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

Thomas Antwi Bosiakoh, Samuel Agyei-Mensah, John K Anarfi, Adu Owusu Sarkodie, Claudine Sauvain-Dugerdi


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.


Family formation; Pre-marital relationships; Capabilities approach; Ghana; West Africa

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

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