Survival strategies of the elderly in Gwembe Valley, Zambia: Gender, residence and kin networks

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24 Scopus citations


Fundamental social and material reproductive activities take place in the domestic setting, especially in subsistence societies. For the elderly in these societies, residential arrangements significantly influence their well being because of the redistribution of resources that occurs within the domestic unit. This article examines the critical issue of how the elderly of Zambia's Gwembe Valley organize their residential arrangements. The article also raises the issue of how gender influences elderly men's and women's relationships and support networks with their children and other kin. In the Gwembe Valley men and women employ different strategies in harnessing basic necessities, including their residence, which constitutes the primary setting where people negotiate their needs. Recognition of the variety and subtlety of relationships in the aging process, and the variety of individuals engaged in those relationships, allows for better understanding of the range of support systems and subsistence strategies in non-industrial settings. The analysis presented in this article emerges from the longitudinal Gwembe Tonga Research Project (GTRP) and ethnographic fieldwork carried out in three rural communities during the mid 1990s.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)309-332
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of Cross-Cultural Gerontology
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2001

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This article, and the research underlying it, would not have been possible without the assistance and guidance of many people and organizations. I owe a great debt to Richard Wilk who has profoundly influenced my scholarship, and provided continued support for my research and professional development. Elizabeth Colson and Thayer Scudder commented on earlier drafts of this piece, and continue to offer insight and support for my research and writing. In addition, I would like to thank Gracia Clark, George Alter and Emilio Moran for their interest and comments on my work. During fieldwork in Zambia I depended on a variety of people to whom I am indebted for practical assistance, intellectual stimulation, and their patience: The people of Sinafala and Mazulu villages, Drivas Chikuni, Kaciente, Malia, Bene-detta and Serida Chifumpu, Jailos Mazambani, Benard Siakanombwa, Emmy Mazulu, the Fumbo Mission community, Father Wafer, Tom and Thea Savory, Ilse Mwanza, Ginny Bond, Chileshi Chilangwa, Terry Mukuka, Anthoney Hovey, James Copestake, Sted and Anne Howard, and Don and Sue Heflin. Michelle Rivkin-Fish, Monica Udvardy and Mickey Needham commented on earlier drafts of this article. Two anonymous reviewers gave valuable and detailed comments, for which I am especially grateful. Fulbright IIE, the National Science Foundation, the Overseas Development Association (through the University of Bath, England), the Social Sciences Research Council, the Population Institute for Research and Training (Indiana University), and the Indiana Center on Global Change and World Peace (IU) provided support for various components of the research presented in this article.


  • Africa
  • Gender
  • Household economy
  • Intergenerational relations
  • Living arrangements

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Geriatrics and Gerontology


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