Journal Article

Global family change: Persistent diversity with development

This article provides a broad empirical overview of the relationship between family change and socioeconomic development drawing on 30-plus years of Demographic and Health Surveys data from 3.5 million respondents across 84 low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). We conduct two sets of analyses. First, we document global and regional-level associations between the Human Development Index (HDI) and novel indicators reflecting multi-dimensional family change. Second, we use methods from the growth convergence literature to examine whether—and in which domains—there is evidence of cross-country convergence in family indicators over levels of development. We show that families in LMICs have transformed in multiple ways, changing differently across domains, world regions, and genders. Fertility, intra-couple decision-making, and women's life-course timing indicators are strongly associated with HDI, yet cross-country convergence is limited to the latter domain. Marriage, cohabitation, household structure, and men's life-course timing indicators are more weakly associated with HDI, and span a broad spectrum of convergence dynamics ranging from divergence to modest convergence. We describe this scenario as "persistent diversity with development," and shed light on the underlying regional heterogeneity—driven primarily by sub-Saharan Africa.

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