Sexual Stigma and Infant Mortality in Sub-Saharan Africa

Jennifer Johnson-Hanks, University of California, Berkeley

Several studies have demonstrated that infants born outside of marriage face higher mortality rates than do infants born within marriage (e.g. Arntzen et al., 1996; Gaudino, Jenkins and Rochat, 1999; Holt et al., 1997). In much of sub-Saharan Africa, however, premarital conception leads more often to bridal pregnancy than to premarital birth. This paper argues that the consequences of premarital conception depend on the local gender context, and particularly on the degree of stigma associated with premarital sexuality. Using data from African DHSs that include ethnic identifiers in conjunction with ethnographic literature, I show that infants born after bridal pregnancy have significantly higher mortality rates than do infants conceived within marriage in societies intolerant of premarital sex, whereas in more tolerant groups the rates do not differ. By contrast, children borne outside of marriage have higher mortality rates than do children borne within marriage in both kinds of societies.

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Presented in Session 123: Gender, Sexuality, and Health