The HIV/AIDS epidemic, kin relations, living arrangements and the elderly in South Africa

Type Working Paper - Center for Demography and Ecology Working Paper No. 2004-13
Title The HIV/AIDS epidemic, kin relations, living arrangements and the elderly in South Africa
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2004
Although the effects of HIV/AIDS on individuals who contract it have been relatively well known for sometime (Quinn, Mann, Curran, and Piot, 1986), the understanding of the plethora of indirect effects and their pervasiveness in many realms of individual and social life is much less complete. Age selectivity, together with the disease’s relatively long periods of incubation and the associated morbidity and lethality, may affect a number of social relations and social organizations that are either unique or distinctly more powerful than those observed for other diseases in Africa or anywhere else. In particular, the levels and age patterns of the incidence of HIV and future increases in prevalence are likely to have a large impact on kin relations, residential patterns, household organization, and the well-being of family members. Faced with the escalating burden of excess morbidity leading to the disruption of normal activities and functions, families and households are likely to adopt coping strategies to contain the damaging effects of the epidemics. An interesting issue is the magnitude and nature of the costs borne by individuals and families as a consequence of the adoption of these strategies and whether or not they will be put into place without threatening the very fabric of family relations as they are known today.

Ten years ago, Palloni and Lee (1992) reviewed the potential effects of the HIV/AIDS epidemic on mortality levels at various ages that would affect household and family organization. The main idea is that when levels of widowhood and orphanhood rise as much as they could due to the HIV/ AIDS effects on mortality alone (excluding effects on fertility and migration), the material basis of traditional kin relations (kin availability) and of household organization (residential patterns) will weaken or cease to operate. In their place, one could expect to see the emergence of new forms of social relations. In addition to projecting high levels of widowhood and orphanhood, the authors anticipated the collapse of traditional family organization, kin networks, and the erosion of the foundations of typical household arrangements. They also predicted increasing prevalence of households in which children live with grandparents in the absence of their parents.

In this paper, we update the work of Palloni and Lee and use a modified version of their model to calculate the demographic impact of HIV/AIDS on the elderly. Our evaluation rests on newly available data for South Africa.

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