Family Instability and the Transition to Adulthood in Kenya and South Africa


This dissertation uses life history data from Kisumu, Kenya and Cape Town, South Africa to investigate the influence of family instability on social and health disparities during the transition to adulthood. Epidemiological, economic, and social forces have produced high levels of volatility in family structure for youth growing up in sub-Saharan Africa in recent decades. Though these family changes unfold over time, research on the relationship between between family situation and African youth wellbeing has been almost wholly cross-sectional. Drawing on a life course perspective, I take as my starting point the dynamic nature of family structure. I build upon sociological scholarship in the U.S. that suggests that youth wellbeing may be influenced at least as much by changes in family structure over time as by the character of families at any given point. The outcomes I examine range from individual sexual behaviors and health statuses to multi-dimensional life pathways. Of the three analyses in the dissertation, results from the first indicate that changes in primary caregiver are associated with early sexual initiation for youth in Kisumu. The association is rapidly manifested following caregiver change and persists for a short period; in addition, it is strongest in early adolescence. Results from the second analysis indicate links between changes in co-residence with mothers and fathers and the life paths youth in Cape Town occupy as they transition to adulthood. This suggests that family instability influences not only single transitions, but also combinations of transitions in the realms of schooling, work, and family formation. Finally, I find evidence for men in Cape Town of a link between family instability during early adolescence and self-rated ill health in early adulthood. Taken together, the results underscore the importance of considering family instability, as distinct from family structure, in research on disparities during the transition to adulthood. They also highlight a need for attentiveness to dimensions like age, recency, and gender. Finally, they suggest the utility of the family instability concept for examining drivers of family change other than union instability of global importance, like mortality, morbidity, and migration. <br/>
Thesis (Ph.D. -- Brown University (2012)

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Goldberg, Rachel E., "Family Instability and the Transition to Adulthood in Kenya and South Africa" (2012). Sociology Theses and Dissertations. Brown Digital Repository. Brown University Library.