Education, Ethnicity, and Reproductive Practice in Cameroon

Jennifer Johnson-Hanks  By the same author

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AbstractIt is often observed that educated women have lower birth rates than do the less educated, inviting a causal interpretation. However, educated women also differ from those who have never attended school in a variety of other ways: the two factors are multiply related. This article analyzes the relationship between schooling and fertility in contemporary Cameroon as both a statistical and a social phenomenon, using data from the 1998 Cameroon DHS alongside ethnographic field data collected by the author. These data show that educated Cameroonian women marry later and bear fewer children than their uneducated counterparts, in keeping with patterns established comparatively. However, educated women have higher annual premarital fertility rates than do the uneducated, in opposition to the predictions of most causal models. The article argues that these statistical patterns result from the high degree of selection into school. Educated girls come from communities that are more tolerant of premarital sex, place greater emphasis on the importance of developing individual character, and accord a less central role to marriage in women’s lives. Together, these social differences matter as much for reproductive outcomes as does schooling.