Identifying factors that influence pregnancy intentions: evidence from South Africa and Malawi

Cult Health Sex. 2015;17(3):374-89. doi: 10.1080/13691058.2014.968806. Epub 2014 Oct 29.


In developing-country settings, pregnancy intentions are often assessed using a series of questions from the Demographic and Health Surveys, yet research conducted in several countries yields conflicting results regarding these questions' ability to predict pregnancy. Conducted in Malawi and South Africa, this study identified individual, partner and societal factors that influence desire for pregnancy, and women's ability to achieve their intentions. Data come from interviews and focus-group discussions conducted prior to the FEM-PrEP HIV-prevention trial with women from communities at high risk of HIV infection. Cultural norms regarding contraceptive use and childbearing influenced both women's desire for pregnancy and ability to achieve those goals. Partner's expectations for pregnancy, financial concerns, family composition and contraceptive experiences were additional influences. Actively planning for pregnancy was not a salient concept to the majority of participants. Results support the call for a multidimensional measure of pregnancy intention that reflects the variety of factors that influence intentions, highlight the fluid nature of many women's reproductive health decision making and challenge the notion that all fertility decisions are the result of conscious action. Additional work on how women's plans for pregnancy are achieved would be programmatically more useful than current measures of intention.

Keywords: Malawi; South Africa; intentions; pregnancy; women.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Contraception*
  • Decision Making
  • Developing Countries
  • Family Characteristics*
  • Family Planning Services
  • Female
  • Focus Groups
  • HIV Infections / prevention & control
  • Humans
  • Intention*
  • Malawi
  • Middle Aged
  • Pregnancy*
  • Qualitative Research
  • Reproductive Behavior / psychology*
  • Reproductive Health
  • Sexual Partners
  • South Africa
  • Women's Health
  • Young Adult