Boettner Center for Pensions and Retirement Research
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Working Paper

The Marital Process and HIV/AIDS in Rural Malawi

Shelley Clark, Michelle Poulin, Hans-Peter Kohler

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Abstract — Using both qualitative and quantitative data from young men and women in rural Malawi, this paper takes an in-depth look at how youths in an AIDS-afflicted sub-Saharan country Malawi attempt to achieve the dual goals of avoiding HIV/AIDS and finding a suitable spouse. For youths in Malawi facing AIDS epidemics, we show that the process leading to marriage, with its concurrent rapid changes in sexual partnerships and sexual behaviors, is integrally related to HIV/AIDS risks. In addition, concerns about HIV/AIDS appear to be influencing adolescents’ marital aspirations with respect to the timing of marriage as well as the selection of spousal partners. Many youths are clearly failing to find safe pathways into marriage, indicating a strong need for far greater research and policy attention on the dynamic relationship between HIV risks and the marital process.