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Sharing the Load: How Do Coresident Children Influence the Allocation of Work and Schooling in Northwestern Tanzania?


Economic and evolutionary models of parental investment often predict education biases toward earlier-born children, resulting from either household resource dilution or parental preference. Previous research, however, has not always found these predicted biases—perhaps because in societies where children work, older children are more efficient at household tasks and substitute for younger children, whose time can then be allocated to school. The role of labor substitution in determining children’s schooling remains uncertain, however, because few studies have simultaneously considered intrahousehold variation in both children’s education and work. Here, we investigate the influence of coresident children on education, work, and leisure in northwestern Tanzania, using detailed time use data collected from multiple children per household (n = 1,273). We find that age order (relative age, compared with coresident children) within the household is associated with children’s time allocation, but these patterns differ by gender. Relatively young girls do less work, have more leisure time, and have greater odds of school enrollment than older girls. We suggest that this results from labor substitution: older girls are more efficient workers, freeing younger girls’ time for education and leisure. Conversely, relatively older boys have the highest odds of school enrollment among coresident boys, possibly reflecting traditional norms regarding household work allocation and age hierarchies. Gender is also important in household work allocation: boys who coreside with more girls do fewer household chores. We conclude that considering children as both producers and consumers is critical to understanding intrahousehold variation in children’s schooling and work.

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We thank the directors of the National Institute of Medical Research, Mwanza, for supporting this study; and our fieldwork team, especially Holo Dick, Pascazia Simon, and Vicky Sawalla, who conducted interviews. We extend special thanks to all our participants from Kisesa and Welamasonga and to the headteachers in the area who allowed us to conduct interviews in their schools. This work was supported by the UK Economic and Social Research Council through the Bloomsbury Doctoral Training Centre, Grant Reference Number 1360209. We are grateful for helpful comments and feedback from Abbey Viguier, Anushé Hassan, Alyce Raybould, Laura Brown, Susie Schaffnit, and four anonymous reviewers.

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Correspondence to Sophie Hedges.

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Hedges, S., Lawson, D.W., Todd, J. et al. Sharing the Load: How Do Coresident Children Influence the Allocation of Work and Schooling in Northwestern Tanzania?. Demography 56, 1931–1956 (2019).

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  • Education
  • Tanzania
  • Children’s work
  • Household composition
  • Birth order