Fertility decline in Indonesia: An institutionalist interpretation

T. H. Hull

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9 Citations (Scopus)


New generations, new technologies and a new economy and society: These are what the last two decades of change have brought to Indonesia. Yet even the mention of a time period is arbitrary. The changes that seem particularly dramatic over the past 15 years actually have their roots in the evoluation of institutions that have been part of Indonesian society for 50, 500 or over 1,000 years. The health system, the Muslim religion and irrigated rice cultivation - to name only three complexes of institutions that have been crucial to the way the family planning program developed - were all central issues of scholarly study in the last century, and have each, in different ways, changed dramatically in the course of the last two decades. One of the major results of all these institutional changes has been the transformation of the status and role of women in Indonesian society and in its economy. In part a product, and in part a cause, of changes in the position of women, fertility declines have altered the range of options available to young women in ways not always anticipated in the earlier days of the government family planning program. These options, including increased participation in the labor force, have not been uniformly beneficial for women. Factory jobs do not always pay well, and conditions of work can be very difficult. Nonetheless, for young women who have not known the possibility of a different life, factory jobs have the attraction of giving them cash incomes and perhaps even the hope of additional, unforeseen benefits. The institutional changes that have made fertility decline possible in Indonesia were not inevitable, nor was any single change unique. However, the pattern of changes, and the fact that these changes occurred in a remarkably heterogeneous society with a history of empires, invasions, colonialism and national struggle, mean that the total change is unique. In practical terms, the direction of change is irreversible, short of a revolution in Indonesia's current ideological and political system, which seems a remote possibility. No doubt economic difficulties will influence family-building behavior, much as harvest cycles influenced marriage rates in medieval Europe, or economic cycles affect fertility rates in modern industrial societies. But the major change, the transformation of fertility rates from above five children per woman to about three children, on average, is now a permanent feature of Indonesian society. Given the constellation of institutions that exists today, age at marriage will continue to increase, fertility levels will continue to fall and parents will work even harder to improve the welfare and future prospects of their small families. As all these changes have been occurring over the last few decades, a new institution has been evolving that is as much a part of modern Indonesia as schools, jobs, consumer goods and the government activities with which it is associated. That institution, evolving over a relatively long period of time, has been identified as the slogan for the official Indonesian family planning program: 'The small, healthy, prosperous family'.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)90-95
Number of pages6
JournalInternational Family Planning Perspectives
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1987
Externally publishedYes


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