Living arrangements in sub-Saharan Africa between modernization and ethnicity

Giuseppe Gabrielli, Anna Paterno, Pietro Sacco


Context/Background: Sub-Saharan Africa is characterized by an extraordinary diversification of living arrangements. It is a debatable question whether these features are evolving alongside the deep economic and social changes observed in the past few decades. Despite numerous studies on family changes and their effects, very few analyses consider different ethnic and geographical contexts.

Data Source and Methods: The paper observe the interaction between modernization and cultural heritage in shaping living arrangements in 10 sub-Saharan countries and in 38 ethnic groups. A temporal perspective has been adopted, comparing two successive DHS carried out between 1990 and 2013. 

Stratifying by ethnic groups and rural/urban contexts, factor analysis and hierarchical classification analysis investigate how living arrangements combine with fertility levels and socio-economic characteristics.

Findings: The results support the large heterogeneity of living arrangements and the increase of new family forms, rather than the existence of a convergence process on a single nuclear family pattern. Ethnic background is confirmed a valid interpretative key, necessary to understand the cultural substrate in which the modernization factors brought by globalization act.

Conclusion: National governments should develop and implement family policies that can raise the wellbeing of the emerging family models. In particular, family policies should support households in providing care and economic, material, psychological and affective support for their members.


Living arrangement, Household, Sub-Saharan Africa, Factor analysis, Cluster analysis.

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ISSN 2308-7854 (online); ISSN 0850-5780 (print)

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