Social networks and fertility behavior among women in rural Uttar Pradesh, India

Praveen Kumar Pathak describes the outcomes of his YSSP project, which provides new insights into fertility, by empirically exploring the potential role of social networks in shaping the fertility behavior of women in rural India.

P.K. Pathak

P.K. Pathak


Although fertility has declined across several Indian states since the 1970s, with varying historical points of onset and pace of decline, women in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh still bear, on average, around four children in their reproductive lifetime due to the interplay of a complex set of demographic, socioeconomic, and cultural factors. However, apart from investigating the standard set of socioeconomic factors, little attempt has been made to examine the role of diffusion in precipitating fertility change in the Indian context in general, and Uttar Pradesh in particular. The contemporary explanations of fertility transitions in developing societies have recently recognized the crucial role of informal human relationships/social ties in reshaping the reproductive decisions of individuals/couples embedded within specified social networks. In fact, a range of information, experiences, and authority shared or exercised by network members (alters), the reproductive choices made by significant others, and the consequences for their lives may be a major reason for individuals (egos) to weigh, learn, and choose similar or alternative fertility strategies. This social interaction effect may become even more powerful, particularly with regard to any innovative behavior carrying an unforeseen magnitude of risks and benefits. Social network effects are likely to play a key role in social and demographic changes, particularly in contextual settings where there is low education, limited mass media exposure, and weak social welfare systems.

Data and Methods

Using ego-centric social network data from  more than 567 currently married women (18-35 year olds) collected from the field, this research investigates the association between informal social interactions with network members and fertility experiences of women in Chandwak, a village of Uttar Pradesh with about 700 women in the age range considered. We used a set of bivariate and multivariate techniques in the analysis. Furthermore, the study also discusses the potential policy-relevant issues and the wider implications emerging from the research.

Results and Discussion

This study provides new insights by empirically exploring the potential role of social networks in shaping fertility behavior of women in rural India. The descriptive results suggest that ego-centric social networks of women largely evolve along socioeconomic and cultural lines that rarely exhibit any crossovers. In other words, women from similar socioeconomic and cultural characteristics predominantly form social networks. Furthermore, multivariate analysis shows that average family size of close social network members was strongly associated with the actual fertility of the women interviewed, net of the effect of fertility behaviors of weak social ties and mother, and of the desired family size of the husband and of the mother-in-law, controlling for individual background characteristics. This clearly points toward  the crucial role of social networks in determining the fertility choices of women. It is thus crucial from the policy perspective to consider these factors when designing/implementing any behavior communication strategies of fertility awareness and family planning.


Praveen Kumar Pathak, of the International Institute for Population Sciences, Mumbai, India, is an Indian citizen. He was funded by IIASA's National Member Organization of India and during the YSSP she worked in the World Population Program (POP) with an emphasis on complex networks.

Please note these Proceedings have received limited or no review from supervisors and IIASA program directors, and the views and results expressed therein do not necessarily represent IIASA, its National Member Organizations, or other organizations supporting the work.

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Last edited: 19 August 2015


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