortality. Results show that uncertainty related to adult and child mortality and to economic conditions predicts non-numeric responses, while marital stability is less strongly related.


fertility; fertility intentions; non-numeric preferences; sub- Saharan Africa

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.11564/25-2-239


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