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Measuring Kinship Support for Children of Single Mothers

Sangeehta Madhavan plans to expand research in Kenya

MPRC Associate Director Sangeetha Madhavan received a grant from the National Institutes of Health in 2014 to develop and test an innovative survey instrument – Kinship Support Tree (KST) – with 462 single mothers and their young children in a slum community in 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.

The KST instrument is unique in four important ways:

  1. it is not limited to the co-residential household;
  2. it distinguishes potential from functional kin;
  3. it incorporates multiple geospatial measures including GPS data; and
  4. it collects data on kin relationships from the perspective of children.

As in most African contexts, however, 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.

This project is a collaborative effort between the University of Maryland; McGill University, Montreal, Canada; and the African Population Health and Research Center (APHRC), Nairobi, Kenya.

Update, February 2017: The data collection has ended and the first two publications will be appearing in Population Studies and Journal of Marriage and the Family. Building on the success of this project, Dr. Madhavan has started the process of preparing a major NIH R01 proposal which will administer the KST in two sites in Kenya, have a larger and more diverse sample, use mixed methods and have a longer duration.