Unemployment in low-income, African female-headed households in Cape Town: House economies, survival strategies and support systems.
In South Africa, research has shown that ‘black’, female-headed households are typically more financially vulnerable than male-headed households and other female-headed households. However, little is known about how financial and non-monetary resources are provided, controlled and used within these households, or about the relative emotional and financial wellbeing of different household members. Scholars have therefore argued for more nuanced understandings of the intra-household dynamics and household economies of female-headed households. Through the collection and analysis of qualitative data from two generations of household members in 14 female-headed households in Khayelitsha, my master’s thesis has aimed to contribute towards a better understanding of these issues. In presenting some of the research findings, it will be shown that the households in the sample were important sites of support and solidarity. However, the findings build upon existing understandings of low-income, multi-generational households in South Africa as also being sites of conflict and contestation. While resources were contributed and shared between household members, this support was neither guaranteed nor was it provided solely on the basis of an adherence to kinship obligations. Rather, the provision of support and the unequal burden of care experienced by different generations of household members was often the outcome of intergenerational negotiation. The older female participants struggled to maintain their authority in their households and negotiate for more financial and practical assistance from their younger household members. While they perceived that some of their co-resident adult children no longer cared for them, the younger participants expressed that their mothers did not understand the competing pressures placed on their financial resources. As a consequence, the provision of support and perceptions about their interpersonal relationships were framed by experiences of intergenerational conflict and feelings of ambivalence. The findings highlight experiences of inequality and shifting positions of power within the households in a context where broader economic conditions and the nature of state support has constrained how household members may choose to handle instances of negotiation and conflict.