The function of child-spacing in traditional societies and the direction of change.
Data regarding motivations for child spacing among Yoruba women from the Nigerian Family Study are discussed. Nearly all child spacing among the Yoruba prior to the advent of modern contraception was achieved by universally practiced female marital sexual abstinence. Despite some changes brought by modern education, at any given time over 1/2 of women in the central age cohorts are abstaining due to pregnancy or postnatally. Abstinence continues about 6 months longer than breast feeding to allow the mother to regain her strength before another pregnancy. Factors traditionally advanced to explain abstinence involve health of mother and child and issues of decency and morality. Such widespread abstinence is possible because the society deemphasizes husband-wife emotional relationships and marital female sexuality, while the generally subservient position of women facilitates the practice. Nigerian Family Study respondents explained spacing and abstinence overwhelmingly in terms of maintaining health, with the rural and less educated stressing the health of the child and the urban and better educated stressing the mother's health. The use of modern contraception is associated with sharp reduction in the duration of abstinence.