The Impacts of Food Insecurity, Networks, and Marital Dissolutions on Demographic Processes in Rural Malawi

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This dissertation consists of three papers that examine topics related to the three components of demography. This research is situated in rural Malawi and I evaluate under-explored mechanisms in demographic and sociological research that aim to explain fluctuations in fertility, the duration of migration spells, and predictors of old-age health. The first paper assesses how famines and food crises might influence the chances of giving birth in subsequent years. Individuals and households in many low-income nations face the prospect, and severe consequences, of food insecurity, yet the effects of exposure to such episodes on fertility are not completely understood; Malawi had a famine in 2002 and major food crisis in 2005-2006. The second paper questions the extent to which the presence of family and friends in a migrant's destination impacts his or her length of stay in that location after controlling for economic, marital, regional, and period factors that often strongly explain migration patterns. Like in many sub-Saharan African countries, labor migration accounts for a large share of internal and international migration, but recent research has also stressed the effects of marital dissolutions and HIV/AIDS in this process as well. Nonetheless, the role of potential support networks--comprised of family members and friends--on migration patterns has been overlooked. The third paper responds to the National Academy of Sciences' call for more research on aspects of aging in sub-Saharan Africa. While concerns about population aging in sub-Saharan Africa are not new, few scholars conducting research on the continent have examined how marital status and marital dissolutions are associated with health among older individuals despite the fact that these are well known, at least in high-income contexts, to be closely correlated with health outcomes. Thus, I examine the relationship between marital status/dissolutions and health over two years using several self-reported health metrics. In sum, these three papers seek to expand the dialogue on alternative explanations to demographic processes, using the case of rural Malawi.