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Claims on and Obligations to Kin in Cape Town, South Africa

Year: 2010
Working paper number: 272
Author: Harper, Sarah
Unit: SSU

Qualitative and quantitative research has shown that non-nuclear family households remain common in post-apartheid South Africa whilst suggesting also that families are less extended than in the past. Most of this research focuses on who lives with whom. This paper goes beyond this by examining the claims that young people anticipate might be made on them, and the obligations they can envisage making on others. Data from the fourth wave of the Cape Area Panel Study, conducted in 2006, show that most young people report being able to make claims on only a narrow range of close kin. The range of kin on whom young black adults report being able to make claims is only marginally wider than for young white and coloured adults, and is heavily concentrated on the maternal side. This suggests that there has been some shrinkage in the extent of kinship ties among young black people, and a dramatic shrinkage on the paternal side. Unlike their coloured and white peers, young black adults report many prospective obligations to diverse kin, including more distant kin, although again almost entirely on the maternal side. Multivariate analysis suggests that 'race' – presumably as a proxy for cultural factors – is not important in shaping the claims that someone feels able to make, but remains important in shaping the obligations that someone anticipates having to make, after controlling for other variables. These patterns did not differ by gender. We find some evidence that claims and obligations entail reciprocal relationships, especially among less close kin. Overall, we find that relationships with more distant kin are largely limited to black South Africans, are highly conditional, exist predominantly with maternal kin and more frequently entail feelings of responsibility toward kin than reliance upon kin .

Publication file: WP272.pdf