Volume 28 - Article 40 | Pages 1167–1198

Does the orphan disadvantage "spill over"? An analysis of whether living in an area with a higher concentration of orphans is associated with children’s school enrollment in sub-Saharan Africa

By Emily Smith-Greenaway, Jessica Heckert

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Date received:25 Jul 2012
Date published:06 Jun 2013
Word count:5468
Keywords:education, orphans, school enrollment, sub-Saharan Africa


Background: Despite considerable concern regarding the social consequences of sub-Saharan Africa's high orphan prevalence, there has been no research investigating how living in a community densely populated with orphans is more broadly associated with children's - including nonorphans' - acquisition of human capital.

Objective: We provide a new look at the implications of widespread orphanhood in sub-Saharan Africa by examining whether living in an area with a high concentration of orphans is associated with children's likelihood of school enrollment.

Methods: We use data from the Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) and the Multiple Indicators Cluster Survey (MICS) among 383,010 children in 336 provinces in 34 sub-Saharan African countries to estimate multilevel logistic regression models to assess whether living in a setting with a higher concentration of orphans is associated with school enrollment.

Results: Orphan concentration has a curvilinear association with children's school enrollment in western and eastern Africa: The initially positive association becomes negative at higher levels. In central and southern Africa, orphan concentration has a positive linear association with children‘s school enrollment.

Conclusions: In western and eastern Africa, the negative association between living in a setting more densely populated with orphans and children's school enrollment provides suggestive evidence that the orphan disadvantage "spills over" in those communities most heavily affected. Conversely, in central and southern Africa, the positive association between living in a setting more densely populated with orphans and children's school enrollment highlights the resiliency of these relatively wealthier communities with high levels of orphans. Although longitudinal research is needed to confirm these findings and clarify the underlying mechanisms, this study lays the groundwork for a new body of research aimed at understanding the broader social implications of widespread orphanhood in sub-Saharan Africa.

Author's Affiliation

Emily Smith-Greenaway - University of Southern California, United States of America [Email]
Jessica Heckert - International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), United States of America [Email]

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