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J Cross Cult Gerontol. 2002;17(2):101-38.

Lateral and vertical intergenerational exchange in rural Malawi.

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Population Research Center, NORC/University of Chicago, IL 60637, USA.


Contemporary empirical literature on family resource flows in developing countries focuses on vertical flows between parents and children. Using data from the 1999 Family Transfers Project in Malawi this article examines a broader set of flows between adult respondents and their surviving parents, and paternal and maternal aunts and uncles. It compares the frequency and value of material and monetary flows, and the frequency of provision of other services, among these relatives. It also explores variation on these parameters across three ethnic groups, each of which has discrete normative patterns of descent, inheritance and postmarital residential arrangements. Results suggest that: (i) intergenerational support networks in Malawi are both vertical and lateral; (ii) in their transfer relationships, working aged adults have a net loss to parents, but a net gain to uncles and aunts, implying the existence of an institutionalized network for the transfer of resources among branches of the family; and (iii) lineal structures privilege kin of certain gender for certain roles. Maternal and paternal aunts are the largest source of material transfers among the matrilineal Yao, and paternal and maternal uncles are the largest source among the patrilineal Tumbuka.

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