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Stunting, double orphanhood and unequal access to public services in democratic South Africa

Grace Bridgman and Dieter von Fintel

Economics & Human Biology, 2022, vol. 44, issue C

Abstract: Orphans who lack household or community support face significant socio-economic disadvantages. In particular, they are at greater risk of malnutrition and stunting in developing countries. Children who have no living parents, also called double orphans, are most likely to require support from extended families or public institutions. This paper explores how WASH infrastructure, and public health and social services relate to stunting. It is one of the first studies to analyse these factors with a specific focus on double orphans, who tend to live in under-serviced areas with high stunting rates and poor access to public resources. We collate a cross sectional spatial dataset with local child stunting rates from 2013, rates of double orphanhood, private household resources, and public services from 2011 for South Africa, a country where the HIV/AIDS pandemic has led to high rates of double orphanhood. We estimate spatial econometric models that account for unobserved regional shocks and measurement bias, but which do not address other biases. Our results show that high stunting rates, particularly in areas with high proportions of double orphans, overlap strongly with poor provision of WASH and the availability of household resources. By contrast, other softer services accessed outside the home, such as access to health, social welfare and early childhood development facilities are not correlated with stunting in the same way. WASH is more strongly related to reduced stunting when infrastructure covers larger geographic areas and with the combined use of services from adjacent areas. This occurs because of economies of scale in provision and preventing transmission of disease across regions. Policy makers can explore the option to reduce stunting by expanding geographic networks of WASH service delivery into under-serviced areas where double orphans tend to locate.

Keywords: Stunting; Double orphanhood; Spatial inequality; WASH infrastructure; Service delivery; Spatial econometrics; South Africa (search for similar items in EconPapers)
JEL-codes: H4 I14 J13 R1 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2022
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DOI: 10.1016/j.ehb.2021.101076

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