Single motherhood and child mortality in sub-Saharan Africa: a life course perspective

Shelley Clark, McGill University
Dana Hamplova, Institute of Sociology

Although the consequences of single motherhood on child well-being have been explored extensively in North America, research on this topic in sub-Saharan Africa is surprisingly thin. Drawing on rare marital history calendar data coupled with birth histories, this paper uses survival analyses techniques to investigate single motherhood over both women’s and children’s life course in Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe. We find that in all countries a sizeable 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. The implications of these high levels of single motherhood on children’s well-being are dire. Children of unmarried mothers were between 41.3% and 77.5% more likely to die before reaching their fifth birthday compared to children with mothers married to their biological fathers.

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Presented in Session 45: Determinants and trends in child mortality