Skip to Main Navigation

Divorce, Widowhood, and Women's Welfare in Africa

November 30, 2017

Washington, DC and Online

  • 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.

  • Dominique van de Walle, Lead Economist, Research Department

    Dominique van de Walle is a Lead Economist in the Development Research Group’s Human Development Team. Her research interests are in the general area of poverty, vulnerability, gender and public policy, encompassing social protection, safety nets and impact evaluation. Much of her recent past research has been on Vietnam, South Asia and Sub Saharan Africa. She holds a Masters in Economics from the London School of Economics and a Ph.D. in economics from the Australian National University, and began her career at the Bank as a member of the core team that produced the 1990 World Development Report on Poverty.


    Asli Demirgüç-Kunt, Director of Research Department, World Bank

    Asli Demirgüç-Kunt is the Director of Research in the World Bank. After joining the Bank in 1989 as a Young Economist, she has held different positions, including Director of Development Policy, Chief Economist of Financial and Private Sector Development Network, and Senior Research Manager, doing research and advising on financial sector and private sector development issues.

    Bénédicte de la Brière, Lead Economist, Gender

    Bénédicte de la Brière is a Lead Economist in the Gender Cross Cutting and Solutions Area group. She was previously in the Human Development group of the Africa Region, as well as focal point for Governance and Service Delivery in the Office of the Chief Economist for Human Development. At the World Bank, she has worked on social assistance in MENA, LAC and SSA.

  • The Policy Research Talks showcase the latest findings of the World Bank research department and their implications for Bank operations. The monthly event facilitates a dialogue between researchers and operational staff so that we can challenge and contribute to the World Bank's intellectual climate and re-examine conventional wisdom in current development theories and practices. Read More »

event details

  • TIME: 12:30 - 2:00 PM, November 30, 2017
  • LOCATION: MC 13-121, World Bank Main Complex