Work and Family Transitions and the Self-Rated Health of Young Women in South Africa

Bennett, R. and Waterhouse, Philippa (2018). Work and Family Transitions and the Self-Rated Health of Young Women in South Africa. Social Science and Medicine, 203 pp. 9–18.



Understanding the transition to adulthood has important implications for supporting young adults and understanding the roots of diversity in wellbeing later in life. In South Africa, the end of Apartheid means today’s youth are experiencing their transition to adulthood in a changed social and political context which offers opportunities compared to the past but also threats. This paper presents the first national level analysis of the patterning of key transitions (completion of education, entry into the labour force, motherhood and marriage or cohabitation), and the association between the different pathways and health amongst young women. With the use of longitudinal data from the South African National Income Dynamics Study (2008-2015), this paper employs sequence analysis to identify common pathways to adulthood amongst women aged 15-17 years at baseline (n=429) and logistic regression modelling to examine the association between these pathways and self-rated health. The sequence analysis identified five pathways: 1. ‘Non-activity commonly followed by motherhood’, 2. ‘Pathway from school, motherhood then work’, 3. ‘Motherhood combined with schooling’, 4. ‘Motherhood after schooling’, and 5. ‘Schooling to non-activity’. After controlling for baseline socio-economic and demographic characteristics and health, the regression results show young women who followed pathways characterised by early motherhood and economic inactivity (1, 3 and 4) had poorer self-rated health compared to women whose pathways were characterised by combining motherhood and economic activity (2) and young women who were yet to become economically active or mothers (5). Therefore, policies should seek to prevent adolescent childbearing, support young mothers to continue their educational careers and enable mothers in work and seeking work to balance their work and care responsibilities. Further, the findings highlight the value of taking a holistic approach to health and provide further evidence for the need to consider work-family balance in the development agenda.

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