The economic consequences of death in South Africa

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University of Cape Town


Using a large longitudinal dataset, we quantify the impact of adult deaths on household economic wellbeing. The timing of lower socioeconomic status observed for households in which members die of AIDS suggests that the socioeconomic gradient in AIDS mortality is being driven primarily by poor households being at higher risk for AIDS. Following a death, households that experienced an AIDS death are observed being poorer still. However, the additional socioeconomic loss following death is very similar to the loss observed from deaths from other causes. Funeral expenses can explain some of the impoverishing effects of death in the household.

We thank Angus Deaton for helpful comments. Ardington gratefully acknowledges funding from the South African National Research Foundation/Department of Science and Technology: Human and Social Dynamics in Development Grand Challenge. Bärnighausen was supported through Grant Nos. R01 HD058482-01 from the National Institute of Child Health and Development, National Institutes of Health (NIH); and R01 MH083539-01 from the National Institute of Mental Health, NIH; and by the Wellcome Trust. Case thanks Alice Muehlhof for expert research assistance, and gratefully acknowledges fi nancial support from the National Institute of Aging under grant P30 AG024361. Menendez gratefully acknowledges funding by the National Institutes of Health, including the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) (#5R24HD051152). Analysis is based on data collected through the Africa Centre Demography Unit