Are African Families Becoming Overextended? A Historical Analysis of the Effects of Family Extension on Schooling Inequalities in Cameroon

Parfait Eloundou-Enyegue, Cornell University
David Shapiro, Pennsylvania State University

Extended-family systems play an important role in buffering socioeconomic inequality in African societies, notably through fosterage of children across nuclear family units. However, there is concern that this support system may break down under the influence of globalization and recent economic crises. Previous scholarship to address this concern has focused on trends in rates of family extension/fosterage, but a full account of trends in the buffering influence of extended families requires simultaneous attention to trends in fosterage rates, the distribution of fosterage opportunities, and the ameliorative effects of fostering. This study uses retrospective fosterage and schooling histories of 2,257 children in Cameroon to examine trends in these three proximate determinants of the buffering influence of extended families. Findings suggest that while the ameliorative effects of fosterage have not changed over time, both the rates and the distribution of fosterage opportunities have changed in ways that raise concern for children at the bottom quintile of the resource distribution.

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Presented in Session 20: Families and Households in Developing Countries