Do mothers-in-law matter? Family dynamics and fertility decision-making in urban squatter settlements of Karachi, Pakistan

Document Type



Community Health Sciences


The perspectives of mothers-in-law about intra-household decision-making, family size and family planning are investigated, and their views compared with those of their sons and daughters-in-law. Women (717 daughters-in-law), their husbands (717 sons) and their 522 mothers-in-law were interviewed in eight squatter settlements in Karachi, Pakistan. Decisions about the schooling and health care of children, and the purchase of jewellery, are perceived to lie within the nuclear family domain (i.e. husband and wife). There was a difference in mothers-in-law's, daughters-in-law's and sons' desire to have more children. Twenty-eight per cent of mothers-in-law versus 58%, of daughters-in-law did not want more grandsons/sons and 36%, of mothers-in-law versus 66% of daughters-in-law did not want more granddaughters/daughters. The difference was markedly greater among the mother-in-law/daughter-in-law pairs than in the mother/son pairs. Overall, the mother-in-law's role seems to be somewhat overshadowed by that of her son (family male member), except for limiting family size. It is suggested that mothers-in-law should be included in Information-Education-Communication (IEC) campaigns about family planning.


Journal of Biosocial Science