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Orphanhood and the long-run impact on children1

Beegle K, De Weerdt J, Dercon S

World Bank, DANIDA, Economic Research Council (UK)

September 2005

SARPN acknowledges the CABA forum website as the source of this document.
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Childhood orphanhood is considered a major risk factor for poverty in adulthood, through, among other channels, shortfalls in human capital investments in children. This paper provides unique evidence on the long-term impact of orphanhood in a region of Tanzania, near Lake Victoria in an area ravaged by HIVAIDS. The underlying data set is a large 13-year panel data set in which individuals interviewed at baseline were traced irrespective of their current residence. This allows us to focus on non-orphaned children experiencing the loss of one or both parents during the survey period, controlling for their characteristics before becoming an orphan. Furthermore, we can focus on the permanent impact in terms of height and educational attainment once these children reach adulthood and catching-up is hardly possible anymore. We find significant permanent effects. Children who become maternal orphans before the age of 15 are 2 cm shorter in adulthood than similar children whose mother did not die during this age interval, representing 22 percent of one standard deviation of height in the sample. We also find that maternal and paternal orphanhood results in substantially lower educational attainment, each lowering years of education by adulthood by about a quarter of one standard deviation of educational attainment in the sample. This education effect is particularly pronounced for those children not in school by the time the parent dies, where schooling is lower by up to 3 years (or one standard deviation) compared to other children. We also find that the impacts of orphanhood vary according to living and fostering arrangements at time of the event.

In sub-Saharan Africa, the prevalence of orphanhood among children has been greatly exacerbated by the HIV/AIDS pandemic. While there are other, more prevalent diseases in Africa, the characteristics of HIV/AIDS suggest that its economic and demographic impact will be profound. Because HIV in Africa is transmitted primarily through heterosexual contact, the epidemic is having a major effect on the mortality of men and women in their prime childbearing and earning years; consequently, mortality rates have risen and life expectancies have fallen dramatically in Africa. As a consequence, orphanhood rates are increasing and putting a larger share of children at risk.

The available evidence of the impact of this trend typically relates to the impact of orphanhood from HIV/AIDS and other causes in the short-run, often by examining a sample of school-age children in cross-sectional survey data. A small number of studies use longitudinal data over a short-run (perhaps 1-2 years), periods in which household coping strategies may manage to mitigate impact. Studies of long-run impacts and outcomes are rare. Certainly, understanding short-run outcomes is important, but short-run effects may not ultimately translate into worse welfare outcomes in the long-run (that is, in adulthood). If the shock of an adult death (either a parent or other household member) is transitory, outcomes may be affected around the time of illness or during a period of funeral/mourning, but may recover over time. On the other hand, the lack of any short-run effects is not evidence that long-run impacts do not exist. Understanding these long-run impacts is critical for intergenerational models of the macroeconomic impact of AIDS which take into account the impact on human capital formation and its transmission between generations. Both Bell et al. (2003) and Corrigan et al. (2005) make assumptions about the magnitude of the impact of orphanhood without reference to any empirical studies of this link.

In this study, we will explore new data collected from Tanzania, which contain a sample of children surveyed in the early 1990s and then re-interviewed in 2004. Using unique features of the data, we try to assess the impact of orphanhood on schooling and health outcomes, with an emphasis on unpacking the long-run dynamics of this process. The unique features of our data set will allow us to examine the longterm, persistent impact of orphanhood shocks during childhood on adult health and educational attainment, based on a sample of children that were initially non-orphaned in our data, controlling for a wide variety of characteristics before orphanhood and allowing for migration since baseline. This work is part of a larger agenda to understand the impact of orphanhood which encompasses a range of welfare outcomes. Schooling and health are recognized as only two areas among many long-term welfare outcomes. Other relationships between orphans and long-run outcomes that will be explored using the longitudinal data include: access to networks to gain access to income (employment), inheritance of land, the role of assistance organizations, and the role of remittances from the extended family. In addition, we plan to explore the fertility and marriage patterns of orphans and the nutritional status of the young offspring of our sample of orphans who have reached adulthood.
The next section reviews some of the existing empirical analysis. Section 3 discusses the data used in this study. Sections 4 and 5 present the empirical specifications and results. The final section concludes.

  1. Data collection was funded by the Knowledge for Change Partnership at the World Bank and DANIDA. This analysis was supported by the Trust Fund for Environmentally & Socially Sustainable Development at the World Bank, and the Economic and Social Research Council, United Kingdom. The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the World Bank or its member countries. Please address correspondence to .

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