Household Structure and Living Conditions in Nigeria

By Mberu, Blessing Uchenna | Journal of Marriage and Family, May 2007 | Go to article overview

Household Structure and Living Conditions in Nigeria


Mberu, Blessing Uchenna, Journal of Marriage and Family


Data on 7,632 households from the 1999 Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey are used to examine household structure and living conditions in Nigeria. The study finds significant disadvantage in living conditions of single-adult, female- and single-adult, male-headed households relative to two-parent households. Extended households show no significant advantage in living conditions over two-parent households if headed by women but are consistently advantaged if headed by men. Although extended households do not entirely wipe out the disadvantage of female headship on household living conditions, they show a significant mitigating potential. Efforts to understand and alleviate poverty in Nigeria may need to address simultaneously gender imbalances in access to livelihood opportunities and factors that foster nucleation of family structure into single-adult households.

Key Words: female-headed households, household structure, Nigeria, poverty, sub-Saharan Africa.

A large body of research has documented the relationship between the increase in female poverty and the increase in female-headed households in the last three decades (Astone & McLanahan, 1991; McLanahan & Booth, 1989; Wojtkiewicz, Mclanahan, & Garfinkel, 1990). In sub-Saharan Africa, reports on the various dimensions of poverty are consistently bleak, but relative to the United States, where a burgeoning research literature exists, very little is known about the linkages between family structure and economic resources (Gage, Sommerfelt, & Paini, 1997). A small but growing body of research in the region, however, suggests increasing concentration of poverty among women and associates this increase with the rise in the proportion of households headed or principally maintained by women (Lloyd & Gage-Brandon, 1993). This suggestion finds support in the recognition by the World Bank (2001) that gender matters everywhere, though underscoring that gender relations strongly differ from place to place and are highly variable over time. Different gender outcomes in different countries have been attributed to the implications of various cultural and institutional influences, leading researchers to emphasize the need for replication of analysis using nationally representative data sets in order to understand specific country contexts (Quisumbing, Haddad, & Pena, 2001).

In the Nigerian context, Ajakaiye and Adeyeye (2001) identified a considerable deficit in the conceptualization, measurement, knowledge of determinants, and overall nature of poverty in the country. This deficit reiterates an earlier assessment that poverty alleviation programs in the country frequently run into implementation crises hinged on weak conceptualization and inability to properly characterize the poor (Silver, 1994). In particular, the relationship between household structure and poverty remains largely unexplored.

Building on previous studies, and using nationally representative data, this article examines the relationship between household structure and living conditions in Nigeria. Household structure is defined to include the gender of the head (female headed and male headed) and adult composition of households (single parent, two parent, and extended). These two dimensions of household structure have been identified to reflect adaptation to economic circumstances and, in many cases, a dimension of individual welfare (Lloyd, 1995). This definition of household structure enables a comparison of the simultaneous implications of female and male headship of households for living conditions across single-parent, two-parent, and extended household structures.

The study primarily addresses two key questions: First, are there significant differences in living conditions in single-parent households, relative to two-parent and extended households in Nigeria? second, are the poor living conditions of households significantly related to female headship? …

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