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By G. Groenewold


This chapter attempts to better understand the patterns of demographic and occupational change in the populations of communities studied. Growth in the numbers of fisherfolk - or in the population of their communities - is determined by demographic components (fertility, mortality and migration) and by changes in rural livelihoods. The latter may be decisive, and there may be a variety of reasons for the increase in fisherfolk.

Civil wars and other forms of political instability, for instance, may cause people to migrate to coastal regions, to temporarily or permanently seek income from fisheries as during the civil war period in Mozambique. In areas where farmers had undergone a number of harvest failures, or where availability of and access to land had become scarce, or where financial returns of farming were decreasing, some or all members of farming households may turn to fisheries. In the 1970s, in Senegal, periods of drought destroyed groundnut farming. Large movements of immigration took place of people seeking new livelihoods in Dakar, abroad, or in settlements along the coast. Thus, households and entire communities previously labeled as farming households may have become fisherfolk and fishing communities, if income from fisheries proved to be the main source of sustenance (FAO, 1998).

Given the above, the objectives of this chapter are threefold. First, to determine whether fisherfolk in fishing communities generated socioeconomic and demographic statistics which differ from those of farming households in nearby agricultural communities. Comparisons between the two types of community will be made against the background of regional or country-level benchmark statistics. Second, to assess whether there exist common features or differences regarding demographic and social indicators across community types and countries. Third, to determine the role of demographic variables in the population dynamics of coastal fishing communities.

Differences between fishing and farming communities within countries

The communities and households surveyed are located in countries that differ greatly in their economic and sociocultural characteristics. Therefore, if in spite of great variations in context (and small sample sizes) the surveys reveal consistent differences between fishing and farming communities for specific demographic and socioeconomic variables, it must be concluded that those communities do differ significantly. This has potential implications for policy making.


Tables 34 and 35 show that both types of village had a very young population. About 50 percent of the population was below the age of 14, reflecting a history of high fertility. Households often consisted of extended families, and more than half of the married women lived in polygamous marriage arrangements. Polygamy is more prevalent in farming villages. In Senegal, women in a polygamous marriage often live in multi-residential household settings, where the husband spends a certain number of days in turn with each of his wives, who live in separate housing units.

In fishing communities, relatively more women were reported to be head of households than in farming communities. This may well be due to frequent absences of husbands on fishing journeys.

Table 34 -Selected demographic and socioeconomic characteristics of households: Senegal, Tanzania and India

Fish. com.Farm. com.DHS 96/97Fish. com.Farm. com.DHS 91/92Fish. com.Farm. com.DHS 92/93
Type of households in study area:         
Percent fisherfolk households6010 8911 99  1 
Fisherfolk/farming households contacted(231)(218) (123)(102) (101)(99) 
Percent age distribution:         
•        Females         
0–4162218242218  8  312
40–49  5  7  7  3  7  7121710
50 and above  5  7  13  8  715121914
 100  100  100  100  100  100  100  100  100  
Median age1414 1816 2330 
(Female household members)(990)(1064) (300)(303) (329)(228) 
•        Males         
0–4152120272519  8  814
30–3913  8  71311  9131113
40—49 9 5 6 5 6  61210 9
50 and above 61213111212121613
 100  100  100  100  100  100 100 100  100  
Median age1412 1715 2125 
(Male household members)(1108)(764) (224)(272) (343)(257) 
Average household size8.99.1  9.67.1  6.1  4.4  6.7  4.95.7
Percent female-headed households8.53.710.57.820.617.018.817.29.1
Rating of financial situation of household by heads of households (%):         
More than sufficient  0  0   0  0   915 
Sufficient14  4   516 4550 
Barely sufficient4136 5343 3025 
Insufficient4560 4241 1610 
Percent of households which:         
Owns land2789 7046   192 
Owns animals3841 4046   360 
Owns/shares boats49  0 75 40 

Note: … = not reported.

Households in both types of community reflected marriage and fertility behaviour observed elsewhere in rural Senegal. Women married young, between 16 and 18, and followed the tradition of their mothers, according to cultural norms. By the end of her reproductive life, a fisherfolk woman had given birth to an average of seven children, one more than a woman in a farming household. Before the age of 25, women in both types of household have given birth to two children. More than three out of four men and women were illiterate or had no education at all. This was more so in farming communities.

Table 35 - Selected demographic characteristics of eligible household members: Senegal, Tanzania and India

Fish. com.Farm. com.DHS 92/93Fish. com.Farm. com.DHS 91/92Fish. com.Farm. com.DHS 92/93
Number of respondents742 629  177 146  233 163  
Average age of respondents:         
Male3335 4043   043 
Female2929 3137 3537 
Percent illiterate *:         
Median age at first marriage:         
Married men (age group 20–60)22252422222424
Married women (age group 20–49)181816181818181818
Perceived appropriate age at first marriage (median):         
Married men:       For men2025 2022 22  5 
For women
1516 1819 1818 
Married women:   For men2525 2020 2222 
For women
1616 1818 1818 
Average number of children ever born:         
Married women 15–24 **
Married women 40–496.
Married women 15–493.
Perceived ideal number of children (average):         
Married men1.20.6
Married women7.68.2
Son preference-ideal sex ratio:         
Married men2.42.0 1.41.4 1.51.3 
Married women1.91.5 1.21.3 1.21.2 
Use of modern contraceptive methods (married women 15–49):         
% ever-users28.6  7.010.6  44.2  41.2  15.8  71.1  68.3  37.1  
% current user18.9  2.92.314.1  16.1  6.664.4  60.4  33.2  
Desirability of last birth (married women, 15–49):         
Percentage who wanted child then6073 nrnr 6680 
Percentage stating ‘Better if born later’2518    1113 
Percentage that did not want child15  9    23  7 
Percentage of married women (15–49) with more live births than the ideal number:         
Excess is 1 child  7  2 13  5 2621 
Excess is 2 children-  2 -11 19  8 
Excess is 3 children or more  1  3 15  13  5 
Percentage of married women (15–49) in a polygamous union:536145.2     6  622  2  0

Notes: … = not reported/not available/not asked.
nr = high non-response (92 percent).
* = DHS reports refer to “no education” only, which is not necessarily the same as “illiterate”
** = in practically all countries averages for this age group were based on less than ten responses

Table 35 shows that fertility aspirations were very high for men in both types of household, particularly for the men in fisherfolk households. As most of the married men had at least two wives and desired a relatively high number of children (seven to eight), the high number of children reported by men is not surprising. In both types of household, men as well as women expressed a very strong preference for sons especially in fishing communities. Artisanal fishing is organized preferably around kin-based work groups consisting of fathers, sons and close male relatives. Moreover, sons are expected to provide financial support for parents in their old age. The strong son preference is associated with the observed high fertility in both types of community. As we see below, the communities studied in Tanzania and Malaysia (also predominantly Muslim) exhibit lower fertility levels, but the preference for sons is also lower.

Altogether, contraceptive use was not very common especially in farming communities. However, the younger generation of women expressed the desire to break away from the marriage and reproductive traditions of their mothers. The older women were aware of the negative health effects of having many pregnancies, especially at a very young age. Regarding the use of contraceptives, the older women in focus group discussions mentioned that they had grown up in the tradition that children were the gift of God for which one must be grateful, and birth control methods were only to be used in case of health risks. It was too late for them to plan the number of births. In other areas of their lives, however, the older women attempted to break away from traditions. They tried to negotiate with their husbands for more autonomy to become economically active. Some aspired to become boat owners and to rent their boats (pirogues) to the men.

Most of the younger women in the focus groups mentioned that they had “modern” aspirations, including education, marriage in their mid-twenties and jobs outside the home and village. These aspirations were perceived as incompatible with a large number of children. In effect, female groups addressing family affairs, employment, health and education for women are successful in many rural communities.

In both types of community, the younger women perceived that they were undergoing rapid transition. The younger men also wanted to break away from many traditional marriage and reproduction norms, but they were more hesitant than the women. The younger males, confronted in recent years with an increase in unemployment, shied away from the financial responsibility of raising the same number of children as their parents. Moreover, the younger generation projected their educational and employment aspirations on their future children, and concluded that raising too many children is expensive. The focus group discussions did not provide information on the higher contraceptive ever-use and current use rates in fisherfolk households, compared to farming households (see table 35).

Relatively few women (about eight percent) in both types of household reported having more children than the ideal number. However, a much larger percentage of the women mentioned that the timing of the last child born was not as desired, or was unwanted, especially among fisherfolk women. This situation was observed in 40 percent of the fisherfolk women and in 27 percent of the women in farming households. Apparently, many of the interviewed married women did not effectively use a family planning method to space or limit pregnancies. Given the aforementioned developments in emancipation in these rural communities, there seems to be a need for the extension of better family planning information and education.

In conclusion, although Senegalese fisherfolk households seemed to experience somewhat better living conditions in terms of production assets and consumption items than farming households, the financial situation was perceived to be barely sufficient, or insufficient, in both types of household. The focus group discussions reported changing reproductive intentions and behaviour, especially in the younger generation of women and men in both types of village, but these changes were not (yet) observed in the statistics generated by the household survey. Possibly, this reflects a discrepancy between attitudes, intentions and behaviour. Overall, the household survey suggests that there were some common features and differences between fishing and farming households in the two types of community. In both types of household, most members are illiterate or have no formal education. Female respondents have married young and the appropriate age for marriage of women, as perceived by men and women in the communities, is still young — about 16 years. Among older generations fertility levels were somewhat higher in fisherfolk than in farming households. High fertility in both types of community is fuelled by a strong son preference.

Overall, contraceptive prevalence is low in both types of community, reflecting the high desired number of children in both types of household. Prevalence rates of modern contraceptives among fisherfolk women are much higher than among women in farming households, which is consistent with the reported lower desired number of children by fisherfolk women. Despite the higher use of modern contraceptives among fisherfolk women in fishing villages, these women more often report unwanted or mistimed births than women in farming villages. Therefore it seems that the reported high prevalence is counterbalanced by low use effectiveness.

Tanzania 29

The household survey data (Table 34) show that the populations covered in both types of community were young. Overall, fifty percent of the population in fishing communities was below the age of 18, and in farming communities below age 16. Except for the youngest age group, which is relatively large, the age distribution characteristics of the two types of community were not much different from those of rural Tanzania. Households in fishing communities usually consisted of about seven persons and were somewhat larger than those in farming communities (six persons). Although one in five households in farming communities were headed by a woman, which is close to what is observed in rural Tanzania in general, in fishing communities this was far less, i.e. one in fourteen. More than 80 percent of the households evaluated the financial situation of the household as barely sufficient or insufficient, somewhat less so in farming than in fishing communities. In fishing communities there were more households owning land than in farming communities, but the plots were smaller in fishing communities than in farming communities. Electricity was practically absent in all households, but three out of four households in fishing communities had a (working) battery-powered radio, which is far more than observed in rural Tanzania. For fisherfolk, this was an important asset because of the broadcasts of weather forecasts.

29 In Tanzania, it was not possible to identify ‘genuine fishing communities’ and ‘genuine farming communities’. According to the focus group discussion reports and the survey data analysis, most of the fisherfolk in the selected households combined fishing with part-time farming and animal husbandry.

Table 35 shows that the household members interviewed were predominantly older women. Female respondents in fishing communities were, on average, 31 years old, and those in farming communities were on average 37 years old. Key informants reported that adult illiteracy was on the rise, as literacy classes only existed in name. Although overall illiteracy levels in both types of community were much lower than in the rest of rural Tanzania, levels among women were higher than among men, and higher in farming households than in fishing communities. The median age of 18 at first marriage for women is the same in both types of community. The perceived appropriate age for marriage indicates that postponement of marriage to a later age was not really considered desirable. Reported lifetime fertility levels were high in both types of community for the older (seven children) and younger age groups of women, except for women in the 15–24 age group in fishing communities (one child). The perceived ideal number of children and son preference among men was higher than among women, and somewhat higher in fishing communities than in farming communities.

Focus group discussions on fertility issues disclosed that the older generation favoured a large number of children, whereas the younger generation wanted fewer because of the perceived cost of raising children. Moreover, the younger men complained that economic hardship in the area and low income earned in both fishing and farming made it difficult to save money for the bridewealth to be paid to the bride's parents. This resulted in the postponement of marriages. As marriage involves patrilocal residence, daughters are not in a position to contribute anything to the parents' social security after marriage. This made it attractive for parents to ensure that daughters married as young as possible.

Polygamous marriages were rare in both types of community, and only six percent of the married women reported living in such a marriage arrangement, far fewer than in other rural areas in Tanzania. Despite the availability of modern contraceptives in clinics in the villages, the use of modern contraceptives was low in both types of community, but somewhat higher than observed in rural Tanzania in general. This could be because of modern life influences and the proximity of Dar-Es-Salaam. Many villagers frequently traveled to the capital city. Only about one third of the women in both types of community who stated that they ever used a modern contraceptive method confirmed that they were current users. Overall, but particularly in male focus groups, the discussions revealed that family planning was an issue to be talked about and decided on by the individuals and their partner within the confines of the family, and outside interference was not appreciated.

Moreover, family planning practices met with religious objections and modern methods were believed to be harmful. Against this background, the fact that practically all the married women reported that their last child born was “wanted then” or “wanted, but later” is consistent with earlier findings. Only seven percent of the women in fishing communities reported that they had numbers of (surviving) children above the ideal number, whereas the proportion was somewhat higher among women in farming communities (13 percent).

In conclusion, regarding the variables studied, fishing and farming communities in Tanzania seemed very similar regarding main household characteristics, except that in farming communities more women were heads of households and there was less illiteracy than in fishing communities. There were only slight differences in fertility indicators between farming and fisherfolk households, except that farming women reported a lower ideal number of children than fisherfolk women.


Fisherfolk, especially the younger generation, expressed a desire for small families (2 children). The extended family system is disappearing, and nuclear family structures are now becoming more common, except in boat-owning, property-managing families. However, families had larger numbers of children if the early births were not sons. It appears that birth spacing was not adopted by fisherfolk. Rather, they resorted to permanent methods (i.e. tubal ligation), after the desired number of children was born. The older generation of women reported that they had occasionally resorted to abortion if traditional methods of family planning (withdrawal and periodic abstinence) failed. The family size norms and family planning strategies of today's farmers and fishers appear to be similar. Discussion group members mentioned that their desired fertility is linked to the perceived prosperity offered by their livelihood.

The results of focus group discussions put in context the household survey results, but some additional insights were provided by the household survey data, especially with respect to the degree of success of families in planning their fertility. Table 35 shows that the fisherfolk population was younger than the population in farming communities: 50 percent of the fisherfolk population was below age 22, against 28 years in farming communities. Fisherfolk households typically consisted of seven persons, almost two persons more than in farming households. Possibly this is due to a higher prevalence of extended family structures in fishing communities as compared to farming communities. This household size is also higher than Maharashtra State average. In both types of community, almost one in five households reported women as head of household, which is about twice the average observed for the State as a whole.

The interviewed respondents were mostly older women. This is of particular importance when interpreting answers on the family planning questions in the household survey. In both types of community, two out of three female respondents could not read or write, and illiteracy in both types of community was higher than the levels observed in Maharashtra State as a whole. The opinions of male and female respondents on the appropriate marriage age for women were consistent with the results of the focus group discussion. This was perceived to be 18 years by half of the respondents. According to focus group members, traditionally, daughters were married very young, at 11 years. However, this was no longer practiced in fishing and farming communities.

The youngest age group of women in fishing communities reported a lower average fertility than in farming communities, but the difference is not statistically significant. Completed fertility levels of the older generation of women was higher in fishing than in farming communities, and the difference is statistically significant. Desired numbers of children were somewhat higher in fishing than in farming communities, and in both types of community men desired more children than their wives, most notably in fishing communities. Men in fishing communities had a stronger preference for sons than their wives and than the men and women in farming communities. Contrary to daughters, sons can be taken to sea and help with fishing. Sons also can contribute to household income by working in non-fishery activities.

Percentages of ever-use and current use of modern contraceptives were high in both types of community, especially when these percentages were compared with that of Maharashtra State. However, this is due for a large part to the fact that the respondents in the survey were older women (on average 37 years old) and that many of them had been exposed to sterilization promotion campaigns. Over two thirds of the respondents in fishing communities reported to be ever-users, and slightly fewer reported to be current users. Most ever-users had opted for sterilization. However, current use rates of non-permanent methods such as the pill, IUD and condom was still low in both types of community. About 24 percent of the respondents in fishing communities reported that the last birth was unwanted, against seven percent in farming communities. Moreover, table 36 reveals that a very large proportion of respondents had more surviving children than their stated ideal number. This may be partly explained by the success of population information, education, communication (IEC) and sterilization campaigns promoting two as the ideal number of children (a son and a daughter). As was stated before, most of the respondents were older women, and many of them opted for tubal ligation only after they became aware that they had more children than they actually wanted.

There is no indication that the younger generation of fisherfolk women had a higher fertility than farming women. Although the desired number of children, and the preference for sons was somewhat higher in fishing than in farming communities, these differences were statistically insignificant. What stands out clearly is that female respondents in fishing communities were far less successful in planning their desired fertility.

Bangladesh 30

The household survey data in table 36 shows that compared to the general population the populations in both types of community surveyed are very young. In fishing communities, about half of the population was 15 years old or younger; in farming communities the population was only slightly older — about half of the population was 17 or younger. This is indicative of past high fertility levels. The average household consisted of seven persons, higher than the national average of five persons. Households headed by females were absent in the predominantly Hindu fisherfolk communities, and in the predominantly Muslim farming communities. Fishing households mentioned that their financial situation was barely sufficient or insufficient more frequently (85 percent) than farming households (79 percent). This is confirmed by the social mapping exercise during participatory rural appraisal (PRA) research in one fishing and one farming community. About 75 percent of the village households were classified as poor, that is, earning less than Taka 5 000 (about US$12) per month. Almost 60 percent of the households in both types of community owned land, but farming households more frequently owned animals. In fishing communities, one in four households owned a radio, which is less than in farming communities.

Table 37 shows that illiteracy levels in both types of rural community were much higher than for the regional population (i.e. Chittagong Division) as a whole. There was a greater incidence of illiteracy among fisherfolk, especially fisherfolk women, than among other rural dwellers. Traditionally women married young in both types of community, especially in fishing communities where the groom paid bridewealth to the bride's parents. Today, the bride's family pays a dowry to the groom and his parents, as in the rest of Bangladesh. This implies a heavy financial burden for parents who have more daughters than sons. In Bangladesh, there is the proverb: “Raising a daughter is like tilling the land of one's neighbour, without reaping the benefits”. Conversely, having sons is important for parents for financial security in their old age. This explains the preference for sons in both types of community. The ideal sex ratio of children (males for one female) is perceived to be about 1.7. The dowry system and economic dependence of parents on sons will maintain relatively high fertility levels. Most female respondents married around age 16, but they, as well as their husbands, indicated that the appropriate age of marriage for a women should now be at least two years older, at about 18 years.

30 In this predominantly Muslim country, coastal fisheries is the domain of low-caste Hindus, a culturally distinct and economically disadvantaged group. In effect, all the farming community households surveyed were Muslim and all the fishing community households were Hindu. In these conditions the religious factor probably interferes heavily with economic factors in explaining differences in attitudes and behaviour.

Lifetime fertility of the older women was 7.8 children in fishing communities and 7.6 children in farming communities. The younger married women still had high fertility, particularly in fishing communities, as married women will have about two children by the age of 25. The fertility level of the younger generation was found to be somewhat higher in fishing than in farming communities. Ever-use and current use of modern contraceptives in both types of community were somewhat lower than observed in the region. Although ever-use rates were somewhat higher in farming than in fishing communities, method discontinuation was higher in farming communities, resulting in lower current use rates. In the surveyed communities, there is a clear unmet need for family planning. In fishing communities, one in three married women mentioned that her last birth was not wanted, This was mentioned even more often in farming communities, where one in two married women made the same statement. Therefore, it is not surprising to find that 41 and 64 percent of the married female respondents had more children than their ideal number. Within this context, it is interesting to note that the ideal number of children reported by men is about the same as reported by their wives. Perhaps the female respondents reported a desired family size in line with the opinion of their husbands due to the subordinate position of women in the household and in the community in general.

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