Background: Currently, 2.5 million orphaned children are living in Kenya and 56 million orphaned children are living across sub-Saharan Africa. No empirical research has investigated meaningfulness of life among this population, and few studies provide perspectives on the life-course consequences of losing a parent during childhood.
Methods: In this study, we assess life meaningfulness in cross section of Kenyan women (n = 1974) in a semi-rural area of the country (Meru County) collected during June 2015. We used two sets of mediation analyses to assess (1) whether meaningfulness of life was lower among women who reported a parental death during their childhood, and how this association was mediated by social support, family functioning, school completion and HIV+ status of household, and (2) the extent to which lower subjective overall health among women who experienced orphanhood during childhood was mediated by less meaningfulness of life.
Results: Women who experienced a parental death during childhood reported significantly less meaningful lives as adults. Lower social support and family functioning explained approximately 40% of the disparity. Women who experienced a parental death during childhood also had significantly worse subjective overall health, 18% of which was explained by lower meaningfulness of life.
Conclusions: Further study on life meaningfulness and family capital in the context of the orphan crisis in sub-Saharan Africa is warranted, and required to promote equity across the lifespan. Policy efforts to support orphans and vulnerable children should target strengthening support networks and family functioning to optimize self-reported health outcomes.
Keywords: General self-rated health; Kenya; Life meaningfulness; Orphan and vulnerable children; Women.