Sociology Mind
2013. Vol.3, No.3, 223-229
Published Online July 2013 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 223
The Use of Life Narrative and Living Standard
Measurement Survey Data in the Study of Poverty
in the Caribbean: A Resolution of
Conflicting Epistemologies
Dennis A. V. Bro wn
Faculty of Social Scie n ces, University of the West Indies, St. Augustine, Trinidad and Tobago, West Indies
Received February 22nd, 2013; revised April 27th, 2013; accepted May 9th, 2013
Copyright © 2013 Dennis A. V. Brown. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons
Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the
original work is properly cited.
The paper examines the compatibility or usefulness of fit between epistemologically disparate quantita-
tive survey data and qualitative life narrative data gleaned in the study of poverty in the Caribbean. It aims
to find out whether or not the different approaches to the understanding of “reality” on which the two
methodologies are based preclude the integration of their findings as a means of furthering understanding
of the dynamics of Caribbean poverty. The analysis draws on Country Poverty Studies conducted in the
territory of Grenada in the Eastern Caribbean. It is centered on the demographic measure of fertility, a
measure of chronic illnesses by socioeconomic status and life narrative interviews conducted around the
themes of poverty, family and life experiences with select poor households across the country. Fertility
was measured using parity of women aged <15 - 30+. Statistical analyses were done using cross tabula-
tions. The findings indicate that the hermeneutic understanding of the life narratives, and the causal ex-
planatory accounts provided by the positivist quantitative data, allow for understanding of negative health
seeking behaviour on the part of the poor, not provided by the quantitative data by themselves. They also
provide insight into the synergy between family, reproductive behaviour, labour market status and chronic
poverty in the Caribbean region that would not have been possible through the use of the positivist quan-
titative method by itself.
Keywords: Quantitative Data; Life Narrative Data; Epistemology; Caribbean Country Poverty Studies;
Living Standard Measurement Surveys
One of the features of the Development era beginning in the
immediate post war period of development has been the misap-
plication of theories formulated in the North to the circum-
stances of the South in the interest of achieving ideological
objectives (Rist, 2003: p. 109). The work of W. W. Rostow
probably best exemplifies this tendency (Rostow, 1960). This
provided the analysts from the North with something of a mo-
nopoly of knowledge deemed relevant for the formulation of
public policy (Preston, 1996). Such an approach to the study of
social phenomena was facilitated by positivist epistemology
with its disregard of the influence of community and the local
culture that informs it.
The introduction of qualitative methodology, based on its
quest to understand meaning within the local context, into the
research that informs this policy therefore reflects a shift in the
asymmetry that has characterized the relationship between
theorists and technocrats from the North and the South. Still,
old habits die hard. Many of the local technocracy, at worst,
stoutly resist the use of this type of data to inform social policy
and its analysis, or, at best, express dissatisfaction with the fact
that they cannot generalize the findings based on this type of
research. This position seems to betray an inflexible adherence
to methodological canons rather than a willingness to creatively
apply them in the furtherance of our understanding of social
The paper, firstly, examines methodological issues related to
the collection and analysis of data on poverty using quantitative
and qualitative approaches. Secondly, it looks at the institu-
tional framework within which the ascendancy of positivist
empiricism in the study of poverty occurred. This was defined
by the managerial and political imperatives of an ascendant
economic neoliberalism, itself an outcome of reaction against
the populist, state-led approaches to development that charac-
terized the immediate post independence era in the region.
Thirdly, it considers the case for qualitative, hermeneutic ap-
proaches that have emerged out of some of the more recent
debates on the changing global dynamics and the role of de-
velopment theory and practice within it. Against this back-
ground, analysis of the two types of data is conducted. Here, an
effort is made to see to what extent a meaningful complement-
tarity obtains, which extends our understanding beyond that
which is possible by using only the traditional positivist ap-
Methodological Issues
The Research Question
The primary question posed by this paper is, given the epis-
temological disparateness of the two types of data, to what
extent are quantitative and qualitative data derived from Living
Standards Measurement Surveys (LSMS) in the Caribbean
complementary and compatible with each other? Are the data
and the findings they represent best treated by themselves and
used to provide information on the areas from which they have
been gleaned or, are there ways in which the data can be used
together to provide us with understandings of social conditions
that would not have been possible had they been used by them-
Data Sources: Quantitative
The quantitative data used in this paper are taken from the
LSMS conducted in Grenada in 2008 (Caribbean Development
Bank, 2008). The LSMS consists of a household-based Survey
of Living Conditions (SLC), a Household Budgetary Survey
(HBS) and an Institutional Analysis (IA). The household based
components of the survey collect data on household composi-
tion, migration, age, sex, fertility (women aged 15 - 49), ethnic-
ity, consumption levels, education, health, labour force status,
social welfare and household expenditure on essential items.
Whereas the SLC data are collected on the basis of the ability
of one member of the household to recall information on all of
the members of the household, the HBS data on expenditure are
collected using the diary method. This entails the keeping of
records of their expenditure by all members of the household.
The data collected from both instruments complement each
other and provide the basis for the derivation of consumption
groupings and poverty estimates of the population.
Data Sources: Qualitative
The qualitative data gleaned from the survey came from the
community-based Participatory Poverty Assessment (PPA) con-
ducted in Grenada in 2008. This component of the survey con-
sisted of community mapping, focus group discussions and in-
depth interviews of selected poor and non-poor households. It
is this latter data source that provides the basis for the qualita-
tive analysis that informs the research.
The sampling procedure that underlies the selection of these
households was first of all purposive. Within this genre of sam-
pling the intensity sampling approach that seeks out informa-
tion was used. This seeks out rich cases that manifest the re-
search variable in an intense way. This is also a form of theo-
retical sampling since the criteria used to select the cases are
informed by a theory of poverty in the region that has emerged
out of research done across the region (Brown, 2011: p. 207).
Using this approach I have come up with a preliminary hy-
pothesis that suggests that Caribbean poverty is, in the main,
intergenerational and that this transmission across the genera-
tions is sustained by deep structural inequalities in the way in
which the society is organized, that is, in the distribution of
tangible and intangible resources. At the level of proximate
cause however there is a readily identifiable synergism of fac-
tors that act as a transmission belt of poverty across the genera-
tions. These include mating and family formation patterns, low
educational levels and lack of preparation for the labour market.
Furthermore, the effects of these factors are mediated by gender,
that is, they affect men and women differently.
The sampling procedure used therefore departs from the us-
ual reliance on statistical probability sampling that controls for
selection bias as a means of ensuring the representativeness of
sample to population. In purposeful, intensity, theoretical sam-
pling, bias is no longer a shortcoming but rather a means of
ensuring the selection of cases loaded with information that
allow for deep understanding rather than empirical generaliza-
tion (Patton, 2002: p. 230).
Collecting the Data: In-Depth Interviews
The in-depth interviews on which the qualitative analysis is
based extend over a number of hours and may take place on
more than one occasion. They have three main sections. The
first inquires into the interviewee’s history and life story. The
second orients both the researcher and the interviewee to the
specific topic of interest. The third draws these together in a
reflexive dialogue about the meaning of the interviewee’s ex-
periences in light of his or her history (Rallis & Rossman, 2003:
p. 190)
The interviews are open-ended, searching for the themes of
meaning in the participant’s lives. They aim to understand the
lived experiences of people. The main questions that guide the
interview are: “what has this person experienced?” and “how
does this person understand his or her experiences?” Qualitative
analysis allows for a deeper appreciation of poverty’s social
context and its relationship to individual level intangibles such
as values and attitudes.
Analytical Procedures
The paper brings together the demographic measures of fer-
tility, a measure of chronic illnesses by socioeconomic status
and qualitative interviews conducted around the themes of pov-
erty, family and life experiences with select poor households
across the country. Fertility was measured using parity of wo-
men aged <15 - 30+. Such a measure, of course, has its limita-
tions, including the fact that it can not be used to foretell what
the fertility of younger women that have not completed their
childbearing will be. Furthermore, this measure is affected by a
tendency on the part of older women not to report children who
died shortly after birth. Finally, this measure of fertility is also
affected by age misreporting. The data, though, allow for the
study of fertility behaviour within the context of socioeconomic
differentiation, something that is oft neglected in the study of
demographic processes (Brown, 2000: pp. 1-3). Statistical ana-
lyses were done using cross tabulations. Statistical significance
was established through the use of the Chi Squared measure.
Whereas quantitative data were used to establish associations
between the variables mentioned above, qualitative case study
material was used to do two things. Firstly, it allows for an
understanding of how these might be reflected in the lived ex-
periences of people. Secondly, it assists in identifying the me-
chanisms that might link the existence of poverty to some of the
substantive issues that emerge from the quantitative analysis.
The data were recorded during the interview and transcribed.
Themes and issues salient to the research issues of poverty and
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
its transmission across generations, social service delivery to
the poor, the health status of the poor, mating and fertility pat-
terns among the poor and the labour market experiences of the
poor were identified.
Social Policy Context: Social Monitoring and the
Use of Quantitative and Qualitative Data in
Poverty Research in the Caribbean
The relationship of quantitative and qualitative approaches in
research into poverty in the region, to time and place in Carib-
bean society, provides an interesting story. Examination of the
use of the two methods in the study of Caribbean poverty over
the past three decades or so takes us into the realm of the recent
history of social policy in the region (Harison, 2011; Brown,
Close, systematic monitoring of the situation of the poor in
the region in the modern period is associated with economic
crisis that signaled the end of state-led attempts at development
that had informed the first attempts at nation building in the
immediate post independence period (Thomas, 1995: pp. 232-
233). The crisis of the late 1970s and the advent of market-
driven Structural Adjustment in the policy making circles, be-
ginning in the late 1970’s, meant the dawn of a new era in at-
tempts at development and social policy formulation; one dri-
ven by the theoretical prescriptions of Economic Neo-liberal-
ism (Levitt, 2006: p. 183; Klak, 1998: pp. 17-20).
In its practical dimensions, Economic Neo-liberalism is a
macroeconomic management strategy informed by the notion
that the problems associated with economies both in the North
and the South that had started to emerge in the mid-1970s had
to do with too much state intervention. The emphasis on effi-
ciency in resource allocation through a minimalist regulation of
the market came into ascendance in policy-making circles across
the globe under the aegis of a political-institutional nexus that
came to be known as the Washington consensus.
If “freedom from want” was replaced with “freedom to do”
in this scenario, it was understood that the resulting social fall
out, in the Southern hemisphere economies especially, would
be short term and that it could be monitored and managed.
Eventually, it was argued by the international financial institu-
tions, the efficiencies released by the institutionalization of free
market economics would lead to prosperity and well being for
the lagging countries of the world such as the Anglophone
Economic neo-liberalism is based on the assumption that in-
dividualism in the market place will lead to order in the distri-
bution and allocation of resources and rewards in the wider
economy and society (Lal, 1991: p. 32). In the case of the Car-
ibbean, therefore, the understanding of the international finan-
cial institutions was that the implementation of structural ad-
justment policies that hobbled the state and gave free reign to
the private sector would lead to increases in social misery and
material deprivation. They theorized that the impact of the mea-
sures would be short term and it would be corrected as the eco-
nomy and society progressed on the path of neo-Liberal reform.
Since structural adjustment is essentially a macroeconomic
management strategy it is understandable that longer-term so-
cial development issues took a backseat to the exigencies of
proper resource allocation.
For now, the immediate task was to put structural changes in
place that would promote export oriented growth, reduce the
role of government in the economy and ensure greater efficien-
cies in the use of existing resources. To monitor and manage
the anticipated social fall out, quantitative Living Standard
Measurement Surveys (LSMS) were institutionalized in a num-
ber of Caribbean countries. The institutional format in charge of
the process in the case of Jamaica was a unit within the Plan-
ning Institute known as the Social Policy Development Unit.
This unit, under the technical auspices of the World Bank, was
charged with the responsibility of carrying out the LSMS and
using the information to inform a social policy formulation
process that would lead to greater efficiencies and effectiveness
in the use of resources in the social sector.
There is much that can be said about this approach to social
monitoring and intervention. It certainly represented a progres-
sion on the existing state of affairs that relied very little, if at all,
on sy stematic su rvey data for the formulation of policy and the
allocation of resources in the social sector. Apart from the de-
cennial population census, the circumscribed labour force sur-
vey, the consumer price index and institutional based data that
did not allow for proper targeting, the policies on the social
sector were more often than not based on political exigencies
and imperatives.1 Now household level data were available that
allowed for a rational assessment of need in a number of social
sector areas. The surveys also provided a basis for targeting and
planning that had not existed before. Cost benefit analyses
could now be done thus ensuring that scarce resources would be
optimally utilized.
Institutionally, the qualitative approach to the study of pov-
erty in the Caribbean emerged out of studies of poverty in the
countries of the Eastern Caribbean sponsored by the Caribbean
Development Bank (CDB). These studies have also been con-
ducted in the Northern Caribbean in the British Dependencies
of Turks and Caicos Islands, Cayman Islands and Anguilla. In
these studies, the qualitative component (Participatory Poverty
Assessment) is part of a far more holistic approach to under-
standing poverty than obtains in the case of the World Bank
inspired studies. This incorporation of qualitative life narratives
data into these studies was accompanied by some questioning
of the usefulness of this data by senior policy makers and tech-
nocrats of the Caribbean Development Bank. Their main con-
cern had to do with their inability to generalize from the find-
ings of the qualitative data. This signaled a clear misunder-
standing of the role of qualitative data in social research and
seemed to mirror the emphasis placed on quantitative statistical
analysis in the case of the World Bank sponsored studies.
Rethinking the Role of the Social Sciences
The qualitative approach to the study of poverty in Caribbean
society is in accord with the new ways of understanding society
that have emerged out of the rethink of development studies
and the role of the social sciences in managing social and insti-
tutional changes in the Postcolonial world (Schuurman, 1993:
pp. 16-32). This is in turn linked to the recent changes in global
economy and the attempts of social science theory and by ex-
tension, method, to provide answers to some of the problems
associated with these changes (Hoogvelt, 1998: pp. 116-120;
Yeats, 2001: p. 17; Brohman, 1996: pp. 324-352; Preston, 1996;
p. 273; Ramphall, 1994: pp. 42-61; 1997: pp. 1-30).
1One exception to this was a study of social needs conducted by the an-
thropologist M.G. Smith commissioned by the Michael Manley government
in 1975. See Smith, M.G. (1982 ).
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 225
The new theoretical thrust calls for an interpretive-critical
dialogue that would represent a shift from the First World of-
fering of technical expertise to the Third. This offering is based
on the positivist mis-analysis of society and economy associ-
ated with neo-classical economics. The shift would enable an
elucidatory interchange between both areas of an increasingly
interconnected globe (Preston, 1996: pp. 329-330). This should
be based on an understanding of social scientific enquiry de-
void of argument by analogy between the natural and social
sciences. In its place would be one that draws more on herme-
neutic approaches to further the understanding of local percep-
tions and interpretations of what is deemed to be a much more
complex process of social change than was previously thought.
The qualitative case studies used in the CDB studies provide
a wealth of insight into the character of the society in which the
individual lives. They tell of the social, cultural, economic,
political and historical setting of which the respondent is a part.
They also tell of the nature of the social relations and social
network of the individual; how they have lived their lives; the
decisions they have made and continue to make on a daily basis;
and the interplay between culture, personality and society. The
nature of these relations is, in part, a product of the inequalities
that are related to the existence of poverty. They in turn serve to
reinforce and perpetuate poverty. In sum, the interviews tell us
of the circumstances that led to persons finding themselves in
situations of insufficiency. They also tell of how people cope,
adapt and adjust to such situations. At the end of the process an
understanding of how deprivation has found expression in the
lived experiences of the individual is obtained.
Resolving the Epistemologies: Fitting Quantitative
and Qualitative Data
The quantitative data gleaned by the formal survey and
household questionnaires and the data gleaned from the in-
depth household interviews are of course based on different ap-
proaches to the study of social reality (Polkinghorne, 1983: pp.
22-23; 1988: pp. 7-8) It is important though that the comple-
mentary nature of the two types of data be understood (Patton,
2002: pp. 49, 69). Einstein’s famous quotation tells us that, “not
everything that can be counted counts and not everything that
counts can be counted”.2 Joseph Stiglitz warns against making a
“fetish out of metrics” (Stiglitz, 2009). These arguments seem
to suggest the need for the creative application of both qualita-
tive and quantitative methodologies in social research to ad-
dress questions that causal-explanatory and interpretive-cons-
tructivist epistemologies cannot answer by themselves.
Their co mbination, it would seem, can lend much to enhanc-
ing our understanding of the causes and sustainers of social
issues such as poverty as well as some of the corrective meas-
ures that can be employed in the area of policy. This can hap-
pen in two ways. Firstly, qualitative data in the form of ex-
tended discussion on a topic can alert us to measurable issues
that are of significance that have not been measured. Secondly,
qualitative data can enable us to understand meanings attributed
to experiences that simply cannot be measured or quantified
and yet are important for social outcomes. In the case of the
Grenada data, two substantive issues are examined to see the
extent to which their expression, as qualitative data, brings to
the fore linkages between the variables that are not immediately
obvious from an examination of the quantitative data. The is-
sues are as follows:
1) Chronic illness and poverty; 2) intergenerational poverty,
gender and the segme nted labour mark e t .
Chronic Illnesses and Poverty
In the analysis of the quantitative data gleaned from the
household surveys of reported health in the Caribbean the poor
have tended to report better health than the non-poor (Brown,
2006: pp. 55-77). This odd finding on reported health from the
surveys points to a number of structural constraints and the
kind of adaptation in attitude that is made by the poor of the
region. Lack of resources means an inability or, at the very least,
difficulties in accessing good quality medical care. This, cou-
pled with the preoccupation with “making two ends meet”, and
a lack of knowledge about human physiology serves to under-
mine the development of a “check-up” culture, or a preventive
approach towards health care. So, even as they report no ill
health in the surveys the disease is often at work, but not yet
The Case of Ms. Wendy
This relationship between chronic illness and poverty that is
obscured by the analysis of quantitative data is brought out
quite clearly in the qualitative. This takes the form of the narra-
tive that comes out of the in-depth interview conducted with Ms.
Wendy, a 54-year-old single mother of 9. Her illnesses are
chronic, lifestyle-based, silent killer diseases. Given her stress-
ful circumstances of deprivation, low levels of education and
her health care seeking behaviour it is perhaps no wonder that
she came down with the two diseases that she did and that they
both took her by surprise.
When she is interviewed, Ms. Wendy provides insight into
the nature of her health seeking behaviour and how it might be
related to the underestimation of the incidence of the silent
illness by the poor. She indicates that she does not go to the
doctor unless she is feeling unwell. The nature of chronic non-
communicable illnesses, such as hypertension, diabetes and the
more immediately life threatening cancer, is such that to wait
until symptoms start appearing is usually too late to take effec-
tive control of the disease. She attributes her approach to health
care to the hardship that she faces in life and the difficulty she
encounters, on a daily basis, in providing the basic needs of her
life. In addition to material deprivation, in many instances the
daily tasks of the working poor are so consuming that they find
themselves suffering serious time poverty as well. Health con-
cerns that are not immediately disruptive to their routine are
unlikely to be at the top of their agenda when it comes to deci-
sions relating to the daily allocation of time specific tasks. The
unfortunate thing, as Ms. Wendy discovers, is that delaying
health care seeking now is likely to lead to greater illness later
on. Therefore, even as the poor are becoming more unwell as a
result of these chronic illnesses, the quantitative data are indi-
cating that their health status is better than the non-poor. This is
illustrated in Table 1.
The table is based on self-reported information. It reveals, in
the case of the silent, chronic illnesses, what appears to be a
serious undercount on the part of the three lowest quintiles. The
undercount is particularly pronounced in the case of the poorest
quintile, the one in which Ms. Wendy would fall. Note that in
the case of asthma, which is a very “noisy” disease, the socio-
economic differential virtually disappears. This means that the
2Sign on the wall of Albert Einstein’s Princet on office .
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
Table 1.
Distribution of chr onic illnesses by quintile, Grenada.
Consumption Q uintiles (Percentages)
Type of
Illness I II III IV V Total
Diabetes 8.0 10.2 17.5 23.5 40.8 100.0
High Blood
Pressure 5.2 12.4 20.2 25.7 36.5 100.0
Condition 5.6 18.1 12.2 25.0 39.2 100.0
Cancer .0 37.9 14.9 11.5 35.7 100.0
HIV/AIDS .0 .0 .0 .0 .0 .0
Asthma 15.7 28.7 14.2 24.9 16.5 100.0
Other 4.9 25.7 16.2 32.6 20.6 100.0
Not Stated .0 14.9 46.7 23.6 14.9 100.0
Total 7.9 15.3 18.7 26.0 32.1 100.0
Source: Grenada Country Poverty Assessment 2008. Pearson’s Chi-Square 2546.522;
Df 28; Significance .000.
circumstances of poor persons make them particularly vulner-
able to the worst effects of the silent, lifestyle illnesses. In sum-
mary terms, low levels of income, stress, poor diet, bad health-
care seeking behaviour and quite possibly poor quality health
care are the factors that seem to be at work in Ms. Wendy’s
case. Ms. Wendy does not point to the quality of health care as
a factor, but given the comments made by community membe rs,
who speak of the doctor writing the prescription “as they enter
the door”, it might very well be a factor.
In this case therefore, the quantitative analysis by itself, far
from providing a proper understanding of the relationship be-
tween social phenomena, actually obfuscates it. There is no sta-
tistical technique that applied to this data would change the fact
that the underlying epistemology associated with it does not
allow for the capture of the complex interplay between struc-
tural imperatives and lived experiences.
Intergenerational Poverty, Gender and the
Segmented Labour Market
The quantitative data collected by the surveys provide the
basis for the calculation of poverty lines. Calculated over time,
these provide policy makers with a sense of how their major
economic and social initiatives affect the well being of poor
households. This calculation, though, aggregates a number of
categories of poor persons. Thus, for example, there is no im-
mediate indication of what proportion of the households falling
below the line are recently poor or have been poor for genera-
Where panel data are available, it is possible to do these cal-
culations. Indeed, in the largest of the territories of the region—
Jamaica, the availability of such data has allowed for the calcu-
lation of household movement into and out of poverty over re-
latively short periods of time. However, in the context of scar-
city of resources and underdeveloped statistical infrastructure
that often characterize the smaller territories, the data to con-
duct this type of analysis are not often available. Furthermore,
the available data on these households do not allow for the
capture of the institutional interface that provides the context
within which chronic, long -term poverty operates.
The extended interviews conducted among the poor and
non-poor households allow for the identification of households
that have been poor for differing durations. They bring to the
fore, as well, the variables of intergenerational poverty, gender
and the segmented labour market. The case studies have pro-
vided information that suggests that intergenerational poverty
occupies a significant position in the Caribbean’s socioeco-
nomic landscape. Given the nature of the region’s historical
political economy this should come as little surprise (Beckford,
1972). The question that arises though is what is the nature of
the mechanisms operating at the level of the individual and the
household that are responsible for the reproduction of poverty
across the generations?
The information coming out of the in-depth household inter-
views seem to suggest that one important mechanism is the
mating and family formation patterns of these households. The
causal status of this factor is not immediately evident. What is
apparent is that it is related to low levels of education, family
situations in which young females lack the emotional and mate-
rial support of a male and a primary labour market segmented
along the lines of gender. The pattern of early pregnancy as a
precursor to repeated pregnancies with short birth space inter-
vals is evident in the lives of virtually all of the women en-
countered in these case studies. The relation of this fertility
pattern to their socioeconomic status is evident from an exami-
nation of the table below. The socioeconomic differential in this
measure of fertility behaviour would be repeated in virtually
any measure of fertility that is used.
At the aggregate level these populations evince signs of de-
mographic transition with a marked reduction in births and very
low rates of mortality. Poor women, however, have been left
behind, caught in a time warp, so to speak. They still produce,
as their mothers before them did, relatively large families tied,
as we have seen, to early pregnancy and repeated child bearing
with short birth intervals. This of course significantly reduces
their life chances through curtailing their education and re-
straining them from as full and active a participation in the la-
bour market than would otherwise have been possible. Table 2
illustrates this reproductive pattern.
The most noteworthy feature of the table is the marked dif-
ferential between rich and poor when it comes to fertility be-
haviour. What the case studies alert us to is the interface be-
tween agency and structure and its outcome in terms of fertility
Table 2.
Age at first birth by consumption quintile, Grenada females.
Consumption Q uintiles (Percentages)
Age at First
Birth I II III IV V Total
Under 15 4.6 .9 7.7 6.2 .0 4.0
15 - 19 57.8 45.6 34.3 31.2 25.0 40.3
20 - 24 13.2 26.8 29.5 25.4 33.2 24.8
25 - 29 2.4 8.1 5.6 13.1 11.1 7.7
30+ 1.1 1.2 3.6 6.6 15.6 4.9
Not Stated 21.0 17.4 19.3 17.4 15.2 18.3
Total 100.0100.0100.0 100.0 100.0100.0
Source: Grenada Country Poverty Assessment 2008; Pearson’s Chi-Square 2632.904;
Df 20; Significance .000.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 227
differentials across socioeconomic status. The problem of high
levels of fertility among poor women that is signaled by the
data contained in the table is easily understood in personal
terms when we look at the case studies. It ceases to be a per-
sonal or psychological issue, though, when entire social strata
in the society, faced with the constraints of low levels of educa-
tion and a segmented primary labour market, take the decisions
relating to reproductive behaviour that are manifest in the dif-
ferentials evident in Table 2.
The socioeconomic differential in fertility patterns is most
evident in the women aged 15 - 19 years. Here more than one
half of the poorest women have experienced the birth of their
first child. This compares to 25 percent of the women in the
wealthiest quintile. The pattern is reversed in the 30+ age group
where a mere one percent of the poorest women are having
their first birth as opposed to 16 percent of the women in the
wealthiest quintile.
How is this socioeconomic differential in fertility related to
the segmented primary labour market? What do the qualitative
data tell us about this process that the quantitative data do not?
The Case of Leroy and Phiona
Leroy is a 41-year-old father of two children and temporary
partner of Phiona, who is a temporarily employed 44-year-old
mother of five.
The interviews with Phiona and Leroy point to the dynamic
between chronic poverty, the labour market, family formation
and gender. Phiona has inherited her deprivation from her own
family. At 44, with little or no marketable skills, she finds her-
self with 5 children and very little support from their fathers.
Leroy, at 41, is the father of two children with women in an-
other part of the country. He is a migrant labourer, temporarily
living in Phiona’s district to do a job. Leroy is mindful of the
responsibilities of being involved in a relationship with a wo-
man. He says sometimes he has to starve himself to meet these
obligations. Therefore he is not actively seeking such a rela-
tionship. However, he occupies a relatively advantageous posi-
tion in the primary labour market to which both he and Phiona
belong. Phiona on the other hand is relatively disadvantaged by
this market and finds herself in a position of great vulnerability.
He therefore becomes fair game for her entreaties and soon
succumbs to them. Despite all of the structural constraints with
which he is faced, temporary employment, relatively low wages,
responsibilities to his other children, and the need to now pro-
vide for Phiona’s household, he enters into a relationship with
her, even while protesting that he had had no intention of doing
so originally.
The experiences of Leroy and Phiona reflect the dictates and
logic of a dynamic that consists of a synergism of a number of
factors. These are: a mating system in which the initiation of a
sexual relationship between a man and woman, in some local
ecologies, has loose social, but no legal sanction; inadequate
provision for the physical and in some instances emotional
nurturing of the young; lack of preparation for effective partici-
pation in the labour market; and economies relegated to posi-
tions of marginality within the global chain of production.
The experiences of these two persons also suggest that at the
level of the individual, gender mediates this dynamic. Men ex-
perience it differently from women. However, both should be
understood to be its victims. The primary labour market, for
cultural reasons, favours the participation of men over women.
Nonetheless, it is still a primary labour market with all of the
insecurities of tenure, low level skill requirements, low pay and
so on. Men, therefore, although favoured by this market are still
subject to its deficiencies. Therefore, they are more likely than
women to get work and therefore be in a position to make of-
fers to the disadvantaged woman. However, the nature of the
work does not provide the level and stability of income to en-
able the man to make a sustained contribution to the upkeep of
a family.
Because of this, many poor men, as in Leroy’s case, become
migratory labourers within their own country, moving in search
of uncertain work. Because of the transitory nature of their stay,
they are even less encumbered by what in many instances are
already loose social sanctions pertaining to the initiation of sex-
ual relationships between men and women. The poorest women
in these locales are open to the overtures of men who, at least
temporarily, have a source of income. The presence of women
made readily available because of their vulnerable socioeco-
nomic position is the basis on which these types of unstable
relationships rest.
There are some men that choose not to become migratory
workers. For them this means an employment situation that is at
best tenuous. This holds implications for their ability to provide
for their children, in spite of their best intentions. Even in situa-
tions of steady and sustained incomes, the relatively disadvan-
taged position of women in the primary labour market increases
their vulnerability and contributes to the creation of a pool of
readily available women that lends instability to existing un-
One thing that is noticeable is that the women having births
in their teens in these studies are from households marked by
unstable relationships between the principals. Ms. Wendy and
Phiona lacked the emotional security and protection that should
normally attend a young woman’s development. They both
came from households marked by high levels of deprivation
and which did not provide the emotional and material security
that underpins stable psychosocial development.
The Case of Marie
The case studies provide us with a measure of insight into
how these factors play themselves out in the lives of these
women. Take the case of Marie, for instance. She is a 49-year-
old mother of 10. She began her mating experiences in what is
characterized by Caribbean demographers as a “visiting” rela-
tionship. She produced two children within this union type. She
then moved into a common-law (cohabitive) relationship with
the same man and bore him two more children before returning
to a visiting relationship with another man for whom she then
had five children. Subsequently, she entered into a common law
relationship with a third man for whom she bore one child. She
presently lives by herself with some of the children from these
Marie notes the seeming irresponsibility of the men who fa-
thered her children. Yet, she notes the obvious love they have
for their children. It is this contradiction that alerts us to the
existence of structural constraints that override even the best of
intent in human will.
The paper has examined two dimensions of Caribbean pov-
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 229
erty to see to what extent there is complementarity between
quantitative and qualitative data, with their distinctive episte-
mological bases. The two areas of focus were chronic illness
and poverty and intergenerational poverty and the factors re-
lated to its reproduction. In the case of chronic illnesses and
poverty the qualitative data point to the inadequacy of the vari-
able of “reported health” used in the quantitative approach. In
the case of intergenerational poverty, gender and the segmented
labour market, the qualitative data allow for an understanding
of the synergism of factors that are not evident from the quanti-
tative analysis.
The paper has demonstrated that even while respecting the
distinctiveness of the philosophical bases of the two approaches
to the study of social phenomena, the understanding of poverty
in the region can be furthered by recognition of the comple-
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