Sub-Saharan Africa is characterized by record levels of fertility. The region also exhibits the largest age difference between spouses, a proxy for conjugal distance and gender inequalities. The present article investigates the possible relationship between both phenomena: are the high levels of fertility related to large age differences between spouses? Does the relationship vary with individual characteristics? Is its strength related to the stage of the demographic transition reached by the country or by mating patterns?
The data used for the study is a set of recent Demographic and Health Surveys in eighteen countries of mainland sub-Saharan Africa. The statistical relationship between age differences between spouses and contraceptive practice is tested using logistic regression models controlling for both individual and contextual variables. The main finding is that the largest age differences between spouses (15 years and over) are associated with low contraceptive use, probably because a large difference reflects women’s reduced decision-making power and a weak marital bond. Other results show the significant impact of community characteristics on the relationship.