Parental Divorce and Child Health in Sub-Saharan Africa: Analyzing Cross-Contextual Variation

Emily Smith-Greenaway, University of Michigan and University of Southern California
Shelley Clark, McGill University

This study uses DHS data from 31 African countries to examine whether the relationship between child mortality and parental divorce varies across low versus high divorce settings. We hypothesize that the social disapproval of divorce where it remains rare will lead divorced women in these contexts to experience stigma, thereby amplifying children's mortality risk compared to children of divorced mothers in settings where divorce is more prevalent and socially acceptable. We leverage diversity in the prevalence of divorce across Africa’s subnational regions to approximate variation in the social acceptability of divorce across the subcontinent. Although divorce is associated with higher child mortality risk across all settings, in contexts where divorce is rare, children with divorced mothers have significantly greater risk of dying before age five than do their peers in settings where divorce is more common, suggesting that the stigmatization of divorce in low divorce settings further disadvantages an already vulnerable population.

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Presented in Session 178: Family Structure and Child Outcomes: An International Perspective