Publication Details

This article was originally published as Hussain, R and Bittles, RJ, Consanguineous marriage and differentials in age at marriage, contraceptive use and fertility in Pakistan, Journal of Biosocial Science, 31, 1999, 121-138. Copyright Cambridge University Press. Original journal avaialble here.


Fertility rates in Pakistan have remained consistently high over the past three decades. While numerous studies have examined sociodemographic determinants, the role of biological factors, and particularly consanguinity, has received little attention, even though marriage between close biological relatives continues to be the norm in Pakistan. Reproductive behaviour among women in consanguineous (first cousin) and non-consanguineous unions was compared, using data from a 1995 study of multi-ethnic communities in Karachi and the 1990–91 Pakistan Demographic & Health Survey (PDHS). The results show that, although female age at first marriage has been gradually rising in both study samples, women in consanguineous unions married at younger ages and were less likely to use modern contraceptive methods. In the Karachi sample, women in first cousin unions experienced a higher mean number of pregnancies and also reported a higher mean number of children ever born (CEB). However, their mean number of surviving children did not differ from those born to women in non-consanguineous unions, implying higher prenatal and/or postnatal losses in couples related as first cousins. On the other hand, the PDHS showed both lower CEB values for women in consanguineous marriages and a lower number of surviving children. Given the continuing popularity of consanguineous marriage, these findings have important implications for future fertility reduction in Pakistan.



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