Mobile Phones, Digital Inequality and Fertility: Longitudinal Evidence from Malawi

Valentina Rotondi, Bocconi University
Francesco C. Billari, Bocconi University
Jenny Trinitapoli, University of Chicago

In this paper we draw upon unique longitudinal data from young women in southern Malawi to argue that the digital revolution is contributing to the fertility decline in high-fertility settings. Fixed-effect panel data models spanning a period of three years show that mobile phone ownership reduces ideal family size and overall parity among phone-owning women compared to their phone-less counterparts. Using cross-sectional data from a follow-up study fielded in 2015, we explore the pathways through which mobile-phone effects on fertility may be operating. Our analyses suggest that role modeling, preference change, and access to information, rather than substitution effects, are driving the decline. Furthermore, Cox proportional hazard models suggest that while mobile phones are not changing the first steps of family formation for women, they have consequences for fertility trajectories on a longer time-horizon.

Presented in Session 1235: Fertility