Original Paper

AIDS and Behavior

, Volume 17, Issue 5, pp 1668-1674

First online:

Effects of Household Shocks and Poverty on the Timing of Traditional Male Circumcision and HIV Risk in South Africa

  • Atheendar S. VenkataramaniAffiliated withDepartment of Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard University
  • , Brendan Maughan-BrownAffiliated withThe Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit (SALDRU), University of Cape Town Email author 

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Poverty may influence HIV risk by increasing vulnerability to economic shocks and thereby preventing key health investments. We explored this possibility by examining the relationship between household shocks and the timing of traditional male circumcision, a practice associated with considerable expense and whose HIV-prevention benefits are larger when done earlier, even within young adulthood. Using unique data on a sample of Xhosa men, a group that almost universally practices traditional circumcision, we found that respondents in the poorest households delayed circumcision by 2 years if a household member experienced loss of income or death and/or illness. The impact of these shocks declined with increasing household income. Our findings suggest that interventions that work to mitigate the impact of shocks among the poor may be useful in HIV prevention efforts. More generally, they illustrate that the relationship between HIV and wealth may be more nuanced than assumed in previous work.


Economic shocks Poverty Male circumcision HIV South Africa