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Fertility decline and birth intervals: is Africa distinct?

John B. Casterline, Ohio State University
Laila El-Zeini, Cairo University
Colin Odden, Ohio State University

Caldwell et al. (1992) argued two decades ago that African fertility declines would be distinctive from a comparative historical perspective. One element in the Caldwell et al. argument is a more prominent role for changes in birth-spacing behaviors. Several recent provocative pieces have also focused on birth-interval distributions: Johnson-Hanks' (2007) rejection of the applicability of "natural fertility" to African societies, and Timaeus & Moultries' (2008) argument that "birth postponement" is behaviorally different than birth-spacing and has made a decisive contribution to the fertility decline in South Africa. We subject these and related arguments to rigorous assessment by conducting an historical analysis of birth interval distributions in those African countries that have experienced substantial fertility decline. Key parameters of birth interval distributions are estimated, on an order-specific basis. Comparisons are drawn with fertility declines in other regions (Asia, Latin America). This research is exceptional in its historical depth and cross-national coverage.

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Presented in Session 18: Status and patterns of African fertility transitions