Asset inheritance, poverty and HIV/AIDS: experiences of widows and orphaned youth heading households in Tanzania and Uganda

Project summary

Open meetingThis project, led by Dr. Ruth Evans with Caroline Day, investigates inheritance practices and the intergenerational transmission of poverty for two particularly marginalised groups:

  1. widows living with HIV and children caring for them; and
  2. orphaned young people heading households without a co-resident adult relative.

The literature on asset inheritance, poverty and HIV/AIDS in Sub-Saharan Africa was reviewed and datasets from two qualitative studies conducted in Tanzania and Uganda were analysed. Qualitative interviews conducted with 85 participants (women with HIV, young people with caring responsibilities and non-governmental organisation support workers) in rural and urban areas of Tanzania and Uganda provided in-depth insights into the ways HIV- and AIDS-related stigma is linked to gender and generational inequalities in access to assets.

This project is one of a series of papers on asset inheritance and the intergenerational transmission of poverty commissioned and published by the Chronic Poverty Research Centre ( It was first presented at a Roundtable on Inheritance and the Intergenerational Transmission of Poverty hosted jointly by the Chronic Poverty Research Centre and the Overseas Development Institute, London, on 11 October 2010.


In many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, parental ill health or death, combined with a lack of alternative support, means that children may be called on to care for family members and fulfil familial responsibilities as part of the 'intergenerational contract' at a much younger age than would usually be expected (Evans and Becker, 2009). Widows living with HIV and orphaned young people caring for them or their younger siblings often have low socio-economic status and are in a weak bargaining position to safeguard asset inheritance following the death of male heads of household.Dr. Evans' recent research with children caring for parents with HIV in Tanzania and with orphaned children heading sibling households in Tanzania and Uganda highlighted the ways that the stigma surrounding HIV and AIDS intersected with gender and generational power inequalities, resulting in loss of physical assets and chronic poverty for some widows and orphaned children, which affected their present wellbeing and future life chances (Evans and Becker, 2009; Evans, 2010). However, some widows and young people were able to retain valuable assets such as property which helped them to avoid chronic poverty. Within participatory workshops, using drama, music and art, young people identified the need to tackle property grabbing and to safeguard their inheritance rights as key messages for policymakers and practitioners.

Research findings

The research suggests that the HIV and AIDS epidemic has led to a fracturing of the intergenerational contract in severely affected communities in Tanzania and Uganda. Some young people are taking on caring responsibilities and gaining access to land and property at a younger age than usual. Access to land and/or property is crucial to the formation and viability of sibling-headed households. Stigma and discrimination, however, have negative impacts on women‟s and young people‟s health and emotional well-being, and in some instances leads to disinheritance and asset loss. This results in a lack of investment in children‟s education and care and the perpetuation of conditions of chronic poverty for younger generations.

This research calls for a holistic approach to understanding women's and young people's access to resources and their present and future security. A complex range of factors influence their vulnerability and resilience to inheritance/disinheritance and chronic poverty. Key protective factors include social capital; written evidence of bequests, property ownership and land titles; awareness of gender and generational inequalities; and advocacy. Women's and children's capacities to safeguard their inheritance and avoid chronic poverty in the present and future can be enhanced through legal support, advocacy and education on inheritance rights; rights-based social protection measures; and opportunities for participation, peer support and collective mobilisation.

Further information

The findings are discussed in depth in Ruth Evans' and Caroline Day's Chronic Poverty Research Group Working Paper No. 185, 'Inheritance, poverty and HIV/AIDS: experiences of widows and orphaned youth heading households in Tanzania and Uganda' (2011).

Contact Ruth Evans for further information:

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Read about the investigator: Dr Ruth Evans

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