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Natural Intentions: Fertility Decline in the African Demographic and Health Surveys1

University of California, Berkeley

Many recent models of society treat certain forms of action as revealing individual intentions, aspirations, or preferences. For example, formal models of fertility decline following Henry and Coale take specific childbearing distributions to indicate “natural fertility,” where couples take no intentional action to manage their reproduction. This article argues that this mode of inference can be valid only when the cultural repertoires that mediate between intentions and actions are well established. Using data from 18 African countries, the author compares women’s self‐reported intentions to those attributed to them under standard demographic models and finds significant discrepancies. The link between intentions and outcomes is itself a social product.