Offspring schooling associated with increased parental survival in rural KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

Soc Sci Med. 2017 Mar;176:149-157. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2017.01.015. Epub 2017 Jan 16.


Background: Investing in offspring's human capital has been suggested as an effective strategy for parents to improve their living conditions at older ages. A few studies have assessed the role of children's schooling in parental survival in high-income countries, but none have considered lower-resource settings with limited public wealth transfers and high adult mortality.

Methods: We followed 17,789 parents between January 2003 and August 2015 in a large population-based open cohort in rural KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. We used Cox proportional hazards models to investigate the association between offspring's schooling and time to parental death. We assessed the association separately by parental sex and for four cause of death groups.

Results: A one year increase in offspring's schooling attainment was associated with a 5% decline in the hazard of maternal death (adjusted Hazard Ratio [aHR]: 0.95, 95%CI: 0.94-0.97) and a 6% decline in the hazard of paternal death (aHR: 0.94, 95%CI: 0.92-0.96), adjusting for a wide range of demographic and socio-economic variables of the parent and their children. Among mothers, the association was strongest for communicable, maternal, perinatal and nutritional conditions (aHR: 0.87, 95%CI: 0.82-0.92) and AIDS and tuberculosis (aHR: 0.92, 95%CI: 0.89-0.96), and weakest for injuries. Among fathers, the association was strongest for injuries (aHR: 0.87, 95%CI: 0.79-0.95) and AIDS and tuberculosis (aHR: 0.92, 95%CI: 0.89-0.96), and weakest for non-communicable diseases.

Conclusion: Higher levels of schooling in offspring are associated with increased parental survival in rural South Africa, particularly for mothers at risk of communicable disease mortality and fathers at risk of injury mortality. Offspring's human capital may be an important factor for health disparities, particularly in lower-resource settings.

Keywords: Longitudinal; Offspring schooling; South Africa; Survival.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Cause of Death / trends
  • Child
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Income / statistics & numerical data
  • Male
  • Mortality / trends*
  • Parents*
  • Proportional Hazards Models
  • Rural Population / statistics & numerical data
  • Schools / statistics & numerical data*
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • South Africa
  • Survival Analysis