Single Motherhood in Sub-Saharan Africa: A Life Course Perspective

Shelley Clark, McGill University
Dana Hamplova, Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic

Although the causes and consequences of single motherhood in North America have been explored extensively, research on single motherhood in sub-Saharan Africa is surprisingly thin. This paper using marital history data coupled with birth histories to explore single motherhood over the life course in Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, and Zimbabwe. We find that in all countries a substantial proportion of women experience at least one episode of being a single mother before the age of 45, ranging from 30% in Ethiopia to nearly 70% in Zimbabwe. In all countries, except Kenya, women are far more likely to become single mothers following a divorce or death of their spouse rather than as a consequence of a premarital birth. We argue that additional research on “single motherhood” may prove to be more useful than previous studies on “female headed-households” in identifying particularly vulnerable groups of women and children.

  See extended abstract

Presented in Session 41: Families in Comparative Perspective