Fertility, Education And Social Change

The Government of India has propagated family planning as a measure to reduce the rate of population growth and to improve the standard of living of the people. The health and happiness of the family can be ensured through small family. Therefore, the ultimate aim of the family planning movement is the adoption of the small family norm by the people.

For the small family to become a cultural norm a large proportion of couples must be so highly motivated to have a small family as to voluntarily control their fertility. What are the motivating factors? Education is known to provide high motivation for birth control. How does education operate in this sphere? Education generates certain social forces and new cultural ideals, which form the intervening variables affecting fertility.

In other words, education is the independent variable which brings into action certain intervening variables, which in turn affect fertility through high motivation for voluntary family planning. In the first part of this study I shall review these intervening variables and in the second, discuss the probable crucial level of education at which they are likely to ope rate. The overall aim of this paper is to delineate conceptually the way at which education at higher levels and particularly higher education acting as a catalytic agent for social change reduces fertility.

Education and fertility

A review of some of the latest studies of differential fertility carried out in different parts of India indicates that generally the level of education and fertility are inversely related. However, the conclusions of the various studies with regard to mean fertility at different levels of education are not uniform. The National Sample Survey (1967 : 20-22) indicates a simple inverse relationship : at each higher level of education fertility performance is lower.

In Driver’s study (1963 : 111) of Nagpur city and district, the relationship is direct from illiteracy to high school level of husbands, but for the matriculates the average number of children born is again higher, equal to that of the primary level. Datta (1961 : 78) finds a positive relationship between level of education and fertility upto a point after which fertility is negatively related. He comments that “this pattern of variation in fertility clearly indicates that upto a certain critical level the positive association between fertility and educational status must have arisen due to factors associated with the rise in levels of living conducive to high fertility and thereafter education plays an important role in moulding the attitude of couples to make conscious efforts in reducing their fertility”.

The intervening variables

Age at marriage

The inverse relationship between age at marriage and fertility is generally established (U.N. 1961 : 128-129; Driver 1963 : 83-84; Raina 1972: 86; Krishnamurthy 1968: 28; Paulus 1966 : 72). The higher the age at marriage, the lower the fertility, especially, if the age at marriage is more than eighteen. An analysis of the various demographic and socio-economic factors of differential fertility carried out at the Gokhale Institute of Economics and Politics (Bhate 1961 : 236) revealed that the age of the woman at marriage was the prime factor affecting fertility.

Age at marriage rises with higher education (Driver 1963 : 70; Raina 1972 : 85; Krishnamurthy 1968 : 28; Jha et al. 1969 : 15; Hussain 1972 : 263-65). In India, at present, one finds that, normally a person does not get married until he has completed his education. Therefore, at all levels of education above matriculation, educational status directly affects age at marriage. Traditionally, the potential husband had the economic security of his joint family and could marry early.

To-day, it is neither economically viable nor psychologically satisfying for a young man to get married until he has completed his education and found a reasonably suitable employment. Moreover in the caste-free jobs, education is an important factor determining one’s prospects of employment. Again, in the traditional Indian society, family background was the main criterion for the selection of the bridegroom for one’s daughter. It is a matter of general observation that now the attitude is to look for the independence and self-supporting ability of the man, in addition to the family background.

Non-familial role of the educated woman

Minkler’s study (1970) was planned to find out whether participation in labour force irrespective of education affects fertility. The study based on a sample of seventy primary and secondary school teachers, and seventy cotton mill workers and unskilled hospital workers, concluded that the uneducated women working in non-agricultural labour force had the same average fertility, 4.5, as that of the non-working women. But the teachers’ group (average schooling 13.7 years) had average number of 1.9 children.

The study also found that for the teachers average of 2.4 children (with one boy and one girl or two boys and one girl), was the ideal; this is where higher education helps self-motivation. The uneducated gave an average of 3.0 children as the ideal but one-fourth of the respondents from the latter group were unable to conceptualize the ideal family size. Emphasis on sons is very crucial in determining family size even of the educated. Both Minkler’s study and that of Jha et al. (1969) show that educated women who wanted more children, after having three, had no son or one son.

Desire to maintain and raise the level of living

This conscious desire is brought about by higher education and the higher level of living it initiates. Paulus, although he considers only literacy rates, and not levels of education, comments that in Travancore-Cochin (Kerala State) literacy rate is the highest in India but so is the population of the educated unemployed in the state. Hence high fertility.

Studies of differential fertility indicate rise in fertility with rising income upto a level (Paulus, 1966 : 74). In India, agriculture, trade and many other commercial activities often engage persons with low educational levels but are supposed to have high income levels. In these groups one cannot find a definite direct or indirect relationship of fertility to income or occupation (Paulus 1966 : 66-69, Driver 1963 : 93).

In Driver’s study, occupations which require education—viz. clerical, professional and administrative groups-include a high proportion of persons having knowledge of birth control techniques and interest in family limitation. The percentages of the “clerical” group having some knowledge of birth control techniques and some interest in family limitation are 58.6 and 86.4, respectively. For the “professional and administrative” group these proportions are 65.1 per cent and 91.9 per cent respectively.

Education and mobility

In modern India with the availability of higher education, non-traditional jobs, and caste-free occupational structure, there is a scope for improving one’s prospects through mobility for higher income and higher status jobs. The higher the specialization, the fewer the number of intervening opportunities. Thus long distance migration is required for more paying jobs. For such mobility a large family is a hindrance and it may motivate the
couple for a smaller family.

Education and norms of family happiness

Traditional values of family happiness are related to such beliefs as, ‘big families are happy families’, ‘children from large families have better adjusted personalities’, ‘large families promote morality’, and so on. On the contrary, the values of family happiness adopted by the educated and based on modern scientific knowledge are that the health of every member of the family is important and bearing a large number of children adversely affects the health of the mother as well as of the children. A couple can have better marital adjustment if not interfered with by other family members.

The proper upbringing of children, their education, satisfaction of their genuine physical and psychological needs, specially their need for parental love, are more important for happiness of the children and the parents, than giving birth to more children. This altered ideal of family happiness now cherished by the educated creates the need for a limitation on family size and for spacing of children. Besides these active variables, the changing cultural values of the educated women, such as those relating to the choice of the partner and to divorce are likely to act as intervening variables favouring lower fertility.

The level of education and self-motivation

Self-motivation of the type described earlier in this paper is likely to be most active among couples educated at the level of professional and post-graduate degrees and diplomas—which forms a very infinitesimal section of the Indian population. In the absence of definite empirical da ta, based on general observation of the highly educated urban popula tion, it seems that the intervening variables we have discussed are very active at this level of education.

In this group one finds smaller families and strong motivation for the voluntary control of fertility. Studies referred to earlier (Driver, Minkler, Agarwala, National Sample Survey etc.) do not deal with this level of education exclusively, but as pointed out in the course of the discussion of the intervening variables in the first part of this study, their data also support my observations. It may, however, be noted here that some of these variables are active even at the lower levels as we shall see shortly.

Author: Vijaya Punekar