Effects of the status of women on the first-birth interval in Indian urban society

J Biosoc Sci. 1999 Jan;31(1):55-69. doi: 10.1017/s0021932099000553.


The status of women, which is relative and multidimensional, has an important bearing on any long-term reduction in fertility. In Indian society, where cohabitation and childbearing are socially sanctioned only after marriage, the length of the first-birth interval affects the completed family size by influencing the spacing and childbearing pattern of a family. This study examines the influence of certain aspects of the status of married women--education, employment, role in family decision making, and age at marriage--along with three socioeconomic variables--per capita income of the family, social position of the household, and the caste system--on the duration of the first-birth interval in an urban Hindu society of the north-east Indian state of Assam. The data were analysed by applying life table and hazard regression techniques. The results indicate that a female's age at marriage, education, current age, role in decision making, and the per capita income of the household are the main covariates that strongly influence the length of the first-birth interval of Hindu females of urban Assam. Of all the covariates studied, a female's education appears to be a key mediating factor, through its influence on her probability of employment outside the home and thereby an earned income and on her role in family decision making. Unlike other Indian communities, the effect of the caste system does not have a significant effect on first-birth timing in this urban Hindu society.

PIP: This study examined determinants of first birth intervals (FBIs) among urban Hindu women in the northeastern state of Assam, India. Explanatory factors include women's status (education, employment, marriage age, role in family decision-making) and socioeconomic factors (family income, social position in the household, and caste). Data were obtained from a survey conducted in Guwati, the capital city of Assam, among 1650 eligible couples in 1991-92. Life table techniques and the guidelines of Rindfuss, Palmore, and Bumpass (1982) were followed to correct for censoring and sample selectivity. Analysis was based on Cox's hazard regression model. Findings indicate that mean age of marriage was about 21 years. Higher mean age at marriage was associated with education, wage earners, belonging to a higher monthly income group, having higher social status, and contributions to all household decisions. Marriage age varied more among low income groups, low status groups, those with little or no education, and those who do not take part in all household decisions. Life table techniques reveal that the median length of the FBI was under 16 months. Only 2% failed to give birth within 97 months of their marriage. In the full model with all 8 covariates, female occupation and position in the caste system did not have significant effects on FBI. Hazards of first births were higher when marriage age was under 17 years. Female education was negatively associated with first birth. Education delays marriage and increases the opportunity for paid employment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Birth Intervals*
  • Cultural Characteristics
  • Educational Status
  • Female
  • Fertility*
  • Humans
  • Income
  • India
  • Life Tables
  • Male
  • Marriage
  • Proportional Hazards Models
  • Social Class*
  • Urban Population
  • Women*