Essays on the socioeconomics of family functioning and subjective well-being in South Africa

Date: 3 October 2017

Venue: Stadscampus, Promotiezaal, Klooster van de Grauwzusters - Lange St-Annastraat 7 - 2000 Antwerpen (route: UAntwerpen, Stadscampus)

Time: 5:00 PM

PhD candidate: Ferdi Botha

Principal investigator: Prof. dr. Edwin Wouters, prof. dr. Frikkie Booysen (University of the Free State)

Short description: PhD defense Ferdi Botha - Department of Sociology


The family is a cornerstone of society and the improvement of individual well-being is a central focus of economics. Creating healthy intra-family relationships and expanding individual well-being are vital in the promotion of individual development and healthy societies. A firm understanding of within-family relations and individual well-being is thus essential in informing policies that could be beneficial to the well-being of individuals and families.

The focus of this research is on reported family functioning, satisfaction with family life, and happiness as the three main outcomes of interest. The Family Attachment and Changeability Index (FACI8) is employed as measure of family functioning, and socioeconomic status (SES) is considered as the main variable of interest in explaining the three above outcomes. SES is viewed as multidimensional and individual-, household-, and subjective SES indices are developed.

Using data from the 2012 South African Social Attitudes Survey (SASAS), the study employs multivariate regression and structural equation modelling to explore the relationship between subjective well-being, SES, and family functioning in South African households.

The results show, firstly, that the health of intra-family relationships and functioning is significantly associated with individual well-being: People are happier and more satisfied with their family lives if they live in families that function well.

Second, the socioeconomic environment is an important predictor of the quality of family functioning, happiness, and satisfaction with family life: Higher SES is related to higher levels of family changeability, and individual happiness and satisfaction with family life.

hird, part of the positive association between SES and subjective well-being is explained by the positive relation between family changeability and SES. Importantly, this implies that while SES itself is important for subjective well-being, better SES also improves family changeability, which has a positive relationship with subjective well-being.

Fourth, family functioning is an equally important predictor of family-life satisfaction and happiness, regardless of SES gradients. From an economic- and social policy perspective, this study shows that well-designed family strengthening programmes – specifically targeting improvements in family functioning – are important for subjective well-being.

Most importantly, this study shows that SES, and especially household SES, is crucial for family functioning and subjective well-being.

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