Academic journal article Demographic Research

Effects of Parental Union Dissolution on Child Mortality and Schooling in Burkina Faso

Academic journal article Demographic Research

Effects of Parental Union Dissolution on Child Mortality and Schooling in Burkina Faso

Article excerpt

Abstract

BACKGROUND

Family structure and union dissolution has been one of the most thoroughly studied determinants of children's wellbeing worldwide. To date, however, few of these studies have examined sub-Saharan Africa, especially countries in West Africa where marital breakdowns are not uncommon.

OBJECTIVE

We attempt to examine the effects of a mother's divorce and widowhood on children's risk of mortality under age 5 and on their probability of entering primary school.

METHODS

Survival data analysis methods, specifically Kaplan-Meier and piecewise exponential models, are used for analysis, based on data come from the 2000 Migration and Urban Integration Survey of Burkina Faso.

RESULTS

Compared to those of intact families, children of divorced parents experience higher estimated mortality risks under age 5 and a lower probability of entering school, even after controlling for various other factors. This effect is large and significant during the first two years after the divorce. The death of the father is also found to greatly reduce a child's likelihood of entering school, but its effect on mo rtality is not significant.

CONCLUSION

The results indicate that the family context plays an important role in determining two important aspects of children?s welfare: their probabilities of dying before age 5 and of entering school.

COMMENTS

Children of divorced parents or a deceased father are living in precarious situations and their specific needs should be taken into account in policies in order to improve the wellbeing of all children. Attention must be directed to the first two years following t he union dissolution.

1. Introduction

Studies in many countries show that family structure plays a key role in the wellbeing of children. For instance, mortality has been found to be higher for children born out of wedlock (Bennett et al. 1994; Isaac and Feinberg 1982), those in polygamous households (Foster 2002)4, and those whose parents are divorced (Alam et al. 2001; Mauldon 1990; Bhuiya and Chowdhury 1997). Family structure may also affect other dimensions of child welfare. Across sub-Saharan Africa, female-headed households appear to be more successful at schooling their children than those headed by a man (Lloyd and Blanc 1996)5. Research has also indicated that orphans are less likely to attend school than are non-orphans (Ainsworth and Filmer 2002; Kobiané et al. 2005).

Though family structure and union dissolution has been one of the most thoroughly studied determinants of children's wellbeing worldwide, only a few studies have analyzed this issue in sub-Saharan Africa. Whereas marital breakdowns are not uncommon in the region, especially in West Africa (Lesthaeghe et al. 1989), the effect of marital dissolution on children's welfare -their survival and schooling- has rarely been examined. Part of this gap in research reflects a lack of adequate data. In censuses and surveys, information on individuals' marital status is often provided only in relation to current unions, making it impossible to examine children's life histories in relation to changes in their mothers' marital status.

This paper uses retrospective family life history data from a survey fielded in Burkina Faso to examine the effects of union dissolution on child survival and entry into school. Following Lloyd and Blanc (1996), we expect that children reared by married parents will have better health and educational outcomes (Lloyd and Blanc 1996). Parental union breakup is expected to be a traumatic event in a child's life and to reduce the care and resources s/he receives, due to the absence of a parent. We hypothesize that children whose parents are divorced or widowed will be at a greater risk of dying before age 5 and less likely to enter school than those living with both parents. Whilst children's overall wellbeing (including their survival and education) might theoretically increase the risk of parents' divorce, we assume that such effect is negligible in a context of large family sizes, polygamous unions and extended kin networks like Burkina Faso. …

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