Population Research and Policy Review 21: 351–375, 2002.
© 2002 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.
The economic boundaries of kinship in Côte d’Ivoire
Department of Population Studies and Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Hebrew
Abstract. The purpose of this article is to explore the patterns of economic support between
kin in Côte d’Ivoire. The nuclear family has been dismissed as a meaningful unit within the
corporate extended kinship structure of West Africa. Furthermore, extended kinship has been
seen as an important support for high fertility since the costs of childbearing are shared within
a wider kinship group and not fully absorbed by the biological parents. Extended kinship
patterns are also thought to greatly facilitate informal insurance markets. However, data on
economic transfers between kin in Côte d’Ivoire show a surprising but clear picture: kinship
support in Côte d’Ivoire is primarily focused on close kin (parents, children and siblings). This
pattern of kinship nucleation appears to intensify for richer households, despite controls for
education, residency, nationality, and household size. The limited, cross- sectional perspective
suggests that development is not working so much within the existing family structure but
rather is operating to transform the ties between kin.
Kinship relations are typically divided into two contrasting categories. At one
extreme, there is the model of the nuclear family, in which married couples
and children compose the core and other kin types stand on the periphery.
The nuclear family is said to represent an “ideal” of modern Western societ-
ies. At the other extreme is the traditional, extended family system in which
the conjugal unit typically is less important and blood ties between kin are
more prominent. Variations on this latter system are thought to predominate
in much of sub-Saharan Africa.
Social scientists have long hypothesized that traditional patterns of exten-
ded kinship are a major impediment to fertility decline, primarily because
the costs and beneﬁts of children are partly socialized rather than internal to
the married couple. The costs of childbearing are reduced to parents because
costs of children are spread out among the larger kinship network through
ﬁnancial and resource transfers as well as child fostering. The beneﬁts of fer-
tility control may also be distorted. Grandparents and other kin may pressure
couples to bear more children than they would otherwise desire. Moreover,
parents may expect important contributions from children other than their