The capabilities approach and agency for shaping family formation trajectories in Ghana

  • Thomas Antwi Bosiakoh Macquarie University, Sydney
  • Samuel Agyei-Mensah University of Ghana, Legon
  • John K Anarfi University of Ghana, Legon
  • Adu Owusu Sarkodie University of Ghana, Legon
  • Claudine Sauvain-Dugerdi University of Geneva
Keywords: Family formation, Pre-marital relationships, Capabilities approach, Ghana, West Africa


Context/Background: Developed by Amartya Sen, the Capabilities Approach (CA) has been applied in several domains of abstraction for understanding human well-being and development. However, there is very little about CA in the processes of forming families, particularly in Africa. This paper employs CA to examine the Ghanaian family formation trajectories. It explores the norms and preferences, the choices and decision-making processes, timing as well as constraints embedded in the family formation process.Data sources and methods: This paper draws on a bigger Ghana/Mali qualitative research that contrasted individual realities and collective images of family formation trajectories in the two countries, but specifically focuses on the Ghana case to understand the individual family formation trajectories in terms of their family life histories, resources available to them as well as their notions on the ideal family life. It is based on analyses and discussions of thirty (30) in-depth interviews conducted in rural and urban Ghana.Results:The results show an inherent interplay of agency-driven idealized goals and socio-cultural concerns, in other words, realities that reflect agency-structure concerns with regards to different family life domains (pre-marital relationships, partner choice-making, marriage, etc.).Conclusion:Based on the analyses, we conclude that the concepts of ‘ambivalence’ and ‘agency’ are important in smoothening the difficulties family formation actors encounter in pursuing their personal family life goals within the context of socio-cultural family life requirements.

Author Biographies

Thomas Antwi Bosiakoh, Macquarie University, Sydney
Department of Sociology
Samuel Agyei-Mensah, University of Ghana, Legon
Department of Feography and Resource Development
John K Anarfi, University of Ghana, Legon
Regional Institute for Population Studies
Adu Owusu Sarkodie, University of Ghana, Legon
Department of Economics
Claudine Sauvain-Dugerdi, University of Geneva
Institute of Demography and Socioeconomic