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The impact of parental death on school enrollment and achievement: Longitudinal evidence from South Africa


  • Anne Case
  • Cally Ardington

    () (SALDRU, School of Economics, University of Cape Town)


We analyse longitudinal data from a demographic surveillance area (DSA) in KwaZulu-Natal, to examine the impact of parental death on children's outcomes. We find significant differences in the impact of mothers' and fathers' deaths. The loss of a child's mother is a strong predictor of poor schooling outcomes. Maternal orphans are significantly less likely to be enrolled in school, and have completed significantly fewer years of schooling, conditional on age, than children whose mothers are alive. Less money is spent on their educations on average, conditional on enrolment. Moreover, children whose mothers have died appear to be at an educational disadvantage when compared to non-orphaned children with whom they live. We use the timing of mothers' deaths relative to children's educational shortfalls to argue that mothers' deaths have a causal effect on children's educations. The loss of a child's father is a significant predictor of household socioeconomic status. Children whose fathers have died live in significantly poorer households, measured on a number of dimensions. However, households in which fathers died were poor prior to fathers' deaths. The death of a father between waves of the survey has no significant effect on subsequent household economic status. While the loss of a father is correlated with poorer educational outcomes, this correlation arises because a father's death is a marker that the household is poor. Evidence from the South African 2001 Census suggests that the estimated effects of maternal deaths on children's school attendance and attainment in the Africa Centre DSA reflect the reality for orphans throughout South Africa.

Suggested Citation

  • Anne Case & Cally Ardington, 2004. "The impact of parental death on school enrollment and achievement: Longitudinal evidence from South Africa," SALDRU/CSSR Working Papers 097, Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit, University of Cape Town.
  • Handle: RePEc:ldr:cssrwp:097

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Conradie, Beatrice, 2005. "Wages and wage elasticities for wine and table grapes in South Africa," Agrekon, Agricultural Economics Association of South Africa (AEASA), vol. 44(1), March.
    2. Stephan Klasen & Ingrid Woolard, 1999. "Levels, trends and consistency of employment and unemployment figures in South Africa," Development Southern Africa, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 16(1), pages 3-35.
    3. Haroon Bhorat, 2003. "The Post-Apartheid Challenge: Labour Demand Trends in the South African Labour Market, 1995-1999," Working Papers 03082, University of Cape Town, Development Policy Research Unit.
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    Cited by:

    1. Anne Case & Victoria Hosegood & Frances Lund, 2005. "The reach and impact of Child Support Grants: evidence from KwaZulu-Natal," Development Southern Africa, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 22(4), pages 467-482.
    2. Francesco Strobbe & Claudia Olivetti & Mireille Jacobson, 2010. "Breaking the Net: Family Structure and Street Children in Zambia," Brooks World Poverty Institute Working Paper Series 11110, BWPI, The University of Manchester.
    3. Zivin, Joshua Graff & Thirumurthy, Harsha & Goldstein, Markus, 2009. "AIDS treatment and intrahousehold resource allocation: Children's nutrition and schooling in Kenya," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 93(7-8), pages 1008-1015, August.
    4. Ainsworth, Martha & Filmer, Deon, 2006. "Inequalities in children's schooling: AIDS, orphanhood, poverty, and gender," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 34(6), pages 1099-1128, June.
    5. Mont, Daniel & Nguyen, Cuong, 2013. "Does Parental Disability Matter to Child Education? Evidence from Vietnam," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 48(C), pages 88-107.
    6. Edmonds, Eric V., 2006. "Child labor and schooling responses to anticipated income in South Africa," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 81(2), pages 386-414, December.
    7. World Bank, 2008. "Mozambique - Beating the Odds : Sustaining Inclusion in a Growing Economy - A Mozambique Poverty, Gender, and Social Assessment, Volume 1. Main Report," World Bank Other Operational Studies 7981, The World Bank.
    8. Christopher Ksoll, 2007. "Family Networks and Orphan Caretaking in Tanzania," Economics Series Working Papers 361, University of Oxford, Department of Economics.
    9. Sudeshna Maitra, 2006. "Population Growth and Rising Dowries: The Long-Run Mechanism of a Marriage Squeeze," Working Papers 2006_9, York University, Department of Economics.
    10. Ruben Castro & Jere Behrman & Hans-Peter Kohler, 2015. "Perception of HIV risk and the quantity and quality of children: the case of rural Malawi," Journal of Population Economics, Springer;European Society for Population Economics, vol. 28(1), pages 113-132, January.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • I00 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - General - - - General
    • I21 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Analysis of Education


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