Gendered Spheres of Learning and Household Decision Making over Fertility
While men and women often make joint decisions about fertility, it is typically women who give birth. This gives rise to gendered spheres of costs and, potentially, information. We develop a model in which information asymmetries over maternal health risk can persist between spouses in equilibrium and affect fertility outcomes. To empirically study the role of these information asymmetries, we conduct an experiment on couples in Zambia, varying whether the husband or wife receives information about maternal health risk. At baseline, husbands have significantly lower awareness of maternal mortality risk factors than wives. One year post intervention, husbands exhibit significant gains in knowledge of maternal risk, but only when the information is delivered directly to them. Wives’ risk awareness increases regardless of which spouse is given the information. Importantly, households treated with information on maternal risk experience a sizable reduction in the probability of pregnancy. However, only when the information is delivered directly to husbands is the change in fertility uncompensated with transfers, and accompanied by an improvement in marital satisfaction. These findings suggest that strategic communication concerns underpin persistent information asymmetries, likely intensifying spousal disagreement over fertility, and thereby increasing fertility itself, in settings with high maternal health risk.