Couples’ power dynamics and the gendered division of contraceptive use in Belgium

Rozemarijn Dereuddre, Ghent University
Mieke C. W. Eeckhaut, University of California, Los Angeles
Veerle Buffel, Ghent University
Piet Bracke, Ghent University

This study uses the observation of primarily female responsibility for contraceptive use as a starting point. In contrast to the large amount of research that considered contraceptive use as a “female sphere of influence”, recent studies pointed towards the importance of also taking man’s characteristics into account and, more specifically, heterogamy and negotiations within couples. In response, we aim to examine the association between partners’ power dynamics and the choice of male or female controlled contraceptives. Two hypotheses are formulated. First, following the relative resource perspective, we expect that the partner with the least relative power will take responsibility for contraceptive work (power hypothesis). Second, based on prevailing gender theories, we suppose that higher status women will use contraceptive control as a means of identity (re)construction while men will only engage in contraceptive responsibility if it does not threaten their masculinity. In other words, we expect that the partner with the most relative power will take responsibility for contraceptive work (gender hypothesis). Using the data of the Belgian Generations and Gender Programme (wave 1, 2008-2010), we examine our hypotheses with multinomial logistic diagonal reference models. The results predominantly confirm the power hypothesis. Couples in which the woman has more decision-making power are more likely to rely on male sterilization than on female reversible contraceptives and couples in which the man performs more housework are more likely to choose for (both reversible or permanent) male controlled contraceptives as compared to female reversible methods. In addition, if the educational heterogamy is in favor of the man, couples are more likely to rely on female sterilization than female reversible methods, as compared to homogamous couples. In sum, these results clearly highlight the importance of taking both man’s and woman’s characteristics into account when studying contraceptive use.

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Presented in Session 15: Gender and family