, Volume 51, Issue 1, pp 205–228 | Cite as

The Impact of Family Transitions on Child Fostering in Rural Malawi



Despite the frequency of divorce and remarriage across much of sub-Saharan Africa, little is known about what these events mean for the living arrangements of children. We use longitudinal data from rural Malawi to examine the effects of family transitions on the prevalence and incidence of child fostering, or children residing apart from their living parents. We find that between 7 % and 15 % of children aged 3–14 are out-fostered over the two-year intersurvey period. Although divorce appears to be a significant driver of child fostering in the cross-sectional analysis, it is not significantly associated with the incidence of out-fostering. In contrast, maternal remarriage has both a lagged and an immediate effect on the incidence of out-fostering. Furthermore, the likelihood of out-fostering is even higher among children whose mother remarried and had a new child during the intersurvey period. Using longitudinal data collected from living mothers rather than from children’s current foster homes offers new insights into the reasons children are sent to live with others besides their parents.


Divorce Remarriage Child fostering Sub-Saharan Africa 

Supplementary material

13524_2013_239_MOESM1_ESM.docx (87 kb)
ESM 1(DOCX 86 kb)


  1. Akresh, R. (2009). Flexibility of household structure: Child fostering decisions in Burkina Faso. Journal of Human Resources, 44, 976–997.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Alber, E. (2004). Grandparents as foster-parents: Transformations in foster relations between grandparents and grandchildren in northern Benin. Africa, 74, 28–46.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Amato, P. R. (2000). The consequences of divorce for adults and children. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 62, 1269–1287.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Amato, P. R., & DeBoer, D. D. (2001). The transmission of marital instability across generations: Relationship skills or commitment to marriage? Journal of Marriage and Family, 63, 1038–1051.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Anglewicz, P. (2012). Migration, marital change, and HIV infection in Malawi. Demography, 49, 239–265.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Beegle, K., Filmer, D., Stokes, A., & Tiererova, L. (2010). Orphanhood and the living arrangements of children in sub-Saharan Africa. World Development, 38, 1727–1746.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bicego, G., Rutstein, S., & Johnson, K. (2003). Dimensions of the emerging orphan crisis in sub-Saharan Africa. Social Science & Medicine, 56, 1235–1247.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Bignami-Van Assche, S., Reniers, G., & Weinreb, A. A. (2003). An assessment of the KDICP and MDICP data quality: Interviewer effects, question reliability and sample attrition. Demographic Research, Special Collection 1(article 2), 31–76. doi:10.4054/DemRes.2003.S1.2
  9. Bledsoe, C. (1990). Transformations in sub-Saharan African marriage and fertility. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 510, 115–125.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Bledsoe, C. (1993). The politics of polygyny in Mende education and child fostering transactions. In B. D. Miller (Ed.), Sex and gender hierarchies (pp. 170–192). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  11. Bledsoe, C., & Isiugo-Abanihe, U. (1989). Strategies of child-fosterage among Mende grannies in Sierra Leone. In R. Lesthaeghe (Ed.), Reproduction and social organization in sub-Saharan Africa (pp. 442–474). Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  12. Brown, S. L. (2004). Family structure and child well-being: The significance of parental cohabitation. Journal of Marriage and Family, 66, 351–367.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Carsten, J. (1991). Children in between: Fostering and the process of kinship in Pulau Langkawi, Malaysia. Man, 26, 425–443.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Case, A., Paxson, C., & Ableidinger, J. (2004). Orphans in Africa: Parental death, poverty and school enrollment. Demography, 41, 483–508.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Castle, S. (1996). The current and intergenerational impact of child fostering on children’s nutritional status in rural Mali. Human Organization, 55, 193–205.Google Scholar
  16. Clark, S., & Hamplova, D. (2013). Single motherhood and child mortality in sub-Saharan Africa: A life course perspective. Demography. Advance online publication. doi:10.1007/s13524-013-0220-6
  17. Desai, S. (1992). Children at risk: The role of family structure in Latin America and West Africa. Population and Development Review, 18, 689–717.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Dubin, J. A., & Rivers, D. (1989). Selection bias in linear regression, logit and probit models. Sociological Methods and Research, 18, 360–390.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Evans, D. K., & Miguel, E. (2007). Orphans and schooling in Africa: A longitudinal analysis. Demography, 44, 35–57.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Fomby, P., & Cherlin, A. J. (2007). Family instability and child well-being. American Sociological Review, 72, 181–204.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Goody, E. N. (1973). Contexts of kinship: An essay in the family sociology of the Gonja of northern Ghana. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  22. Goody, E. N. (1982). Parenthood and social reproduction: Fostering and occupational roles in west Africa. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  23. Grant, M. J., & Yeatman, S. (2012). The relationship between orphanhood and child fostering in sub-Saharan Africa. Population Studies, 66, 279–295.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Hosegood, V., Floyd, S., Marston, M., Hill, C., McGrath, N., Isingo, R., & Zaba, B. (2007). The effects of high HIV prevalence on orphanhood and living arrangements of children in Malawi, Tanzania, and South Africa. Population Studies, 61, 327–336.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. ICF Macro and National Statistics Office (NSO). (2010). Malawi Demographic and Health Survey. Calverton, MD: ICF Macro.Google Scholar
  26. Isiugo-Abanihe, U. (1985). Child fosterage in West Africa. Population and Development Review, 11, 53–73.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Kaler, A. (2001). “Many divorces and many spinsters”: Marriage as an invented tradition in southern Malawi, 1946–1999. Journal of Family History, 26, 529–557.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Lesthaeghe, R. J. (Ed.). (1989). Reproduction and social organization in sub-Saharan Africa. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  29. Lloyd, C., & Desai, S. (1992). Children’s living arrangements in developing countries. Population Research and Policy Review, 11, 193–216.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Locoh, T., & Thiriat, M. P. (1995). Divorce et remarriage des femmes en Afrique de l’Ouest. Le cas du Togo [Divorce and remarriage of women in West Africa: The case of Togo]. Population, 50(1), 61–93.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Madhavan, S. (2004). Fosterage patterns in the age of AIDS: Continuity and change. Social Science & Medicine, 58, 1443–1454.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Magnuson, K., & Berger, L. M. (2009). Family structure states and transitions: Associations with children’s wellbeing during middle childhood. Journal of Marriage and Family, 71, 575–591.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Malawi Longitudinal Study of Families and Health (MLSFH). (2009). Malawi Longitudinal Study of Families and Health—Newsletter 2008/1: Summary of data collection 1998–2008. Retrieved from
  34. Mason, K. O. (1997). Explaining fertility transitions. Demography, 34, 443–454.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. McDaniel, A., & Zulu, E. (1996). Mothers, fathers and children: Regional patterns in child-parent residence in sub-Saharan Africa. African Population Studies, 11, 1–28.Google Scholar
  36. McLanahan, S., & Percheski, C. (2008). Family structure and the reproduction of inequalities. Annual Review of Sociology, 34, 257–276.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Mitchell, J. C. (1956). The Yao village: A study in the social structure of a Nyasaland tribe. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press.Google Scholar
  38. Mkandawire-Valhmu, L., Wendland, C., Stevens, P. E., Kako, P. M., Dressel, A., & Kibicho, J. (2013). Marriage as a risk factor for HIV: Learning from the experiences of HIV-infected women in Malawi. Global Public Health, 8, 187–201.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Monasch, R., & Boerma, J. T. (2004). Orphanhood and childcare patterns in sub-Saharan Africa: An analysis of national surveys from 40 countries. AIDS, 18(Suppl. 2), S55–S65.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. National Statistical Office (NSO) and ICF Macro. (2011). Malawi Demographic and Health Survey 2010. Zomba, Malawi, and Calverton, MD: NSO and ICF Macro.Google Scholar
  41. Notermans, C. (2004). Fosterage and the politics of marriage and kinship in East Cameroon. In F. Bowie (Ed.), Cross-cultural approaches to adoption (pp. 48–61). New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  42. Nyambedha, E. O., Wandibba, S., & Aagaard-Hansen, J. (2003). Changing patterns of orphan care due to the HIV epidemic in western Kenya. Social Science & Medicine, 57, 301–311.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Nyamukapa, C., & Gregson, S. (2005). Extended family’s and women’s roles in safeguarding orphans’ education in AIDS-afflicted rural Zimbabwe. Social Science & Medicine, 60, 2155–2167.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Oppong, C. (1973). Growing up in Dagbon. Accra: Ghana Publication Corporation.Google Scholar
  45. Oppong, C., & Bleek, W. (1982). Economic models and having children: Some evidence from Kwahu, Ghana. Africa, 52(4), 15–33.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Osborne, C., & McLanahan, S. (2007). Partnership instability and child well-being. Journal of Marriage and Family, 69, 1065–1083.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Peters, P. E. (1997). Against the odds: Matriliny, land and gender in the Shire Highlands of Malawi. Critique of Anthropology, 17, 189–210.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Peterson, J. L., & Zill, N. (1986). Marital disruption, parent-child relationships and behavior problems in children. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 48, 295–307.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Phiri, K. M. (1983). Some changes in the matrilineal family system among the Chewa of Malawi since the nineteenth century. Journal of African History, 24, 257–274.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Porter, L., Hao, L., Bishai, D., Serwadda, D., Wawer, M. J., Lutalo, T., & The Rakai Project Team. (2004). HIV status and union dissolution in sub-Saharan Africa: The case of Rakai, Uganda. Demography, 41, 465–482.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Reniers, G. (2003). Divorce and remarriage in rural Malawi. Demographic Research, Special Collection 1(article 6), 176–202. doi:10.4054/DemRes.2003.S1.6
  52. Reniers, G. (2008). Marital strategies for regulating exposure to HIV. Demography, 45, 417–438.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Schatz, E. (2005). “Take your mat and go!”: Rural Malawian women’s strategies in the HIV/AIDS era. Culture, Health and Sexuality, 7, 479–492.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Seltzer, J. (1994). Consequences of marital dissolution for children. Annual Review of Sociology, 20, 235–266.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Serra, R. (2009). Child fostering in Africa: When labor and schooling motives may coexist. Journal of Development Economics, 88, 157–170.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Sigle-Rushton, W., & McLanahan, S. (2004). Father absence and child well-being: A critical review. In D. P. Moynihan, T. M. Smeeding, & L. Rainwater (Eds.), The future of the family (pp. 116–155). New York: Russell Sage Foundation.Google Scholar
  57. Silk, J. B. (1987). Adoption and fosterage in human societies: Adaptations or enigmas? Cultural Anthropology, 2, 39–49.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Sinclair, J. (1972). Educational assistance, kinship, and the social structure in Sierra Leone. Africana Research Bulletin, 2(3), 30–62.Google Scholar
  59. Smith, K., & Watkins, S. (2005). Perceptions of risk and strategies for prevention: Responses to HIV/AIDS in rural Malawi. Social Science & Medicine, 60, 649–660.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. StataCorp. (2009). Stata: Release 11 [statistical software]. College Station, TX: StataCorp LP.Google Scholar
  61. Takane, T. (2008). Customary land tenure, inheritance rules, and smallholder farmers in Malawi. Journal of Southern African Studies, 34, 269–291.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Tawfik, L. A. (2003). Soap, sweetness, and revenge: Patterns of sexual onset and partnerships amidst AIDS in rural southern Malawi (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD.Google Scholar
  63. Thomson, E., Hanson, T., & McLanahan, S. (1994). Family structure and child well-being: Economic resources vs. parental behaviors. Social Forces, 73, 221–242.Google Scholar
  64. Tilson, D., & Larson, U. (2000). Divorce in Ethiopia: The impact of early marriage and childlessness. Journal of Biosocial Science, 32, 355–372.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Urassa, M., Boerma, J. T., Ng’weshemi, J. Z. L., Isingo, R., Schapink, D., & Kumogola, Y. (1997). Orphanhood, child fostering, and the AIDS epidemic in rural Tanzania. Health Transition Review, 7(Suppl. 2), 141–153.Google Scholar
  66. Vandermeersch, C. (2002). Child fostering under six in Senegal in 1992–1993. Population (English), 57, 659–685.Google Scholar
  67. Verhoef, H., & Morelli, G. (2007). “A child is a child”: Fostering experiences in northwestern Cameroon. Ethos, 35, 33–64.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Wanda, B. P. (1988). Customary family law in Malawi: Adherence to tradition and adaptability to change. Journal of Legal Pluralism and Unofficial Law, 27, 117–134.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Population Association of America 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Sociology, Center for Demography and EcologyUniversity of Wisconsin–MadisonMadisonUSA
  2. 2.Department of Health and Behavioral SciencesUniversity of Colorado DenverDenverUSA

Personalised recommendations