fertility intentions, fertility preferences, pregnancy, contraceptives, Malawi


Introduction Standard survey measures of fertility preferences, such as the desire for and preferred timing of future births, do not capture the complexity of individuals’ preferences. New research focuses on additional dimensions of emotions and expectations surrounding childbearing. Few quantitative studies, however, consider the influence of all three dimensions of fertility preferences concurrently.

Methods Using longitudinal survey data from the Tsogolo la Thanzi project (2009–2012) in Malawi, this study employed logistic regression analysis to investigate the influence of young women’s emotions, expectations, and a standard measure of fertility preferences on pregnancy and modern contraceptive use.

Results Young women experienced high unmet need; across survey waves, over three-quarters of women who desired a child in more than 2 years were not currently using modern contraceptives and over three-quarters of women who thought a pregnancy in the next month would be bad news (garnered from a measure of emotions surrounding pregnancy) were not currently using modern contraceptives. In regression models including all three measures of fertility preferences, each was significantly associated with the likelihood of a future pregnancy. The standard measure and emotions measure were significantly associated with modern contraceptive use.

Discussion Emotions and expectations surrounding pregnancy and childbirth appear to be distinct and salient aspects of fertility preferences in addition to the standard measure. A better understanding of the multidimensional nature of fertility preferences will help individuals define and achieve their reproductive goals and obtain appropriate services. Furthermore, future research should incorporate new measures of fertility preferences into surveys internationally.

Original Publication Citation

Gibby, Ashley Larsen and Nancy Luke. 2019. “Exploring Multiple Dimensions of Young Women’s Fertility Preferences in Malawi.” Maternal and Child Health Journal 23(11): 1508-1515.

Document Type

Peer-Reviewed Article

Publication Date


Permanent URL


Maternal and Child Health Journal




Family, Home, and Social Sciences


Family Life

University Standing at Time of Publication

Assistant Professor