Orphanhood and Self-Esteem: An 18-Year Longitudinal Study From an HIV-Affected Area in Tanzania

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The HIV epidemic exacerbated the prevalence of prime-aged adult death in many parts of sub-Saharan Africa, resulting in increased rates of orphanhood. Little is known about whether this will coincide with adverse psychosocial well-being in adulthood for those who were orphaned at childhood.


We studied a cohort of 1108 children from Kagera, a region of Tanzania that was heavily affected by HIV early in the epidemic. During the baseline data collection in 1991–1994, these children were aged 0–16 years and had both parents alive. We followed them roughly 16–19 years later in 2010, by which time 531 children (36%) had lost either one or both parents before their 19th birthday. We compared the 2010 10-item Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale (RSES) score between children who lost a parent before the age of 19 and those who did not. We used the baseline data to control for preorphanhood confounders. This is important because we find that children who will lose their fathers in the future before age 19 came from somewhat lower socioeconomic backgrounds.


We found no correlation between maternal death and self-esteem measured through RSES. Paternal death was strongly correlated with lower levels of self-esteem (0.2 SDs lower RSES 95% confidence interval: 0.059 to 0.348), and the correlation was stronger when the death occurred during the child's teenage years. These effects are a net of socioeconomic differences that existed before the orphanhood event.


Our study supports the further development and piloting of programs that address psychosocial problems of orphans.

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