The purpose of this study was to explore the relationship between fertility and household economy on Montana’s Northern Plains. Low fertility and outmigration in European American communities have led to dramatic depopulation of the region. At the same time, isolated Indian reservations in the area have grown in population due to high fertility and return migration.
A mixed methods research approach was used to explore the relationship between fertility and social acceptance of communal household economic strategies. Census data and birth records described differences in fertility and household economy between European American and Native American populations in six Plains Indian reservation counties; inferential tests demonstrated patterns of variation among fertility and economic variables in 37 rural counties. Qualitative ethnographic data were collected in two representative communities, one predominately European American and one predominately Native American, documenting individual beliefs and actions that reflected and reinforced community themes of ideal fertility.
Findings delineated value constellations that supported culturally specific fertility ideals. European American informants idealized delayed parenthood, childrearing within a nuclear family setting, household self-sufficiency, and avoidance of public assistance. In contrast, Native American informants idealized early parenthood, childrearing within an extended family setting, mutually dependent extended family households, and acceptance of tribal assistance without stigmatization.
Analyses of state and tribal TANF programs and teen pregnancy prevention initiatives illustrate culturally specific approaches to public policy that influence fertility behaviors. State and federal programs reinforce dominant culture ideals of delayed parenthood and nuclear family self-sufficiency; they pathologize Native American patterns of family formation by removing parenthood from the context of community. Some tribes have assumed administration of TANF and adapted the program in order to preserve traditional childrearing practices and maintain family-building systems. (author abstract)