Academic journal article Demographic Research

Children's School Participation and HIV/AIDS in Rural Malawi: The Role of Parental Knowledge and Perceptions

Academic journal article Demographic Research

Children's School Participation and HIV/AIDS in Rural Malawi: The Role of Parental Knowledge and Perceptions

Article excerpt

Abstract

Studies of the relationship between HIV/AIDS and children's educational attainment largely focus on the direct impacts of parental illness and death, overlooking the potential indirect impact that parental knowledge and perceptions of their HIV status may have on children's school enrollment. Drawing on both quantitative and qualitative evidence from Malawi, this paper finds that women's real and perceived anticipation of future health shocks has a positive impact on their children's educational attainment. Interventions that target health uncertainty, such as HIV testing programs, may make a significant contribution to maintaining children's educational attainment in communities affected by HIV/AIDS.

1. Introduction

The well-being of children orphaned by the HIV/AIDS epidemic receives considerable attention. Recent studies using longitudinal data note that children's school dropout may occur prior to the death of a parent in addition to the period immediately following it (Ainsworth, Beegle and Koda, 2005; Evans and Miguel 2007). This finding is attributed to shifts in household labor demands, reduced income, and higher expenditures brought on by the period of illness preceding a parent's death. However, this focus on the direct impacts of the HIV epidemic-parental illness and death- overlooks the possibly equally important indirect impact that parents' knowledge and perceptions of their HIV status may have on children's school enrollment. Parents' perceptions of their own health and survival prospects may play an important role in decisions about their children's schooling. If health and survival are becoming more uncertain in the context of HIV, parents may be less inclined to invest in a child's schooling if they do not expect to live-or expect their child to live-to see the returns on their child's education (Montgomery 2000; Cohen and Montgomery 1998). Recent cross-national analyses of Demographic and Health Survey data appear to support this hypothesis, finding that children and adolescents living in areas with higher HIV prevalence have lower levels of educational attainment and slower progress through school relative to communities without HIV (Fortson 2008). This paper will test more specifically whether parental uncertainty about their risk of HIV infection is associated with investments in children's schooling.

The demographic literature posits that as life expectancy increases, parents have greater certainty that their children will survive to adulthood, leading to smaller families and greater investments in the quality of children, in particular through increased educational attainment. Given that the HIV/AIDS epidemic has reversed some health advances in Sub-Saharan Africa (Timaeus and Jasseh 2004), it is plausible that the emergence of the epidemic has led to increasing health uncertainty in affected areas although the social consequences of these health reversals remain under-examined. If parents have inaccurate or uncertain health and survival expectations, the time horizon in which they make decisions may shift from the long term to the more immediate future, leading to declines in human capital investment (Montgomery 2000).

Alternately, concern about the future may motivate parents to invest greater resources in their children's welfare (Becker 1981); it is possible that education serves as a way for families to insure children's well-being against potential economic and health shocks that may disrupt the future. More altruistic parents who are concerned about the future of children who might be orphaned may be more motivated to invest in their children's educational attainment (De Lannoy 2005). Furthermore, AIDS-related mortality among working age adults may also raise the returns on schooling for those who are able to avoid infection (Young 2006), which might also encourage greater investment in the education of children who are perceived to be likely to avoid future infection. …

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