Journal Article

Birth planning and women’s and men’s health in Malawi

Despite the frequency with which it occurs, we know little about unintended fertility in sub‐Saharan Africa and even less about its implications for the health of the women and men who experience it. We use longitudinal data from southern Malawi to explore how young adults report on the planning of their births and to identify changes in their self‐rated health and subjective well‐being associated with having more‐ or less‐planned births. Our data feature a comprehensive scale of pregnancy planning, the London Measure of Unplanned Pregnancy (LMUP), that extends beyond the conventional focus on timing‐based pregnancy intentions to incorporate information about contraception, desires, intentions, partner discussion, and preconception preparations. Women and men have similar bimodal distributions on the LMUP, with the majority of births clearly unplanned or planned but a sizeable minority that falls in the middle. Change score models demonstrate that, for women, an unplanned birth is associated with a decline in self‐rated health. In contrast, men whose births were ambivalently‐planned experience a decline in subjective well‐being. Our findings highlight the value of considering the full spectrum of birth planning and demonstrate the health consequences of unplanned fertility for both women and men in this sub‐Saharan context.

Published in a peer-reviewed journal of the Population Council.