Parental death and schooling outcomes in South Africa

Doctoral Thesis


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University of Cape Town

The HIV/AIDS pandemic is leaving in its wake a generation of children who have lost parents, care-givers, and other loved ones to illness and death. One of the lasting effects of the HIV/AIDS crisis will be the impact it is having on the education of the generation of children now of school going age. This thesis examines the extent to which South African children who have experienced parental loss are vulnerable to poorer educational outcomes. It contributes to the literature on orphans and schooling in Africa in a number of ways. Firstly, I assess the extent to which the vulnerability of orphans to poorer educational outcomes has changed over time as the AIDS crisis deepens in South Africa. This provides an avenue to explore whether the fear that extended families are no longer effective safety nets may be overstated or whether traditional coping strategies are indeed breaking down. At every point in time cross-sectional evidence suggests that orphans are at risk of poorer educational outcomes with maternal deaths generally having stronger negative effects than paternal deaths. Despite a significant increase in the number of orphans over the last decade I find no evidence of a systematic deterioration in traditional coping strategies with respect to orphans' educational outcomes. Secondly, I analyse two geographically and socioeconomically distinct longitudinal datasets to investigate whether parental death effects are causal. My evidence is consistent with mother's deaths having a causal effect on children's schooling. Thirdly, I exploit the longitudinal data to investigate the extent to which orphan disadvantage precedes parental death and whether orphans begin to recover in the period following a parent's death or whether they continue to fall behind. Finally, I investigate the longer run impact of parental loss in childhood on human capital formation by focusing on the completion of secondary school by early adulthood. These results suggest that parental death will reduce the ultimate human capital attainment of the child.