Abstract

Investigations into household structure in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) provide important insight into how families manage domestic life in response to resource allocation and caregiving needs during periods of rapid sociopolitical and health-related challenges. Recent evidence on household structure in many LMICs contrasts with long-standing viewpoints of worldwide convergence to a Western nuclearized household model. Here, we adopt a household-centered theoretical and methodological framework to investigate longitudinal patterns and dynamics of household structure in a rural South African setting during a period of high AIDS-related mortality and socioeconomic change. Data come from the Agincourt Health and Socio-Demographic Surveillance System (2003–2015). Using latent transition models, we derived six distinct household types by examining conditional interdependency between household heads’ characteristics, members’ age composition, and migration status. More than half of households were characterized by their complex and multigenerational profiles, with considerable within-typology variation in household size and dependency structure. Transition analyses showed stability of household types under female headship, while higher proportions of nuclearized household types dissolved over time. Household dissolution was closely linked to prior mortality experiences—particularly, following death of a male head. Our findings highlight the need to better conceptualize and contextualize household changes across populations and over time.

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