The family is a major institution for carrying out essential production, consumption, reproduction, and accumulation functions that are associated with the social and economic empowerment of individuals and societies. The members of the family are human beings and are in need of material things to survive and develop. It is this need to obtain and to consume goods and services that constitute economic development and the role that the family plays in economic development (Bigombe and Khadiagala, 2003). Therefore, this essay seeks to critically examine the role of the family in African society in economic development with the description in structures and high divorce rates and attempts to answer whether or not the family still plays the pivotal role of being the foundation of economic development. The essay will begin by defining the key concepts, among them, the Family, Social capital and Economic Development. Next, the essay will examine the role of the family, the situation in Africa society in economic development with the description in family structures. Likewise, the essay mentions impact of high divorce rates in Africa on economic development in answering whether or not the family still plays the pivotal role of being the foundation of economic development.
Lastly, a conclusion will be drawn. According to Todaro (2003), “Economic development is defined as an increase in living conditions, improvement of the citizens self-esteem needs and free and a just society” (Todaro and smith, 2003). A family may be defined as a domestic group(s) of people linked through descent from a common ancestor, marriage or adoption. Families have some degree of kinship. According to sociology and anthropology, the primary function of the family is to reproduce society, either biologically, socially, or both. Thus, the family serves to locate children socially, and plays a major role in their enculturation and socialization. In societies with a sexual division of labor, marriage, and the resulting relationship between a husband and wife, is necessary for the formation of an economically productive household and in turn society’s economic development. Social capital, is described as “those social relationships that allow individuals access to resources possessed by their associates, and to the amount and quality of those resources upon which people depend for social, economic and emotional support” (Belsey, 2005:17).
To this end family capital provides enabling resources and strengthens the capacity of individual family members to function and attain their current and future goals and objectives. Having defined the key concepts the essay will now examine the role of the family in economic development. To begin with, the family is a major institution for carrying out essential production, consumption, reproduction, and accumulation functions that are associated with the social and economic empowerment of individuals and societies. Families and their members build caring support systems and solve problems creatively, while their resilient behavior can be reflected in the maintenance of normal development of optimism, resourcefulness and determination despite adversity. Also, the family emphasizes the importance of nonmaterial resources which, while not easily measurable, have a significant effect on the family’s ability to shape the future. These are attained through instrumental and affective roles of the family (Patterson, 2002). Instrumental roles are concerned with the provision of physical resources such as food, clothing and shelter while affective roles promote emotional support and encouragement of family members (Peterson, 2009).
Those roles that have the potential to enhance the socio-economic empowerment of individuals include membership and family formation; economic support; nurturance, support, and socialization; and protection of vulnerable members. As the seat of the first integration of individuals into social life, families are the major source of their members’ basic personal and social identity, and capacity for love and intimacy. As the Centre for Social Justice in the United Kingdom suggests, “It is within the family environment that an individual’s physical, emotional and psychological development occurs. It is from our family that we learn unconditional love, we understand right from wrong, and we gain empathy, respect and self-regulation. These qualities enable us to engage positively at school, at work and in society in general (Centre for Social Justice, 2010). Indeed, the family environment in which children grow up has been considered a key predictor of their future outcomes.
International multidisciplinary research evidence, for example, indicates that children growing up in low-income families and households where parenting practices and behavior are created as a result of economic strain and material hardship generally experience social and health conditions that place them at risk of later academic, employment and behavioral problems. Conversely, early positive childhood experiences acquired through strong and effective parent-child attachment and communication; a nurturing, loving family environment; enhancement and support of academic functioning; and monitoring of peer influence promotes the development of pro-social and foundational psychosocial systems in children and young people (Centre for Social Justice, 2010b).
Stable functional families have also been shown to contribute to youth social empowerment by providing many of the factors that protect young people from engaging in risky sexual behavior, drug use and abuse, delinquency, and other anti-social behaviors (Perrino et al, 2000). It has been shown, for example, that teenagers who talked with their parents about sex are also more likely to discuss sexual risk with their partners, and are less likely to be involved with deviant peer groups. In a very general sense, therefore, negative family experiences poor child-parent attachment; a chaotic, dysfunctional, abusive, neglectful, or impoverished family environment may directly or indirectly hamper youth’s social and economic empowerment. For example, explanations have been offered at several levels as to how poverty may increase youth’s susceptibility socio-economic and health disadvantages. As Eaton et al (2003) found in South Africa, for young people struggling for daily survival, protection from possible future illness may be a lower priority than meeting immediate economic needs. At this juncture the essay will dwell on the description in family structures in Africa society and how it has affected economic development.
In African society, people generally rely on their family for support in times of financial and economic setbacks, and as Canning and colleagues assert, families contribute to the economic empowerment of their members by playing a “role of insurer of last resort, providing aid and solace when all else fails and preventing temporary setbacks from becoming permanent. Similarly, in Africa, as in many other developing regions the extended family is a long established institution which provides its members with sophisticated social security system, an economic support to meet their basic needs for food, shelter, and clothing, and a wide circle of relatives on whom to fall back in times of crisis, unemployment, sickness, poverty, old age, and bereavement (African Union, 2004). Indeed the African Union asserts that the continent’s development thus far can be largely attributed to the strength of the family as large families were traditionally a source of labor and prosperity, and the extended family ensured that poor families were generally supported by the better-off.
The practices of education or training fostering (where children are boarded out with relatives who are expected to provide formal education to the younger one, often in return to have themselves received educational assistance) and alliance building fostering (where children are sent out as wards to the homes of non-relatives, including friends and acquaintances of respected social standing to establish and strengthen social, economic or political alliance) are examples of how this was, and continues to be, achieved. Intergenerational solidarity, which manifests itself when “one generation uses its vantage position of being outside a particular generation to be of assistance to a generation in need” is an additional pathway to achieving this role. For example, in addition to child socialization discussed earlier, the traditional African extended family is also the base for reciprocal care-giving relations between generations where older persons play a major role in taking care of grandchildren while younger family members are the main caregivers of older members.
All in all, therefore, the nurturing and supporting role of the family can enhance the social and economic empowerment of both older persons and young people. Essentially, developing connections with a younger generation can help older adults to feel a greater sense of fulfillment, while linking older adults with youth can provide advantages for both groups including providing an opportunity for both to learn new skills; giving the child and the older adult a sense of purpose; helping children to understand and later accept their own aging; invigora ting and energizing older adults; helping reduce the likelihood of depression in the elderly; reducing the isolation of older adults; and helping keep family stories and history alive. In many African societies members of the extended family such as mother-in-laws or sister-in-laws from either the husband’s or wife’s family make themselves available right from birth to assist in caring for a new-born baby and the nursing mother, a practice that lessens the emotional and physical burden that a nursing mother goes through during the early period of childrearing.
This kinship support for care responsibilities generally continues throughout the childrearing years and enhances parents’ participation in income generating and socially enhancing activities, thus contributing to social and economic empowerment. In addition to childcare support, families typically provide protective care and support for their disabled, frail, ill, and other vulnerable members who cannot care for themselves. As Nukuya (1992:4) observed, the family is a “social arrangement in which an individual has extensive reciprocal duties, obligations and responsibilities to his relations outside his nuclear family”. In the context of high HIV and AIDS prevalence in sub-Saharan Africa, grandparents particularly grandmothers, have increasingly taken up the responsibility of caring for the sick and the dying, and for grandchildren orphaned or made vulnerable by the epidemic. According to UNICEF (2007), more than 90 per cent of orphans in many countries of the region are living with extended families, with most being cared for by grandparents.
Save the Children (2007), for example, found that in Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe, 60 per cent of orphans and other vulnerable children were living in grandparent-headed households. This ‘crisis fostering’ defined as the boarding out of children as a result of the dissolution of the family of birth by, among other things, the death of one or both parents—is a major source of social and economic empowerment for the orphans as it generally improves the children’s survival chances by removing them from the source of a crisis (Isiugo-Abanihe, 1985). Families especially women and older persons are also primarily responsible for executing the home-based care model through which many African governments shifted the burden of HIV and AIDS-related care from the state to families and communities. In terms of social and economic empowerment of those individuals infected and affected by the epidemic, potential benefits of home based care include that the sick are surrounded by people they love and are familiar with, and hence are more likely to receive more flexible and nurturing care; the distress of travelling to and from hospitals or health centres for both the sick and their families is removed; expenditure on transport and hospital costs is also reduced; in being cared for at home, a person with HIV or AIDS may be in a ready position to work or look after family members for short periods of time while the primary earners work.
This promotes social empowerment for the sick and economic empowerment for other individuals in the family; finally the time the family would otherwise use travelling to and from hospital can instead be spent on other life-enhancing social and economic activities. The protective role of families is particularly relevant for people with disabilities. Generally, with no stable income, people with disabilities have to depend on the mercy of family members, well-wishers and charity groups for hand-outs to sustain their livelihood (Tsengu et al , undated). The family plays a key role in preventing social alienation because it is the one structure individuals are part of by birth rather than by choice. Even if all other institutions fail individuals, they can always turn to their family in times of difficulty if the institution of the family is functioning. Without the family to fall back on in times of stress, the likelihood that individuals leave society and enter the underclass when for example, they face unemployment, increases.
Although Africa has, over the last decade, experienced rapid economic growth and declines in the poverty rate and the absolute number of poor people poverty continues to deter families in the continent from playing their various roles, and hence makes it difficult for individuals to realize full social and economic empowerment. This has been due to high divorce rates that Africa is now experiencing and which this essay now discusses. As a result of transformations such as, among others, increased marriage timing and increased female educational attainment, female-headed households have become a discernible pattern on the African social landscape, with recent figure showing that these type of households account for more than 20 percent of all households in many countries of the region.
This pattern has had implications on the social and economic empowerment of individuals in these households given that female-headed households have been shown to be generally disadvantaged in terms of access to important socio-economic resources such as land, livestock, credit, education, health care and extension services (Connell, 20 03; Ellis & Adams, 2009:14; UNECA, 2009). Due to the high divorce rates (Mokomane, 2012) and the high prevalence of female-headed households conversed above, the phenomenon of absentee fathers, where a father is alive but is socially, emotionally and or financially absent in his child(ren)’s lives is notably increasing in some African countries. In South Africa, for example, the Institute of Race Relations released figures showing that the proportion of fathers who are absent but living increased from 42 percent to 48 percent between 1996 and 2009.
Conversely the proportion of fathers present decreased from 49 percent to 36 percent over the same time period (Holborn & Eddy, 2011). While poverty, high rates of unemployment, and financial constraints may contribute to large numbers of fathers failing to take responsibility for their children this trend in a cause for concern given the significant body of evidence showing the positive effect of the presence and active involvement of a father in a child’s life chances; academic performance; and social, emotional and cognitive functioning (Engle et al, 2006; Richter, 2006; Kang & Weber, 2009).
Overall, this phenomenon can negatively affect the social empowerment of children and young people. Whether or not the family still plays a pivotal role in laying the foundation of economic development in light of high divorce rates in Africa arguments in this essay suggest that the family still plays a pivotal role though slowly weakening. As evidenced from the poverty rate and the absolute number of poor people poverty continues to deter families in the continent from playing that pivotal role efficiently. In conclusion, this essay has critically examined the role of the family in African society in economic development with the description in structures and high divorce rates. The family environment in which children grow up has been considered a key predictor of their future outcomes.
Stable functional families contribute to youth social empowerment by providing many of the factors that protect young people from engaging in risky sexual behavior, drug use and abuse, delinquency, and other anti-social behaviors. Furthermore, the essay has mentioned impact of high divorce rates in Africa on economic development. High HIV and AIDS prevalence in sub-Saharan Africa has led to grandmothers taking up the responsibility of caring for the sick and the dying and for grandchildren orphaned or made vulnerable by the epidemic. Lastly, the essay has established that the poverty rate and the absolute number of poor people poverty continue to deter families in the continent from playing that pivotal role efficiently.
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Centre for Social Justice, (2010) Green Paper on the Family. Accessed At: http://www.centreforsocialjustice.org.uk/publications [18th October, 2014]
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