The Psychological Benefits of Marriage and Children in Rural Malawi

Stud Fam Plann. 2020 Sep;51(3):251-272. doi: 10.1111/sifp.12133. Epub 2020 Jul 27.


Despite an extensive literature on the psychological rewards of marriage and children in high-income countries, research on these relationships in low-income countries remains limited. This paper draws on data from 4,133 adult women and men interviewed in the Malawi Longitudinal Study of Families and Health to examine how marital status, categorized as never, formerly, monogamously, and polygynously married, and number of children are associated with psychological well-being. With respect to marital status, we find that women in polygynous unions fare worse than monogamously married women and this detrimental effect is stronger for women than for men. Formerly married men and women of reproductive age experience the worst psychological outcomes, although this association wanes with age. In contrast, the benefits of having children is only evident among older Malawian women. These findings offer novel insights into the patterns of nearly universal marriage and high fertility that characterize Malawi and much of sub-Saharan Africa.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Family / psychology*
  • Family Characteristics
  • Female
  • Hospitals, Psychiatric
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Malawi / epidemiology
  • Male
  • Marriage / psychology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Parity*
  • Sex Factors
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Young Adult