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Paying the Piper: The High Cost of Funerals in South Africa

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  • Anne Case
  • Anu Garrib
  • Alicia Menendez
  • Analia Olgiati

Abstract

We analyze funeral arrangements following the deaths of 3,751 people who died between January 2003 and December 2005 in the Africa Centre Demographic Surveillance Area. We find that, on average, households spend the equivalent of a year's income for an adult's funeral, measured at median per capita African (Black) income. Approximately one-quarter of all individuals had some form of insurance, which helped surviving household members defray some fraction of funeral expenses. However, an equal fraction of households borrowed money to pay for the funeral. We develop a model, consistent with ethnographic work in this area, in which households respond to social pressure to bury their dead in a style consistent with the observed social status of the household and that of the deceased. Households that cannot afford a funeral commensurate with social expectations must borrow money to pay for the funeral. The model leads to empirical tests, and we find results consistent with our model of household decision-making.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 14456.

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Date of creation: Oct 2008
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Publication status: published as Anne Case & Anu Garrib & Alicia Menendez & Analia Olgiati, 2013. "Paying the Piper: The High Cost of Funerals in South Africa," Economic Development and Cultural Change, University of Chicago Press, vol. 62(1), pages 1 - 20.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:14456

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  1. Case, Anne & Deaton, Angus, 1998. "Large Cash Transfers to the Elderly in South Africa," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 108(450), pages 1330-61, September.
  2. Juhn, Chinhui & Kalemli-Ozcan, Sebnem & Turan, Belgi, 2009. "HIV and Fertility in Africa: First Evidence from Population Based Surveys," IZA Discussion Papers 4473, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  3. Alwyn Young, 2005. "The Gift of the Dying: The Tragedy of Aids and the Welfare of Future African Generations," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 120(2), pages 423-466, May.
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Cited by:
  1. Anne Case & Alicia Menendez, 2009. "Requiescat in Pace? The Consequences of High Priced Funerals in South Africa," NBER Working Papers 14998, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Omer Moav and & Zvika Neeman, 2012. "Saving Rates and Poverty: The Role of Conspicuous Consumption and Human Capital," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 122(563), pages 933-956, 09.
  3. Brown, Philip H. & Bulte, Erwin & Zhang, Xiaobo, 2010. "Positional spending and status seeking in rural China," IFPRI discussion papers 983, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).
  4. Linkow, Benjamin, 2009. "Fraying of the Ties that Bind: HIV/AIDS and Informal Contract Enforcement in KwaZulu Natal, South Africa," MPRA Paper 21769, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  5. Chen, Xi & Zhang, Xiaobo, 2012. "Costly Posturing: Relative Status, Ceremonies and Early Child Development in China," Working Paper Series UNU-WIDER Research Paper , World Institute for Development Economic Research (UNU-WIDER).
  6. Rik Linssen & Luuk Kempen & Gerbert Kraaykamp, 2011. "Subjective Well-being in Rural India: The Curse of Conspicuous Consumption," Social Indicators Research, Springer, vol. 101(1), pages 57-72, March.

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