Using Material Exchange to Index Types of Relationships: Union Formation, Vulnerability and Health in Rural Malawi

Sarah Garver , University of Chicago
Jenny Trinitapoli, University of Chicago

In sub-Saharan Africa, exchange, whether monetary or nonmonetary, remains central to defining romantic relationships but is often framed as “transactional” and tied to women’s disempowerment and risky sexual behavior. In fact, exchange helps partners evaluate each other as viable partners. We use novel, longitudinal data intensely collected over a two-year time period to ask: how do patterns of exchange in romantic relationships help us to understand (1) union formation and maintenance, and (2) characteristics of unions – are types of exchange characterized by economic disadvantage or sexual behavior? We use latent growth curve modeling to identify patterns of exchange and further unpack the correlates of forming or maintaining increasingly committed relationships, including characteristics of the women who select into each relationship type. This work speaks to an important driver of union formation (and dissolution), and helps us understand the role of romantic relationships in patterns of women’s vulnerability and health.

See extended abstract

 Presented in Session 66. Union Formation