Back to browse results
Are children in female-headed households at a disadvantage? An analysis of immunization coverage and stunting prevalence: in 95 low- and middle-income countries
Authors: Andrea Wendta, Franciele Hellwig, Ghada E. Saad, Cheikh Faye, Zitha Mokomane, Ties Boerma, Aluisio J. D. Barros, and Cesar Victora
Source: SSM: Population Health, DOI:
Topic(s): Household headship
Country: Africa
  Multiple African Countries
  Multiple Asian Countries
Latin American/Caribbean
  Multiple L.A./Caribbean Countries
More than one region
  Multiple Regions
Published: AUG 2021
Abstract: Studies of inequalities in child health have given limited attention to household structure and headship. The few existing reports on child outcomes in male and female-headed households have produced inconsistent results. The aim of our analyses was to provide a global view of the influence of sex of the household head on child health in cross-sectional surveys from up to 95 LMICs. Studied outcomes were full immunization coverage in children aged 12–23 months and stunting prevalence in under-five children. We analyzed the most recent nationally-representative surveys for each country (since 2010) with available data. After initial exploratory analyses, we focused on three types of households: a) male-headed household (MHH) comprised 73.1% of all households in the pooled analyses; b) female Headed Household (FHH) with at least one adult male represented 9.8% of households; and c) FHH without an adult male accounted for 15.0% of households. Our analyses also included the following covariates: wealth index, education of the child’s mother and urban/rural residence. Meta-analytic approaches were used to calculate pooled effects across the countries with MHH as the reference category. Regarding full immunization, the pooled prevalence ratio for FHH (any male) was 0.99 (0.97; 1.01) and that for FHH (no male) was 0.99 (0.97; 1.02). For stunting prevalence, the pooled prevalence ratio for FHH (any male) was 1.00 (0.98; 1.02) and for FHH (no male) was 1.00 (0.98; 1.02). Adjustment for covariates did not lead to any noteworthy change in the results. No particular patterns were found among different world regions. A few countries presented significant inequalities with different directions of association, indicating the diversity of FHH and how complex the meaning and measurement of household headship may be. Further research is warranted to understand context, examine mediating factors, and exploring alternative definitions of household headship in countries with some association.