Discussion Paper No. 10-04


The emergence of Child-Headed Households (CHH) and Young Adult Households (YAH) has largely been taken as an indicator of the erosion of the traditional safety nets in sub-Saharan countries and a direct consequence of the increasing number of orphans in the region. However, the initial evidence presented so far suggests that the process of formation of CHH and YAH is more complex than it appears to be. Using the four available waves of the Zimbabwe Demographic and Health Surveys (1988, 1994, 1999, and 2005/2006) we find that the proportion of households with no adults have remained stable in the last years, although the number of orphans have increased significantly. In fact, a large number of children living in CHH are non-orphans, which suggests that this kind of living arrangements is not always a direct consequence of parental death. Moreover, our analysis show that children living in CHH and YAH are less likely to have unmet basic needs than children in households headed by working-age adults and other vulnerable households.