A comparative demographic study of three Sahelian populations : marriage and child care as intermediate determinants of fertility and mortality
The literature on the demography of pastoral populations tends to consider pastoralism as an independent determinant of the levels and patterns of fertility and mortality. Despite a general lack of adequate data, there is a preoccupation with the low fertility of pastoral populations. Demographic data are presented for three Malian populations: sedentary Bambara cultivators and two Kel Tamasheq groups of nomadic pastoralists. These populations are compared and contrasted and internal social class differentials are examined. Bambara have higher fertility than the two pastoral populations and all three groups have different patterns of mortality. Child mortality levels vary significantly between Kel Tamasheq social classes. An examination of the intermediate determinants of fertility identifies marriage as the most important differentiating factor. For mortality a similar approach is unable to identify any particular intermediate variable as the dominant determinant of the observed patterns. The principal mortality differentials occur, however, within the pastoral populations, where high status, rich social classes have higher child mortality than poor, low status ex-slaves. Intensive, qualitative studies of marriage and social class variation show that although the pastoral Kel Tamasheq are demographically different from the Bambara, these differences are caused as much by socio-cultural factors as by economic ones. Kel Tamasheq kinship, household formation patterns and the importance of prestige and status mean that women may spend many of their child-bearing years between marriages, either divorced or widowed. This contrasts with the Bambara pattern of continuous marriage maintained through divorce, polygyny and inheritance, vhere much status and wealth is acquired through having children. The same socio-cultural factors create variation in Tamasheq child care patterns. Social constraints on high status mothers operate in the opposite direction from economic constraints, producing unexpected patterns of social class mortality differentials. The study concludes that nomadic pastoralists are not demographically different from cultivating populations because of their production system. To understand why the observed differences do occur, intensive qualitative studies are needed to supplement and explain the quantitative data.