The Impact of Labor-Saving Technology on First Birth Intervals in Rural Ethiopia

Across the developing world labor-saving technologies introduce considerable savings in the time and energy that women allocate to work. Hormonal studies on natural fertility populations indicate that such a reduction in energetic expenditure (rather than improved nutritional status alone) can lead to increased ovarian function. Other qualitative studies have highlighted a link between labor-saving technology and behavioral changes affecting subsequent age at marriage, which may affect fertility. This bio-demographic study was designed to investigate whether these physiological and behavioral changes affect fertility at a population level by focusing on a recent water development scheme in Southern Ethiopia. The demographic consequences of a reduction in women's workload following the installation of water points, specifically the variation in length of first birth interval (time lapsed between marriage and first birth), are investigated. First birth interval length is closely associated with lifetime fertility in populations that do not practice contraception, longer intervals being associated with lower fertility. Using life tables and multivariate hazard modeling techniques a number of significant predictors of first birth interval length are identified. Covariates such as age at marriage, season of marriage, village ecology, and access to improved water supply have significant effects on variation in first birth intervals. When entered into models as a time-varying covariate, access to a water tap stand is associated with an immediate reduction in length of first birth intervals.