Filipino Couples' Traits Are Tied to Spousal Agreement On Pregnancy Wantedness

R. MacLean

First published online:

In the Philippines, married couples who have large families, and those who depend solely on the husband for their household income, hold more fatalistic attitudes or are practicing Catholics are significantly more likely than other couples to agree that their most recent pregnancy was unwanted than they are to agree that it was wanted (odds ratios, 1.5-3.4).1 According to data from 369 couples who participated in a survey on fertility and contraception, higher-parity couples are more likely than others to report that their last pregnancy was wanted only by the husband (1.5) or only by the wife (1.8) than that it was wanted by both, and women who find it difficult to communicate with their husband about sex or family planning have elevated odds of having had a pregnancy that only their husband wanted (1.8).

To investigate the influence of gender equality, fatalism and couple communication on spousal agreement about pregnancy wantedness, researchers examined cross-sectional data from a 1993 survey of 780 Filipino women aged 25-44 and their spouses. Participants were selected using probability samples from eight rural and five urban neighborhoods on the island of Luzon to roughly reflect the make-up of the general population. Respondents were asked a range of demographic and fertility-related questions, including whether they had wanted a child at the time of their last pregnancy. Spouses were questioned separately but simultaneously when possible. The researchers limited the sample to couples who reported having had at least one pregnancy in the five years preceding the survey and excluded respondents for whom survey data were incomplete; the remaining 369 couples made up the sample for analysis.

Pregnancies (including those reported as mistimed) were categorized as wanted only if both spouses reported that they had wanted to have a child at the time of conception or at some time in the future; all other pregnancies (including those wanted by only one spouse) were classified as unwanted. The researchers included an indication of whether the husband was the sole wage earner in the past three months as one measure of gender equity. Other explanatory variables included couples' combined level of agreement with the idea that the important things in life are out of their control, perceived ease and frequency of discussion about sex and family planning, and religious affiliation and frequency of participation. Wife's age, parity and household income were added to control for demographic factors that may have affected spouses' fertility desires.

Fifty-six percent of couples said that their most recent pregnancy was mutually wanted, 25% wanted only by the husband, 8% wanted only by the wife and 11% mutually unwanted. The percentage of couples in which both spouses reported that they had wanted their most recent pregnancy tended to decrease as age and parity increased, though only parity was statistically significant in the multivariate analysis.

The researchers used multinomial logit regression to identify factors associated with couples' reports that their most recent pregnancy had been unwanted by one or both spouses instead of mutually wanted. The odds that couples would report their most recent pregnancy as mutually unwanted rose with each additional child (odds ratio, 2.8). Higher-parity couples also were more likely to disagree about pregnancy wantedness: Their odds of reporting their last pregnancy as wanted by the husband only or the wife only were elevated (1.5 and 1.8, respectively). Couples in which the husband was the sole source of household income had higher odds than those in which other family members brought in money of reporting a mutually unwanted pregnancy (3.0). The most recent pregnancies of women who reported difficulty in communicating with their husband about sex were significantly more likely than those of other women to have been wanted only by the husband (1.8). In addition, practicing Catholics and couples with a high level of fatalism were more likely than other couples to say that that their most recent pregnancy had been mutually unwanted rather than mutually wanted (3.4 and 1.5, respectively).

The researchers acknowledge that cross-sectional data are imperfect indicators of past circumstances. They suggest that future studies develop better measures of "the relative power in fertility discussions, the reasons for relative power differences, and the timing and frequency of discussion about fertility planning both before and after pregnancy."

—R. MacLean

1. Williams L and Sobieszczyk T, Couple attitudes and agreement regarding pregnancy wantedness in the Philippines, Journal of Marriage and Family, 2003, 65(4):1019-1029.