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