other diseases in Africa (malaria, tuberculosis, intestinal worms,
etc.), which mainly affect the young and the old, HIV/AIDS takes its
toll on prime-age adults during the most productive years of their
lives. The death of an adult family member can have large consequences
for the surviving family. Given prevailing social norms in many African
societies, the burden may likely be heaviest for women.
Most studies focus on the consequences for orphaned children – their schooling and health. We know less about how older adults are impacted. In our study,
we track individuals and their households in northwest Tanzania, an
area of high HIV prevalence in the 1990s, over a 13-year period.
We find that, when a family member dies, women (even old women) end
up working more on the farm; men do too, but not as much. Having an
asset such as goats enables them to work less.
But elderly individuals’ health is generally no worse off after the
deaths of their prime-age relatives. Surprisingly, if an adult child
living outside the home dies, his/her parents’ health or workload do
not suffer . It appears then that support from adult children is either
replaced by other family members or the support is much lower than is
These findings suggest that policies like old-age assistance
programs should take into account the long-term effects of losing an
adult family member, particularly for elderly women, who seem to be
compensating for much of the lost income in the household.