Women's empowerment and reproductive experiences over the lifecourse

Soc Sci Med. 2010 Aug;71(3):634-642. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2010.04.019. Epub 2010 May 12.


This paper examines the complex interplay between reproductive experiences and women's empowerment using rich life history data from a survey in India. Previous research has examined the influence of a rather limited range of reproductive events, focusing on how many children or sons a woman has borne, and has only superficially incorporated the insights of lifecourse theory. Furthermore, it has often conceptualized empowerment as a static characteristic rather than a time-varying one, and has often failed to examine the influence of empowerment resources or previous empowerment levels. I focus on the cumulative influence of less-studied reproductive events-including unwanted or mistimed pregnancy, stillbirths, miscarriages, and abortions-on several dimensions of women's empowerment, including mobility, financial decision-making, experiences of violence, and threats of abandonment or homelessness using data collected from 2435 women in Madhya Pradesh, India during a 2002 household-based probability sample survey. Logistic regression revealed that, notably, few reproductive events have an impact on women's current empowerment, but rather, the extent of empowerment immediately after marriage emerges as a strong determinant of their current empowerment. However, women who have had abortions have higher odds of experiencing domestic violence, and experiencing mistimed pregnancies lowers the odds of violence. Incorporating the potential influence of prior life events and conditions, accounting for the possibility that experiences may accumulate to shape women's current empowerment portrays women's lives more completely and helps to identify key points of intervention.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Abortion, Induced
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Contraception / psychology*
  • Contraception / statistics & numerical data
  • Data Collection
  • Female
  • Humans
  • India
  • Logistic Models
  • Power, Psychological*
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy, Unplanned
  • Reproduction*
  • Risk Factors
  • Spouse Abuse / statistics & numerical data
  • Women / psychology*
  • Women's Rights*
  • Young Adult