On the Politics and Practice of Muslim Fertility


Recent popular works have represented Muslim fertility as dangerously high, both a cause and consequence of religious fundamentalism. This article uses comparative, statistical methods to show that this representation is empirically wrong, at least in West Africa. Although religion strongly inflects reproductive practice, its effects are not constant across different communities. In West African countries with Muslim majorities, Muslim fertility is lower than that of their non-Muslim conationals; in countries where Muslims are in the minority, their apparently higher reproductive rates converge to those of the majority when levels of education and urban residence are taken into account. A similar pattern holds for infant mortality. By contrast, in all seven countries, Muslim women are more likely to report that their most recent child was wanted. The article concludes with a discussion of the relationship between autonomy and fertility desires.