Responsibility, social aspirations, and contemporary low fertility: a case study of rural West Bengal, India

Kakoli Das, Saswata Ghosh, Mary K. Shenk

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West Bengal, a middle-ranking Indian state in terms of development indicators with more than two-thirds rural population, is on the verge of becoming a lowest low fertility zone. While the rural TFR (Total Fertility Rate) of West Bengal (1.6 births/woman) is on par with many developed countries (Norway, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, etc.), its developmental stage is not—which poses a paradox. Using data from a primary survey of 405 mothers aged 15–35 years alongside focus group data of parents, the present study employs a society-specific approach to explain contemporary low fertility in rural West Bengal. We argue that the presence of high aspirations for children in an economically insecure setting initiates a distinctive sense of parental responsibility that generates a unique local socio-ecology of low fertility not previously observed in the context of rural fertility decline in India. Responsibility-laden aspirations toward children and reasoned-rational deliberations regarding fertility outcomes act as subliminal motives to have a small family, challenging common assumptions regarding the relationship between economic hardship, rurality, and fertility.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalAsian Population Studies
StateAccepted/In press - 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Demography

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