Measurement and characteristics of single mothers in South Africa : analysis using the 2002 general household survey.
Dlamini, Nathaniel Siphosenkhosi.
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A single mother is defined as a mother with one or more children, who is neither married nor living with a partner. The second demographic transition characterized by the decline of marital fertility and an increase in non-marital childbearing has led to increased numbers of single mothers in western countries (Heuveline, Timberlake and Furstenberg, 2003). A recent study of families living in greater Johannesburg and Soweto conducted by the centre for Reproductive health at Witwatersrand University reports an increase of single mothers in families of all racial groups in South Africa (Keeton, 2004). Single mothers are associated with higher levels of poverty and dependence on welfare (Fitzgerald and Ribar, 2004), which may affect the wellbeing of their children. The study introduces two theories, modernization and rationale choice theory that could be used to explain the high incidence of single mothers in South Africa. The modernization theory predicts that the increase in out-of-wedlock births is a result of modernization and westernization. On the other hand, proponents of the rational choice theory argue that premarital pregnancies are a rational decision to prove fecundity and facilitate marriage. Some authors have found an association between the rational choice theory and dependence theory, according to which poor young women exchange sexual favours for gifts to obtain financial support outside marriage (Al-Azar, 1999). While both theories inform the study and contribute to the conceptual framework, the rational choice theory is argued to be the more appropriate to explain the increase in number of single mothers in South Africa. The 2002 General Household Survey (GHS) is used to obtain the count of single mothers and a profile of their characteristics. Other surveys questionnaires have been inspected to find out whether it is possible to measure the number of single mothers in the country. The author found that, with the exception of the 1998 Demographic Household Survey (DHS), the 1996 census and one of the October household surveys (OHS), it is not possible to provide an accurate count of single mothers using South Africa's national surveys. Reasons for this limitation are provided in the paper. This study focuses on women aged between 18 and 49 years. To obtain the count of single mothers, it was first established whether a woman was a mother of a child younger than 18 years who lives with her. The next step was to establish the marital status of the woman and to find out if she had a partner living with her. In this study it is important to distinguish between de jure and de facto single mothers. A de jure single mother living with her child(ren), is unmarried and does not have a partner. De jure single mothers are compared to other types of mothers including married mothers with father present (partnered mothers), married mothers with father absent (de facto single mothers), mothers with children older than 18 years or mothers not staying with their children (other mothers) and women who do not have children (childless women). Using the 2002 GHS the paper provides the count and some key characteristics of single mothers, including social and economic characteristics of education level and employment status. These characteristics of single mothers and women are profiled at individual and household level. The results of the analysis show that the prevalence of single mothers in South Africa is high in relation to other sub-Saharan African countries. The study supports other research that there is no significant difference between marital and non-marital fertility because the proportion of de jure single mothers is almost similar to the proportion of married mothers with father present (partnered mothers). This study finds that single mothers occur in higher proportions among African/black and coloured populations and are on average younger than 25 years of age. Reasons suggested for the high incidence of single mothers include teenage pregnancy, poverty and unemployment. The groups most affected by poverty and unemployment are African/blacks and coloureds. When comparing socio-economic characteristics of de jure single mothers and other types of mothers -for instance partnered, de facto single mothers and childless women - the study findings indicate that de jure single mothers are poorer than married mothers for most of the indicators. However, there is also a group of married mothers where the father is absent (de facto single mothers) who also show poor statistics compared to partnered mothers. Partnered mothers are better off in most all the indicators used in this study. A key limitation of this study is that it is cross sectional and therefore does not account for rapid changes in distribution and characteristics of mothers. This makes it somewhat difficult to establish whether models of the modernization or rational choice can explain the high incidence of single mothers. The paper concludes with recommendations and a discussion on some of the important implications that the relatively high proportion of single mothers has for poverty levels of women in South Africa and the effect this might have on their children.