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Indian Journal of Community Medicine

Determinants of Delayed First Birth

Author(s): G.A. Kumar, M. Danabalan

Vol. 31, No. 4 (2006-10 - 2006-12)

G.A. Kumar, M. Danabalan


In developed countries, delayed child bearing particularly the first child has attracted much attention in recent years. Gradually the thinking has been to delay the age at marriage so that the first childbirth occurs during twenties and early thirties. The gap between marriage and first live birth is termed as “first birth interval”. First childbirth, an important event in the reproductive life of a female, has a direct relationship with number of factors such as couples’ educational and occupational status, age at marriage etc.1,2 In addition to these factors, incomplete conceptions occurring prior to the live birth also have a definite bearing on this.2

For instance, in some rural parts of India, the first birth is usually delayed because of temporary separation of married partners with the female partners going over to their parents’ place for some time even after marriage. This social custom plays an important role in delaying the first birth. The age at which women in developing countries like India have their first child has important consequences on the demographic character of the population3. Early child bearing contributes to population growth in two ways4. Firstly, in the absence of any intentional contraceptive practices, women who begin bearing children early in their life have more births than equally fecund women who begin so at older ages. Secondly, child births occurring at younger ages imply a higher rate of fertility and population growth because of the shorter length of time between generations. The present study attempts to analyze the various factors/determinants of delayed first childbirth in the capital city of Kerala.

Material and Methods

Thiruvananthapuram district was chosen for this study. It is divided in to four taluks, Thiruvanthapuram, Chirayinkeezhu, Nedumangadu and Neyyatinkara of which Thiruvananthapuram was randomly selected. There are 30 villages in the selected taluk. By simple random sampling three villages were selected from these villages which include at least one rural, urban and coastal areas. One area each from the rural, urban and coastal villages of this taluk was selected. A total of 186 (79.4%), 170 (79.8%) and 328 (79.6%), couples participated in the rural, coastal and urban area, respectively.

The total number of eligible couples who had experienced only one live birth during the last five years preceding the survey, which was conducted from February 2002 to June 2002, scheduled for this study was 98, 62, and 186 in the rural, coastal and urban area, respectively. The individual level data regarding socio-economic and demographic backgrounds of currently married women who have at least one child below age five years were collected.

Besides the use of descriptive statistical analysis, multivariate analysis was also utilized to study the socioeconomic and demographic factors, which affect the delayed first birth interval in the study area.


Differential Pattern of First Birth Interval

The mean first birth interval by selected indicators is shown in Table-l. It shows a strong differential in the first birth interval by place of residence, the average duration of first live birth being nearly 0.6 to 0.7 years longer for coastal women as compared with rural and urban women. The mean intervals in these areas were respectively 2.18, 1.49 and 1.56 years.

Women in nuclear families reported the highest average duration of age at first live birth (1.91 years) and those from extended family with the lowest (1.27 years). Non-Hindu women reported a higher average duration of first live birth (1.69 years) as compared to Hindu women (1.64 years) though the differential was very low. The couples with less than 5 years of age difference had an average duration of first birth interval of 1.67 years, which decreased to 1.64 years for the couples with greater than or equal to 5 year of age difference.

Further, education of couples showed a strong differential in the first birth interval. Average first birth interval is low among the couples where both the husband and wife have same status of schooling. Similarly average first birth interval among couples where both the husband and wife were currently working was longer (1.80 years) compared to those where male partners alone were working (1.63 years).

Multivariate Analysis

The dependent variable, first birth interval was measured in years. Nearly 21 percent of women had reported delayed first birth interval (more than one year). It was found that both spouses engaging in any type of work were very negligible as compared to husband alone working. Hence occupational status of couples was excluded from the final model. The remaining five variables were used for fitting the binary logistic regression (See Table-II). The results indicate that the age difference between couples, the type of family, religion, the place of residence especially coastal and maternal education were significantly associated with delayed first birth interval.

Table I: Mean First Birth Interval (years) by Selected Characteristics

Selected Characteristics Mean SD
Residential characteristics
Rural 1.49 3.04
Urban 1.56 2.03
Coastal 2.18 2.76
Type of family
Nuclear 1.58 2.45
Extended 1.27 1.40
Hindus 1.64 2.01
Non-Hindus 1.69 2.44
Age difference between couples
Less than five years 1.67 2.23
Greater than or equal to five years 1.64 2.01
Educational status of couples    
Same schooling 1.33 3.21
Husbands have more schooling 1.59 1.85
Wives have more schooling 1.87 2.24
Occupational status of husbands
Husbands alone working 1.63 2.06
Both of them are working 1.80 2.47

Table II: Logistic Regression Analysis of First Birth Interval on selected Background Characteristics

Selected characteristics Β S.E Exp(Β) Sig
Residential characteristics
Urban 0.51 0.35 1.661 0.144
Coastal 1.66 0.60 5.254 0.001*
Type of family
Extended -1.21 0.35 0.298 0.001*
Non-Hindus 1.81 0.57 6.109 0.001*
Age difference between couples
Less than five years
Greater than or equal
to five years
0.73 0.30 2.082 0.015**
Educational status of couples
Same schooling
Husbands have more 0.71 0.45 2.036 0.110
Wives have more schooling 0.99 0.30 2.700 0.012*
Constant -4.10 0.73 0.017 0.000*
* P< 0.001 and ** P< 0.05

Discussion and Conclusions

The average duration of first birth interval observed in this study area was 1.65 years. Significant differences of first birth interval were observed in rural, urban and coastal residence. It was note worthy that the average duration of first birth interval was nearly 0.7 years longer for coastal women as compared with rural and urban women. As the family planning usage was very low, the delayed first birth in coastal area may be due to the higher losses of births. This was in concurrence with various authors who had studied the health implications of early age at first childbirth.5

Average duration of birth interval ranged from a low of 1.27 years among women from extended families to a high of 1.58 years among women from nuclear families. It was seen that women with higher educational status than their husbands had reported higher first birth interval. The multiple logistic regression revealed that non-Hindu women was the most significant predictor of delayed first birth followed by coastal women. The other significant associations of delayed first birth were age gap between couples; wives having more schooling, and nuclear families.

The findings of this study are expected to be useful to policy makers. Delaying first birth as a means of reducing births should be reconsidered in light of the differential socio-economic and demographic pattern prevalent in whole of Kerala. Changes taking place in demographic and socio-economic characteristics of the population will have implications for fertility levels. These relationships should be considered in developing an integral approach in high fertility areas to reduce fertility all over India.


  1. Bloom ED, Trussel J. What are the Determinants of Delayed Child bearing and Permanent Childlessness in the United States. Demography, 1984; 21(4): 591 – 611.
  2. Brien JM, Lilliard LA. Education, Marriage and First Conception in Malaysia. The Journal of Human Resources. 1994; 29 (4); 1167 – 1204.
  3. Rajaretnam T. How Delaying Marriage and Spacing Births Contributes to Population Control: An Explanation with Illustrations. The Journal of Family Welfare. 1990; 36(4): 3-13.
  4. Teachman DJ, Heckert DA. The Declining Significance of First Birth Timing. Demography, 1985; 22(2):185 – 198.
  5. Nortman D. Parental Age as a factor in Pregnancy Outcome and Child Development: Reports on Population/Family Planning, No: 16, The Population Council, New York, 1974; 1-51.

1. Health Studies Area, Center for Human Development, Administrative Staff College of India, Raj Bhavan Road, Hyderabad – 500 082.
2. Department of Community Medicine, Mahatma Gandhi Medical College &ammp; Research Institute, Pillayarkuppam, Pondicherry-607 402.
E-mail: [email protected]
Received: 27.11.03

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