This working paper explores the way young couples in Ethiopia make decisions about fertility and childbearing, and examines their experiences of contraceptive use. It draws on longitudinal qualitative data and quantitative information from young mothers and fathers, spouses, caregivers, community representatives and service providers in eight communities. The paper focuses on the following research questions: (1) What is the relationship between early marriage and young parenthood? (2) What are the experiences of fertility and childbearing among young married couples? (3) What factors affect the decision-making powers of young married people?
The findings show that early marriage is associated with early fertility, and that women’s autonomy over fertility and childbearing is constrained by poverty, with social and religious norms widening
the gender gap. It also reveals that there are negative perceptions of contraception use, stemming from a lack of knowledge, and that social and religious norms and expectations obstruct contraception uptake among young women in urban and rural settings. Couples in rural areas have limited knowledge and information about contraception and childbearing, while their urban counterparts are better informed.
The paper recommends the implementation of existing gender equality policies (related to Sustainable Development Goal 5) regarding fertility and childbearing, through the creation of stronger and more gendered approaches to family planning policies and programmes to address the health needs and rights of both men and women. Formal communication interventions targeting different actors at different levels with increased reproductive health education need to be strengthened, to address the knowledge and information gap in fertility and childbearing. Finally, adequate laws and interventions that consider encouraging social norms that delay the age of first marriage and childbearing should be in place to address the persistence of deep-rooted gender norms regarding early marriage and early fertility.