For men and women across Africa, marriage is nearly universal. However, the duration of marriage is far from equal. Large age gaps and lower rates of remarriage after divorce and widowhood mean that women’s married lives are much shorter. One in ten African women above the age of 14 is a widow, and six percent are divorcees. Many more have been widows or divorcees at some point in their lives. These marital shocks have in part been driving the growth in the share of female-headed households across the continent.
In the face of divorce or widowhood, women must often struggle with serious economic hardship. A sudden drop in economic support is compounded by a host of legal, social, and economic disadvantages. Customary laws governing unions and their dissolution privilege men above women, whether in terms of child custody arrangements, property rights, or inheritance. Underdeveloped formal safety nets and insurance mechanisms fail to cushion the shock. Informal systems of support through the extended family or village only partially fill the gap.
The impacts of marital dissolution on women’s well-being in Africa remain understudied. In this talk, Dominique will discuss the findings from a small but growing number of rigorous descriptive and quantitative studies that investigate welfare and marital shocks. Differences between regions of Africa will be emphasized. Dominique will also address the policy implications of this body of research.