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Family Matters No. 53 - June 1999

Shaping families

Women, control and contraception
Lois Bryson, Stegani Strazzari and Wendy Brown

Abstract

The capacity to control family size and the spacing of children is essential for women if they are to achieve their family and employment aspirations. However, maintaining the necessary control is a complex matter, raising many issues for family policy. The Women's Health Australia project (also known as the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women's Health) provides an opportunity to explore these issues for three generations of women. In this article the authors aim to contribute to the process of gaining a better understanding of the nature of families by focusing on the aspirations about family size and future employment plans of the young women in the study. This is then linked to patterns of contraception use among the young women in contrast to the picture for the older women in the study. Patterns of contraception use are examined in light of different backgrounds of young women and the nature of their relationship with their sexual partners. The empirical data also provide a basis for a discussion of the problems young women face as they exercise control of their fertility. Finally, some implications for the families of the future and for gender relations more generally are explored.

The capacity to control family size and the spacing of children is essential for women if they are to achieve their family and employment aspirations. However, maintaining the necessary control is a complex matter, raising many issues for family policy. The Women's Health Australia project (also known as the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women's Health) provides an opportunity to explore these issues for three generations of women. In this article the authors aim to contribute to the process of gaining a better understanding of the nature of families by focusing on the aspirations about family size and future employment plans of the young women in the study. This is then linked to patterns of contraception use among the young women in contrast to the picture for the older women in the study. Patterns of contraception use are examined in light of different backgrounds of young women and the nature of their relationship with their sexual partners. The empirical data also provide a basis for a discussion of the problems young women face as they exercise control of their fertility. Finally, some implications for the families of the future and for gender relations more generally are explored.

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