The Economic Context of Fertility Patterns in a Rural Haitian Community

The following pages will briefly sum up and analyze the information relevant to family planning gleaned in several months of fieldwork in a Haitian hamlet. This period of exploratory research has been a useful preliminary not only for settling in learning the language and becoming acquainted with and acceptable to the members of the research community but also for isolating and clarifying the genuine issues around which the success of a program of voluntary fertility control will ultimately hinge. These issues, which should be the object of more exact study, are by no means self-evident. On the contrary, it is very easy to misconstrue the problem. It will be argued in these pages that one widespread stereotyped image of the Haitian demographic situation–namely, that of a fatalistic population-whose religious, child-hungry men and women continue to produce offspring at a blind, self-destructive rate– is a serious distortion. It will be pointed out that the support given to this distortion by pieces of attitudina I research such as that of Stycos (Haitian attitudes with regard to family size were studied by a student of his) is largely a result of ignoring important spheres of data because of an exclusive attention to the “cognitive” and “attitudinal” spheres. The proper framework in which to construe the reproductive habits of the Haitian villagers, it will be argued, is in the dual context of their economic activities and high mortality rates. In this sense, the information in these pages constructs a “background” for a more exact· quantitative study of the economic repercussions of the raising of children in rural Haiti.