Volume 46 - Article 17 | Pages 503–546  

Accuracy of wives' proxy reports of husbands' fertility preferences in sub-Saharan Africa

By Dana Sarnak, Stan Becker


Background: Demographic researchers have recognized the importance of male partners in reproductive behavior and decision-making. Yet much of the existing literature still relies on female respondents reporting on behalf of their spouses.

Objective: The objective of this study is to estimate the accuracy of wives’ reports of husbands’ fertility preferences in 32 countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

Methods: We used couple-level data from Demographic and Health Surveys to evaluate the accuracy of wives’ reports of their husbands’ fertility preferences in 32 countries in sub-Saharan Africa. We created a measure of accuracy based on each partner’s response to a set of fertility preference questions. We examined the overall percentages of wives who were accurate, inaccurate, or uncertain across countries.

Results: Despite the fact that most couples were concordant in wanting more children, we found variation in the percentages of wives who were accurate in their proxy reports, ranging from 26% in Chad to 58% in Rwanda. By contrast, percentages of wives who were inaccurate were similar; approximately one-third of wives across all countries gave proxy responses that were at odds with their husbands’ responses. Large percentages of wives were uncertain of their husbands’ fertility preferences, reaching 50% in Comoros.

Conclusions: These findings indicate low levels of spousal discussion of fertility preferences. We encourage survey organizations to invest in collecting data from males directly.

Contribution: By demonstrating that majorities of wives across countries either inaccurately perceive or are uncertain of their husband’s fertility preferences, the current study justifies collecting data from male partners directly.

Author's Affiliation

  • Dana Sarnak - Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, United States of America EMAIL
  • Stan Becker - Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, United States of America EMAIL

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