Conformity and change: community effects on female genital cutting in Kenya

J Health Soc Behav. 2005 Jun;46(2):121-40. doi: 10.1177/002214650504600201.


In this article, I analyze women's decisions to have their daughters circumcised based on data from 7,873 women in Kenya collected in the 1998 Kenya Demographic and Health Survey. I use multilevel models to assess the degree to which women s decisions are correlated with the decisions of other women in their community, in addition to studying the effects of socioeconomic characteristics measured at both the individual and community levels. I find some support for modernization theories, which argue that economic development leads to gradual erosion of the practice of female circumcision. However, more community-level variation is explained by the convention hypothesis, which proposes that the prevalence of female circumcision will decline rapidly once parents see that a critical mass of other parents have stopped circumcising their daughters. I also find substantial variation among different ethnic groups in the pace and onset of the decline of female genital cutting.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Circumcision, Female*
  • Decision Making
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Kenya
  • Middle Aged
  • Mother-Child Relations*
  • Social Change*
  • Social Control, Informal*