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Does matrilineal kinship weaken the marital bond?

Evidence from Ghana


Stephen Obeng Gyimah, PhD Department of Sociology Queens University Kingston, Ontario gyimahs@post.queensu.ca Baffour K. Takyi, PhD Department of Sociology University of Akron Akron, Ohio btakyi@uakron.edu

Prepared

for presentation at the annual meetings of the Canadian Population Society, Winnipeg, June 2-5 2004.

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Kinship structure and marital dissolution

Research context

Theoretical formulations about family transitions, particularly marital outcomes, in sub-Saharan Africa assume that the changes underway in the region are the result of modernizing processes, particularly Africas encounter with the outside world due to its long history with European imperialism and colonialism. Yet still, others argue that the regions rapid rate of urbanization, estimated at about 4.4 per cent per annum and changes in womens economic position arising from increasing education may be the driving force behind the fragmentation and changes that we are seeing in African families.

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While a common theme behind recent scholarship on the African family focuses on the role of social change in explaining family transitions, few examine the potential influence of internal processes within African societies and their impact on family life. In this paper, we examine the role of family ties (which we define in terms of lineage or kinship allegiance) on the duration of first marriages in Ghana. Despite this growing research interest on the African family, surprisingly little of existing deals with marital stability and dissolution .

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The limited research on marital disruption is that, until quite recently, the focus of most African demographic researchers was in explaining the regions high fertility levels that were viewed as detrimental to socioeconomic developments. Because of the interest on fertility-related issues, a sizable amount of existing demographic studies on postcolonial Africa investigate the determinants of high birth rates, and the conditions under which a transition from high to low birth rate would occur in the region. Given the paucity of studies on marital instability, findings from our study could provide insights into family dynamics and processes in the sub-Saharan region.
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In exploring how family ties affect marital stability in the context of Ghana, we are particularly interested in assessing a key hypothesis that is derived from the institutional theoretical framework that suggests that family ties, particularly matrilineal ties, undermine the marital bond and thus, increase womens risk for marital disruption (see e.g., Oppong, 1974; 1977; Poewe, 1978; Hagan, 1983; Hutchison, 1990).

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Why Ghana?

Three main factors influenced our choice of Ghana as the setting for testing our hypothesis. First, roughly half of Ghanas population is comprised of the matrilineal Akan and the other half are nonmatrilineal (Gaisie, 1981). These two family arrangements serve as the basis of Ghanaian social organizations and are reproduced in succeeding generations through carefully crafted socialization processes and systems of rewards (Dodoo and Tempenis, 2000). These differential rewards, expectations, and influence is likely to have a differential impact on family dynamics in the country. This is particularly the case in matrilineal societies where individuals tend to defer more to the preferences and needs of their lineage kin than in non-matrilineal settings.

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Second, evidence is emerging to indicate that a transformation is underway in many African families (see e.g., Bledsoe, 1990; Lloyd and Gage-Brandon, 1993). With regard to Ghana, Amoateng and Heaton (1989) found women who married in the 1970s to be twice as likely to report a divorce as those who married in earlier decades. Lloyd and Gage-Brandon (1993), and Gage and Njogu (1994) have also reported that during the 1970s, about 40% of ever-married women between the ages of 40-49 in Ghana reported a marital dissolution, with this figure increasing to a high of 60.8% by the 1980s (Gage and Njogu 1994). Despite these observations, researchers disagree on the forces that are influencing these recent transitions in family life in Ghana.

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Another reason for using Ghana is that data from Demographic and Health Surveys conducted in that country during the 1980s and 1990s have measures that allow us to distinguish between the two predominant family traditions and ties: matrilineal and non-matrilineal ties for the study. Using this categorization, we estimate hazard models to examine the duration of first marriage to address the question of whether women from matrilineal family backgrounds experience more disruption than their non-matrilineal counterparts. Because the disruptive-effect thesis is predicated on the assumption that in matrilineal societies women tend to have more support and also autonomy in their social relations than their non-matrilineal counterparts (Clignet, 1970; Poewe, 1978; Takyi, 2001), we hypothesize that the risk of marital disruption will be greater among matrilineal than non-matrilineal women.
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Background

Studies on marital stability have in the recent past explained the reported fragility of African marriages in terms of structural forces. This thesis argues that social changes arising from what is considered as modernizing influences and the introduction of Western ideas and norms into the region have something to do with recent marital transitions (Kaufmann and Meekers, 1998; Takyi, 2001; McDonald, 1985; Caldwell, 1982). While acknowledging the possible influence of micro-level factors such as age at marriage, and increasing levels of womens education on marital stability, the undue emphasis on structural forces ignore the potential role of internal and institutional forces such as family ties that could potentially affect family and marital outcomes in subSaharan Africa.

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The issue of whether kinship ties influence marital outcomes is important given the overwhelming influence of lineage or kinship ties in Africa. Indeed, research from the region have increasingly pointed to the saliency of lineal ties to our understanding of childbearing and rearing patterns (Page, 1989), and overall reproductive behavior (Caldwell, 1982; Lesthaeghe, 1984; Caldwell and Caldwell, 1987), and also divorce (Takyi, 2001). In the context of West Africa, Caldwell (1995) also notes that family members rarely leave the extended family, with women traditionally worshipping in their households of origin even after marriage.

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More importantly, women and their children tend to be accepted readily back into their families of origin if their marriages break up, a practice that is common among matrilineal kin members. These dynamics, coupled with the ambiguous position of the conjugal family vis--vis lineal could affect intra-family relations which could contribute to the destabilization of the marital union.

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Theoretical framework

Three main mechanisms through which matrilineal family ties can affect the stability of the conjugal unit. 1) under the matrilineal family system, married couples rarely pool their resources together for the benefit of the conjugal family unit (Oppong, 1983a, 1983b). While feminists scholars would argue that such a practice provide women with some level of autonomy from their spouses, the lack of a joint account is consistent with the traditional belief under the matrilineal system (especially as practice in Ghana) that men and women should give priority to their matrilineal kin over their own spouses (Clark (1999).

Takyi (2001) and Dodoo (1998) have argued that the practice of maintaining separate marital accounts, plus the spousal allegiance of the wife to her own maternal family of origin, could undermine the authority of the husband, weaken and compromise the marital unit, and provide women and men with different cost and benefits calculations, which could ultimately influence the wifes marital decisions. 10/01/2013 Kinship structure and marital dissolution 12

Mechanisms linking lineage ties to marital outcomes

2. the second borrows its ideas from rationale choice theory (see e.g., Klein, 2002). Consistent with this view, it has been suggested that the transactions that lead to the exchange of resources between family members in the form of bridewealth payments prior to the consummation of the union may influence the wifes actions within the marriage. 3. The third is the status of women of matrilineal descent . Research on the status of women in the developing world have pointed to the dependency-relationship that arises between couples when the wife rely on the husband for financial support. Under the matrilineal system of descent, family members are guaranteed significant social support, benefits and freedom not found among non-matrilineal societies. These benefits may include for example valued resources such as access to land (see e.g., O'Rourke, 1995). Besides, non-biological members tend to get significant support and benefits outside their own conjugal family unit.
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Summary of key hypotheses

Matrilineal family ties could weaken family cohesion thereby increasing the rate of marital disruption. Hence, we expect the risk of marital dissolution to be higher among matrilineal than non-matrilineal women.

The relative degree of autonomy that matrilineal women derive from their non-conjugal family members could in turn increase womens relative risk for divorce. Thus, we expect rates matrilineal rather than non-matrilineal women to have lower duration of marriages.

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Methodology

The present analysis is based on pooled data from evermarried women interviewed in the 1988, 1993, and 1998 Ghana Demographic and Health Surveys [GDHS]. The GDHS is a nationally representative, stratified, selfweighting probability sample survey of women aged15 to 49 years. The merged file yielded a sample size of 10, 843 evermarried women.

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Measures

Duration of first marriage was used as the dependent variable. The main independent variable, kinship structure, was derived from the question on ethnicity. Coded as matrilineal or non matrilineal.

For the multivariate models, we controlled for sociodemographic factors that have been linked to marital stability, including religion, education, place of residence, presence of children in the household, type of marital union, age at first marriage, history of premarital births, and marriage cohort.
These are factors that have been shown to influence marital outcomes.

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Analytical model

Because the duration of first marriage is right-censored at the time of the survey, standard regression procedures are deemed inadequate. For our study, Cox proportional hazards models are used to assess the links between matrilineal family ties and the duration of first marriage. We examined the proportionality assumption by using the the stphtest in STATA

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Findings

1.0 .9 .8 .7

Cum Survival

.6 .5 .4 .3 .2 .1 0.0 0 5 10 15 20 25 30 35 40

Ethnicity/kinship
AKAN NON AKAN

Duration of First Marriage

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Figure 1 describes the relationship between the duration of first marriage among matrilineal and nonmatrilineal women. The survival plot suggests a significant difference between the matrilineal and non-matrilineal women when it comes to their first marriages. At all durations, we find evidence that the proportion of matrilineal Akan women who experienced a marital disruption was higher than non-matrilineal women. For example, at 15 years of marriage, about 25% of Akan marriages had been dissolved compared with only 10% of non-Akan marriages

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Multivariate Findings

Table 3: Hazard Model of Risk of Marrital Dissolution, Ghana


Model 1 Model 2 Model 3 Model 4 Model 5 Model 6

Kinship/ethnicity Akan 1.57(0.03)*** Non Akan (reference) 1.00 Religion Catholic Moslem Traditional Others Other Christian (reference) Education Primary Secondary+ No education (reference) Place of residence Urban Rural (reference) Number of children Childless Have children(reference) Type of marital union Polygamous Otherwise (reference) Pre-marital birth Had pre-marital birth No premarital birth Age at first marriage Under 20 years 20 years and above Age at survey Year of first marriage 1970-1979 1980-1989 1990 and after Before 1970 (reference) Ethncity* Religion interaction Akan*Catholic Akan*Moslem Akan*Traditional Akan*other

1.34(0.03)*** 1.00 0.84(0.04)*** 0.68(0.06)*** 0.50(0.08)*** 0.87(0.05)** 1.00

1.34(0.03)*** 1.00

1.26 (0.03)*** 1.35(0.03)*** 1.00 1.00

1.72(0.05)*** 1.00 0.70(0.08)*** 0.59(0.07)*** 0.54(0.09)*** 0.65(0.08)*** 1.00 1.47(0.04)*** 0.97(0.06) 1.00 1.04(0.04) 1.00 2.38(0.09)*** 1.00 1.22(0.04)*** 1.00 1.69(0.05)*** 1.00 6.59(0.05)***

0.83 (0.05)*** 0.85(0.05)** 0.83(0.06)* 0.66(0.08)*** 1.03(0.05) 1.00 2.05(0.04)*** 1.62(0.05)*** 1.00 0.94(0.03) 1.00 1.99(0.04)*** 1.55(0.05)*** 1.00 0.93(0.03)! 1.00 0.66(0.06)*** 0.62(0.08)*** 0.87(0.05)* 1.00 1.50(0.04)*** 0.99(0.05) 1.00 1.04(0.04) 1.00 2.38(0.09)*** 1.00 1.21(0.04)*** 1.00 1.70(0.05)*** 1.00 6.50(0.05)***

0.71(0.00)*** 1.81(0.05)*** 3.33(0.08)*** 7.39(0.11)*** 1.00

0.70(0.00)*** 1.85(0.05)*** 3.35(0.08)*** 7.40(0.11)*** 1.00 1.35(0.10)** 1.15 1.42 1.67(0.11)***

-2 Log likelihood Overall chi-square (df) Prob>chi-square


Notes:

53096 166(1) 0.000

53005 241(5) 0.000

52782 504 (4) 0.000

52726 534(8) 0.000

46522 5299(17) 0.000

46497 5325 (21) 0.000

Standard errors are given in parentheses. Statistical significance: ***p<0.000; **p<0.01; *p<0.05; !p<0.10

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Overall, the results indicate that matriliny has a strong and robust effect on the duration of marriage. In Model 1, there is evidence that the matrilineal Akans have a signicantly higher risk of marital disruption -- the risk being 57 percent higher--than their non-Akan counterparts.

In Model 2, the effect of kinship ties remains strong and robust, suggesting that religion does not explain kin differences in marital duration. In Model 3, the effects of kin are shown to be independent of socio-economic factors of education and place of residence. Across models, there is evidence of a robust effect of kin ties on marital duration affirming its independence
These results suggest that the ethnic differences in marital duration cannot be attributed to socio-economic and demographic factors, and thus provide support for our hypotheses.
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Summary

In all our models, we found empirical support for the reported anthropological findings with regard to the potential linkages between matrilineal social organizations and marital instability in Africa. The fact that family ties is an important predictor of marital duration should in no way be construed to mean that other structural processes are not relevant in the context of Africa.

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Summary

Indeed, as the case is around the world, social changes and globalization are having immense influence on social relations and family processes in Africa as well. Thus, in arguing that cultural processes are relevant for our understanding of marital outcomes in Africa, what we argue here is that, in addition to the widely reported variables associated with structural changes, researchers need to consider the cultural influences which could confound marital decisions and outcomes in a region where family ties are salient in everyday discourse.

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