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'Marriage means having children and forming your family, so what is the need of discussion?' Communication and negotiation of childbearing preferences among Bangladeshi couples

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This paper explores communication and negotiation regarding contraception and childbearing based on multiple semi-structured interviews with 19 married couples in southwestern Bangladesh. The narratives of three couples are presented to describe how sociocultural context and gender-based norms influence interactions between husbands and wives and their fertility decision-making. Despite national-level declines in fertility, the couples' stories illustrate the ongoing struggles to balance their desired number of male and female children with their financial and social well-being. The stories also indicate that the nature of the interactions between spouses evolves throughout the course of their marital and reproductive lifespans, resulting in a shift in fertility decision-making power. Both wives and husbands described the relative powerlessness of new wives in negotiating fertility with husbands and extended family; however, wives' preferences appeared to dominate as they became more established in their households. Many wives acted independently and often contrary to their husbands' desires, through their covert use or non-use of contraception and pregnancy termination. These findings illustrate that, despite efforts to increase contraceptive availability within Bangladesh, without concurrent changes in the opportunities available for women beyond their reproductive capacities, the demand for children, and particularly for male children, is not likely to change.
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Keywords: Bangladesh; contraception; couples; fertility decision-making; gender; pregnancy intention

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Population, Family and Reproductive Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health,

Publication date: March 1, 2007

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