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

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

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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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
Note: AG
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  1. Chinhui Juhn & Sebnem Kalemli-Ozcan & Belgi Turan, 2008. "HIV and Fertility in Africa: First Evidence from Population Based Surveys," NBER Working Papers 14248, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Case, A. & Deaton, A., 1996. "Large Cash Transfers to the Elderly in South Africa," Papers 176, Princeton, Woodrow Wilson School - Development Studies.
  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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