Journal Article

Economic inequality and divergence in family formation in sub-Saharan Africa

Economic inequality has been rising in many sub-Saharan African countries alongside rapid changes to union and family formation. In high-income countries marked by rising inequality, union and family formation practices have diverged across socioeconomic statuses, with intergenerational social and health consequences for the disadvantaged. In this study, we address whether there is also evidence of demographic divergence in low-income settings. Specifically, we model the age at first marriage and first birth by socioeconomic status groups for women born between 1960 and 1989 using Demographic and Health Survey data from 12 sub-Saharan African countries where economic inequality levels are relatively high or rising. We argue that economic and sociocultural factors may both serve to increasingly delay marriage and childbearing for the elite as compared to others in the context of rising inequality. We find emerging social stratification in marriage and childbearing, and demonstrate that this demographic divergence is driven by the elites who are increasingly marrying and having children at later ages, with near stagnation in the age at first marriage and birth among the remaining majority. We urge further research at the intersection of socioeconomic and demographic inequality to inform necessary policy levers and curtail negative social and health consequences.

Published in a peer-reviewed journal of the Population Council.