Adoption and Family Size in Vanuatu

Household Demography: Adoption and Family Size in Vanuatu

Family size is an important and complex component of children’s well-being: more
children can demand more resources, but they can also be important contributors
to the household. A trend toward smaller family size with increasing access to
markets and formal education—a component of what is known as a “demographic
transition”—is often assumed to be universal and inevitable. However, actual
drivers of the decisions families make in building their households in a changing
economic landscape remain poorly understood.

Binghamton University faculty member Katherine Wander is investigating these
decisions as part of a collaborative project across the islands of the archipelago of
Vanuatu. The project investigates how households’ economic and subsistence
strategies affect family size and birth rates, including testing the hypothesis that
families in mixed economies—like many islands of Vanuatu—may diversify their
livelihoods and minimize risk by having more, rather than fewer, children. In
addition, the project investigates how the widespread practices of adoption and
fosterage in Vanuatu fit into strategies not only for raising children, but also for
building households as economic units, and how all of these strategies impact
children’s growth, nutrition, and well-being.

The team’s ongoing data collection in Vanuatu will illuminate the complex
interactions between subsistence production, market engagement, and educational
opportunity in households’ decisions regarding ideal family size, adoption, and
fosterage. Data on children’s growth, nutrition, and energetics will further allow the
project to investigate how family size, adoption, and fosterage affect children’s
health and well-being.

For more inforamtion please contact Katherine Wander.