On Postponement and Birth Intervals



Much of the literature on fertility transition presumes that birth control is practiced either to limit family size or to space births. This article argues that women also use birth control to postpone pregnancy. Postponement is not synonymous with spacing. It arises when women delay their next birth for indefinite periods for reasons unrelated to the age of their youngest child, but without deciding not to have any more children. Postponement has a distinctive impact on the shape of birth-interval distributions that differs from the impacts of family size limitation, birth spacing, or a mixture of the two behaviors. Some populations, such as that in South Africa, have developed fertility regimes characterized by birth intervals far longer than can be accounted for by birth spacing. Postponement of further childbearing that eventually becomes permanent may be an important driver of the transition to lower fertility in sub-Saharan Africa.