Capturing Complexities: A Sequence Analysis to Investigate Patterns of Family Planning for Young Couples in Malawi

Open Access
Furnas, Hannah Elizabeth
Graduate Program:
Master of Arts
Document Type:
Master Thesis
Date of Defense:
August 13, 2014
Committee Members:
  • Jenny Trinitapoli, Thesis Advisor
  • Family Planning
  • Contraception
  • Malawi
  • Couples
  • Life Course
  • Sequence Analysis
Decisions surrounding family planning are complex, influenced by social and relational contexts and life course events. For young adults in the Southeastern African country of Malawi, these decisions are further shaped by a persistent AIDS epidemic, shifting family planning preferences, and a fertility climate characterized by nearly universal marriage and childbearing. I use unique couple-level data and the tools of sequence analysis to answer two questions: (1) what are the typical patterns of family planning as couples transition through a relationship; and (2) how are family planning trajectories related to couple-level characteristics, particularly couple-level alignment and transitions in fertility preferences, family planning intentions, and relationship stage, as well as more stable characteristics such as age and education? I find that the patterning of family planning behaviors is very diverse both across and within couples; yet, despite this variability, similarities do exist, in the form of six distinct clusters of family planning trajectories. These clusters are identified largely by their relationship stage, levels of discordance, and fertility preferences and behaviors, suggesting that both the life course and couple-level characteristics play an important role in determining trajectories of family planning.