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Indian Journal of Community Medicine

Impact of religious faith and female literacy on fertility in a rural community of West Bengal

Author(s): NK Mandal, S Mallik, RP Roy, SB Mandal, S Dasgupta, A Mandal

Vol. 32, No. 1 (2007-01 - 2007-03)

NK Mandal, S Mallik, RP Roy, SB Mandal, S Dasgupta, A Mandal

Abstract

Background: Role of different social factors on fertility control is evident from different studies. What is the impact of religious faith and female literacy on fertility?
Objectives: To study the role of religious faith and female literacy on fertility regulation in a rural community of West Bengal.
Methods: Cross Sectional Study at rural field practice area of Department of Community Medicine, NRS Medical College, Kolkata, based on interview of married women in reproductive age group. A total of 671 filled in schedules were analyzed by Epi info package.
Results: Average number of pregnancies ever occurred among Muslim mothers (2.8) were higher in comparison with Hindu mothers (1.68). Regarding current fertility, live births in last 2 yrs was more among Muslim mothers (25.2%) as compared with their counterparts among Hindu community (12.4%). In both the cases differences were found to be statistically significant. Female literacy was found to have no impact on fertility as a whole, but while stratified, its positive role was evident among Hindu mothers but not among Muslim mothers.
Conclusions: Factors, which have made differences in fertility between two religious groups, should be properly assessed and duly addressed for better fertility control in the community.

Keywords: Fertility, Religion, Female literacy.

India launched a nationwide family planning programme in 1952, making it the first country in the world to do so. The National health Policy, 1983 had set the long-term demographic goals of achieving a net reproductive rate (NRR) of 1 by the yr 2000. The National Population Policy 2000, the latest in the series, gives informed choice to the people to voluntarily avail the reproductive health care services1. Thus the family welfare programme has traveled a long way, but still fertility control has not reached its desired level. In spite of availability of a wide range of contraceptives, mass media campaign and IEC programme, the population control remains a distant dream to achieve2. The higher fertility in India is attributed to universality of marriage, low level of literacy, poor level of living, unmet need of contraceptives and traditional ways of life. Studies have shown that deeprooted religious and other beliefs and attitudes and practices favouring larger families and militating against contraception have complicated the population problem1. The present study was undertaken with the objectives to study the role of religious faith and female literacy on fertility regulation in a rural community of West Bengal.

Material and Methods

The study was conducted in Mallikpur Grampanchayat, of Baruipur block of district of 24 Parganas (South), West Bengal, which is the field practice area of Deptt. of Community Medicine, NRS Medical college, Kolkata, situated about 25 km away from the College. This area is inhabited by mixed groups of population, both Hindus and Muslims for a long time. Considering General Marital Fertility Rate (GMFR) of rural West Bengal, 120/1000 married women in reproductive age group; sample size was calculated to be 649, with 95% confidence interval and 2.5% allowable error in absolute term. Keeping in mind, non-response rate of 5 to 10%, a total of 700 currently married women of reproductive age group (15 to 49 yrs) centering the rural health clinic, run by Community Medicine Dept of NRS Medical College, were interviewed. Starting from the nearest house of the clinic, all adjacent households were visited until desired number of women was interviewed. A pre-designed and pre-tested schedule was used for data collection. Informed consent of the respondents was taken and respondents were kept anonymous. Apart from relevant background information, enquires were made about their religion, number of year of schooling of the mothers, total number of pregnancies ever occurred, total number of live birth in last 2 years. Due to incomplete entries, 29 filled in Schedules were rejected and a total no of 671 schedules were analyzed.

Results

Out of 671 mothers, 298 (44.4%) were Hindu by religion and the rest 453 (55.6%) were belonging to Muslim community. Thirteen percent of Hindu mothers and 35.9% of Muslim mothers never went to school. Schooling up to 4 yrs, 5-10 yrs and more than 10 yrs among Hindu and Muslim mothers were 8.1%, 48%, 31.2% and 14.2%, 38.9% and 11% respectively. Nine hundred and thirty five mothers were housewives, rest were either laborers or self-employed. Average number of pregnancy ever occurred among Hindu mothers was 1.68 whereas that among Muslim mothers was 2.8. Number of pregnancy ever occurred among Hindu mothers were found to be lower as compared with that among Muslim mothers (Table 1).

Table 1: Religion and number of pregnancies

Religion No. of pregnancies Total
≤2 3 – 5 6 – 8 >8
Hindu 258(86.6) 37(12.4) 2(0.7) 1(0.3) 298(100.00)
Muslim 180(48.2) 170(45.6) 19(5.1) 4(1.1) 373(100.00)

(Figure in parenthesis indicates percentage) p<0.001 Column headings 1 & 2 are merged to compute χ2 value

So far as current fertility pattern was concerned, it was found that number of live birth in last 2 years occurred more frequently among mothers belonging to Muslim community. Live births in last 2 years among Muslim and Hindu mothers were 25.2% and 12.4% respectively (Table 2).

Table 2: Religion and number of live births in last 2 years

Religion No. of live births in last 2 years Total
0 1 2
Hindu 261(87.59) 35(11.74) 2( 0.67) 298(100.00)
Muslim 279(74.80) 86(23.06) 8(2.14) 373(100.00)

(Figure in parenthesis indicates percentage) p<0.001
Column headings 1 & 2 are merged to compute χ2 value

In both the cases difference were found to be statistically significant (p<0.001). Female literacy, as a whole, was found to have no impact on fertility (p=0.5). But when analysis was done by stratification, it was found that year of schooling had some impact on fertility among Hindu mothers. Two illiterate Hindu mothers were found to have given birth to two children in consecutive two years, which was absent among literate mothers (Table 3).

Table 3: Years of Schooling and number of live births in last 2 years among Hindu mothers.

Years of
Schooling
No. of live births in last 2 years
Total
0 1 2
<4 55(88.7) 5(8.1) *2 (3.2) 62(100.00)
5-10 132(92.3) 11(7.7) 0 (0.0) 143(100.00)
>10 74(79.6) 19(20.4) 0 (0.0) 93(100.00)
(Figure in parenthesis indicates percentage) p=0.01
Column headings 1 & 2 are merged to compute χ2 value
*These two mothers were illiterate

But no such difference was revealed among mothers belonging to Muslim community (Table 4).

Table 4: Years of schooling and number of live births in last 2 years among Muslim mothers.

Years of
Schooling
No. of live births in last 2 years
Total
0 1 2
<4 143(76.5) 41(21.9) 3(1.6) 187(100.00)
5-10 105(72.4) 36(24.8) 4(2.8) 145(100.00)
>10 31(75.6) 9(22.0) 1(2.4) 41(100.00)

(Figure in parenthesis indicates percentage) p=0.69
Column headings 1 & 2 are merged to compute χ2 value

Discussion

In conformity with the findings of the present study, the association of religious faith with total number of children ever born was documented through various studies3,4. The extent of acceptance of contraceptive methods still varies within and between societies and also among different caste and religious groups. The factors responsible for such varied picture operate at individual, family and community levels with their root in socio economic and cultural milieu of Indian Society5,6. That the religion played an important role in determining the attitude of the people in limiting the fertility is revealed by many authors7,8. Mahanan et al found that among Muslim women, the non acceptance of family planning methods were highest (81.5%). Most of them reasoned their religious belief and husband’s decision for non-acceptance(8). National Family health Survey (NFHS 2) revealed that Hindu and Christian women had a lower unmet need than Muslim women. Unmet need in married Hindu and Muslim women for limiting birth was 7.1% and 11% respectively. Total fertility rates among Hindu and Muslim community were 2.78 and 3.59 respectively. Lowest fertility was found among Jains (TFR-1.9)9. That women’s education has a positive impact on fertility regulation has been established by many studies2,3,7,9,10-13. In present study number of schooling of mothers was found to have no impact on fertility control as a whole. Same findings were revealed by study of Mahanan et al8. But when impact of years of schooling of mothers on fertility was analyzed by stratification (Table 3 and 4), it was found that number of live birth in last 2 yrs was less among Hindu mothers who ever went to school, but no such difference was found among Muslim mothers (p=0.6).

Female literacy has a positive impact on fertility regulation has been seen among Hindu mothers. But when analyzed combined or separately for Muslim mothers, this impact was not found. Influence of religious faith might have undermined the impact of literacy. Feeling of insecurity, decision making role of male partners and in-laws, high infant and child mortality, poverty, community pressure, lack of awareness about the services available, failure of health workers in confidence building, deep-rooted faith that child birth results at God’s will, indifferent attitudes etc. might have made this difference. This needs exploration in further studies with appropriate sample size, which in turn will help in effective fertility control.

References

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Deptt. of Community Medicine, NRS Medical College, 138 AJC
Bose Road, Kolkata-700014
Received: 28.12.05

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