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Husbands, Wives, and In-Laws: Family Dynamics and Childbearing Behavior in Nepal.

By Cynthia F. Link


This dissertation explores relationship dynamics between wives and their husbands’ families and the interconnections of these relationship dynamics with childbearing behavior in rural Nepal, a society undergoing dramatic social and demographic change. Despite much theoretical emphasis on the extended family system in many non-Western settings, empirical research integrating the dynamics of women’s relationships with their husbands and parents-in-law is rare. This study in a region facing pressing overpopulation and poverty significantly advances our theoretical understanding of family relationships and fertility, and generates new empirical evidence to help policy makers implement more effective fertility-related programs. Giving both theoretical consideration and empirical attention to reciprocal effects between family dynamics and childbearing behavior, I investigate three specific questions: 1) How does co-residence with a mother-in-law affect spouses’ childbearing behavior? 2) How does childbearing behavior influence wives’ relationship happiness with their mothers-in-law? 3) How does contraceptive use influence change in spouses’ relationship dynamics? Data from the Chitwan Valley Family Study enable me to address these questions. I use highly detailed measures of husband-wife and in-law relationship dynamics at two time points and a longitudinal record of childbearing and contraceptive events to provide empirical investigation into these theoretical questions. Results provide new insights valuable for answering key practical and theoretical questions about family relationships and the transition to lower fertility. Co-residence with a mother-in-law is found to increase the rate of first pregnancy. Childbearing behaviors are also found to have important consequences for relationship dynamics between wives and their mothers-in-law and husbands. Childbearing, particularly bearing sons, is associated with wives reporting happier relationships with their mothers-in-law. Furthermore, using contraceptives, particularly the oral contraceptive pill, may promote increased conflict between husbands and wives. This dissertation should encourage greater integration of husbands and mothers-in-law into family planning programs as a policy tool. Moreover, this study should motivate greater attention to emotions and close personal relationships for deepening our understanding of demographic behaviors

Topics: Contraceptive Use, Fertility, Relationship Dynamics, Mother-in-Law, Couples, Nepal
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