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Measuring Kinship Support for Children of Single Mothers

Sangeetha Madhavan investigates the effects of social and economic change on children's lives in Nairobi

In a new pilot study, MPRC Faculty Associate Sangeetha Madhavan and colleagues plan to pilot and assess the feasibility of a new survey instrument to collect data on kinship support for young children of single mothers living in the slums of Nairobi, Kenya. These children are disadvantaged by their precarious environment, characterized by lack of sanitation, limited health care facilities, congested and low-quality housing, and wide-spread unemployment and poverty. Children born in the slums of Nairobi are significantly more likely to die than children in the rest of Kenya. Moreover, high rates of premarital childbirth, union dissolution, and adult mortality result in a large proportion of children who are raised by single mothers.

As in most African contexts, these single mothers are assumed to receive considerable economic support and childcare assistance from their residential and non-residential extended kin. However, kinship support is potentially declining due to three processes under way in many African contexts: 1) increased distance between children and extended kin due to high rates of female migration, particularly to informal settlements in urban locations; 2) pervasive poverty which limits the ability of kin to provide support; and 3) transformation of views on marriage, women’s roles, and family norms, with a greater reliance on conjugal bonds than kinship ties. As a result, the team hypothesizes that there might be enormous variation in the type and amount of kinship support that children of poor, urban, single mothers receive which, in turn, could put their health and well-being at risk.