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Perceived quality of life and living arrangements among older rural South Africans: do all households fare the same?

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  17 August 2018

Margaret Ralston*
Department of Sociology, Mississippi State University, Mississippi State, MS, USA
Enid Schatz
Department of Health Sciences, School of Health Professions, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO, USA MRC/Wits Rural Health and Health Transitions Unit (Agincourt), School of Public Health, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa
Sangeetha Madhavan
MRC/Wits Rural Health and Health Transitions Unit (Agincourt), School of Public Health, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa Department of African American Studies and Sociology, University of Maryland, College Park, USA
F. Xavier Gómez-Olivé
MRC/Wits Rural Health and Health Transitions Unit (Agincourt), School of Public Health, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa
Mark A. Collinson
MRC/Wits Rural Health and Health Transitions Unit (Agincourt), School of Public Health, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa Department of Science and Technology/Medical Research Council, South African Population Research Infrastructure Network, Johannesburg, South Africa Migration, Urbanisation and Health Working Group, INDEPTH Network, Accra, Ghana
*Corresponding author. Email:


This study explores how living arrangements influence perceived quality of life in an elderly population in rural South Africa. We use data from the longitudinal World Health Organization Study of Global Ageing and Adult Health Survey (WHO-SAGE) and from the Agincourt Health and Socio-Demographic Surveillance System (HDSS). On average, older men and women who reside in single-generation and complex-linked multigenerational households report worse quality of life than those in two-generation and linear-linked multigenerational households. However, after controlling for prior wellbeing status, we find living arrangements to have a significant impact on women's perceived quality of life only, and that it is moderated by age. We conclude that not all multigenerational arrangements are protective of older adults’ wellbeing and highlight the gendered impact of living arrangements on quality of life. These results suggest the necessity to understand how living arrangements influence the social roles of older adults and change with age.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2018 

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