Women's Empowerment As a Determinant of Fertility Change in Southeast Asia

Saturday, July 19, 2014: 12:30 PM
Room: 418
Oral Presentation
Ly PHAN , University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia
The fertility levels of Southeast Asian countries have been dropping dramatically since the1950s. The case of Southeast Asia challenges classical theories on demographic transition, which suggest that economic development is the key to demographic changes, whereas, in Southeast Asia, even low- and middle-income countries also experienced rapid fertility declines long before the socio-economic development. This paper suggests a relationship between the empowerment of women and fertility decline. Despite decades of standing in the literature as one of the key indicators of social development, the concept and measurement of women’s empowerment has not reached a consensus. Women’s empowerment is a multi-dimensional concept, which includes measurements at both country and individual levels. At country level, measurements of women’s empowerment includes the percentage of women’s education in relation to men, percentage of female labor force participation, proportion of female in parliaments, and percentage of women’s holding manager’s positions. At individual level, women’s empowerment can be measured by women’s educational attainment, their involvement in household decision-making process (including fertility choices), contraception use, and employment status. Cultural factors such as son preference and preference for high fertility should also be taken into account while measuring women’s empowerment. Most studies have been looking at women’s empowerment in either at country level or individual level but not at a comparative regional level. In this paper, the key debates in the concept and measurement of women’s empowerment and the framework of relationship between women’s empowerment and fertility changes will be reviewed. Furthermore, the current situation of women’s empowerment and the amazing fertility decline in Southeast Asia will be examined. A closer examination of fertility change and women’s empowerment indicators in Cambodia, Indonesia, Philippines and Vietnam suggests that women’s empowerment plays a role in the region’s demographic change.