The 81st Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2012)

Reproductive decision-making in the Bolivian Amazon: why do fertility preferences not match outcomes?


Department of Anthropology, University of California at Santa Barbara

Saturday All day, Plaza Level Add to calendar

Objectives: We examine ideal family size (IFS) among Tsimane Amerindian women, and explore why fertility often exceeds IFS. We test three hypotheses for why women often exceed their IFS, despite improvements in the socioeconomic environment: (H1) limited female reproductive autonomy; (H2) improved maternal condition without effective fertility control methods; (H3) lack of perceived returns on investments in embodied capital.

Methods: Reproductive histories and prospective fertility on 305 Tsimane women were gathered by the Tsimane Health and Life History Project from 2002 to 2008. Semi-structured interviews were also collected among 76 women to study perceptions on costs of parenting and social aspirations. IFS and fertility are analyzed using multiple regression, t-tests and ANOVA.

Results: Of the three hypotheses tested, (H3) received the most support. There is little overt motivation to pursue education and delay reproduction. Economic returns for educational investment are low, and there is little overt desire to emulate low fertility Bolivian nationals, even among the most acculturated women. Instead, substantial value is placed on maintaining traditional skills and lifestyle.

Conclusions: Women’s IFS is a useful measure to bridge between fertility-related beliefs, perceptions and outcomes at the onset of a demographic transition. Many women in developing countries may exceed their IFS due to the low perceived or real benefits of investing novel forms of human capital in self and offspring. Somatic wealth and large kin networks may persist as the most important components of social success, and so fertility remains high.

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