Fertility and Household poverty in Kenya: A comparative Analysis of Coast and Western Provinces

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George Okoth Odwe


While many studies have been conducted on the dynamics of factors responsible for the Kenyan

fertility level, trends and patterns, not much has been done to examine the role of poverty,

particularly in explaining the stall in fertility decline that occurred between 1998 and 2003. It is

also unclear, the pathways through which poverty influence fertility in the Kenyan context. The

present study examines the relationship between household poverty and fertility in Coast and

Western provinces using both quantitative and qualitative data. Specifically, the study sought to;

1. Estimate levels and trends of fertility in Coast and Western provinces by level of household

poverty 2. Test whether the relationship between household poverty status and fertility depends

on the context and 3. Test whether the relationship between household poverty and fertility is an

artifact of measurement. The first level of analysis used datasets of 1989, 1993, 1998, 2003 and

2008/9 Kenya Demographic and Health Surveys (KDHS), while the second level involved

analysis of qualitative data collected in 2011 during the poverty and fertility project and

household survey conducted in 2013 in Kwale (Coast province) and Bungoma (Western


The relationship between household wealth and fertility was examined over the period of the

fertility transition. Clear patterns were discovered in both provinces. In Coast province, fertility

among poor household displayed a U-shaped pattern. In Western province, the fertility rate

among poor household indicates an inverted J-shaped pattern. Poisson regression models were

employed to estimate the effect of household wealth status (poverty) on fertility. Two patterns

were observed.  The magnitude of the difference in fertility rates between poor and non-poor

women declined during the 1989-1998 then widened between 1998-2008/9 period. The increase

in the gap between fertility of poor women and non-poor women is attributed to an increase in

fertility among poor women. Multivariate regression analyses were performed to estimate the

effect of household wealth status on fertility controlling for education and child mortality.

Analysis suggests that the effect of poverty on fertility is context specific and depend on the

period. In Western Kenya, poverty was found to be significant in the recent periods (2003-

2008/9) but not in the earlier period (1989-1998). In contrast, the effect of poverty on fertility in

Coast province was significant across most surveys except in 1998. Major differences were also

observed in Coast and Western provinces in the effect of poverty on fertility when other factors

such as education and child mortality are controlled. The study therefore concludes that the

effect of poverty on fertility is context specific and no universal conclusion can be made on the


Despite social and cultural differences, large families are still viewed as important among poor

households. Qualitative data sheds some light on possible explanations for the lack of fertility

decline observed among women from poor households. In particular, polygyny, old age security,

child mortality, lack of spousal communication on reproductive issues and low age at first

marriage are important. The relationship between fertility and alternative poverty measure

namely; expenditure, wealth index and economic ladder question showed that the estimates of

fertility rate did not vary. However, there was a lack of correspondence in the classification of

household by different poverty measurement approaches.  The study concludes that, in

circumstances where income or expenditure data are lacking, asset index provides robust

estimates that can be used to make inferences on the relationship between poverty and

demographic outcomes.

The findings suggest that efforts by the government to promote family planning services,

especially among the poor ought to be accompanied by the assurances to parents that their newly

born babies will survive through to old age; transformation of attitudes on larger family size and

greater involvement of women in development.

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