Investigating the challenges of middle-aged rural women in Mozambique
Professor Victor Agadjanian, who has a joint appointment in the International Institute and the department of sociology at UCLA. (Photo: Peggy McInerny/ UCLA.)

Investigating the challenges of middle-aged rural women in Mozambique

Victor Agadjanian's current research project, which builds on a previous study of the impact of male labor migration, will investigate the health, economic and social security, and informal social ties of women at midlife.

By Peggy McInerny, Director of Communications

UCLA International Institute, October 28, 2022 — “Our new project explores the well-being of women heading into old age in impoverished rural patriarchal communities of Mozambique — areas where I have conducted research for a long time,” said Victor Agadjanian, professor in the sociology department at UCLA.

“The project will be implemented by a team of UCLA researchers in collaboration with researchers from Ohio State University and Centro de Pesquisa em População e Saúde (Center for Research on Population and Health), or CEPSA, a Mozambican research nonprofit.”

Agadjanian, a social demographer who is also a faculty member of the UCLA International Institute, is a prodigious scholar whose research focuses on the nexus of health, migration, family and well-being in countries around the world.

Funded by a recently awarded $2.7 million, five-year grant from the National Institute on Aging, his new project builds on a previous investigation of the impact of male labor migration on rural women’s lives in the south of Mozambique, which included five waves of surveys and in-depth interviews from 2006 through 2018 with rural women who were married when the study began.

The new project will conduct two additional waves of surveys and qualitative data collection three years apart.

Agadjanian’s local research collaborators from CEPSA, who are also on the faculty of Eduardo Mondlane University in Maputo, Mozambique’s capital, have been involved in the study since it began in 2006.

“I never work without actively involving local academics and researchers. They are an integral part of the team and participate in design, data collection, analysis and dissemination of findings,” said the UCLA professor.

“I am fluent in Portuguese (Mozambique’s official language), and I also speak Changana, the local language of the study area — that’s how I work, I can’t just go to a place where I don’t speak the language,” says the demographer, who is fluent in at least seven languages and conversational in several more.

The natural polyglot even became a witch doctor in Mozambique some 30 years ago in order to immerse himself in the local culture and better understand health and other challenges with which people struggle.

“When we started the study in 2006, the women in our sample were between 18 and 40 years old. Now the participants are in their mid-30s to mid-50s. In this new project, we will be looking at how women navigate the challenges of midlife, which is not just a matter of growing health issues, but of economic and social security.

“They live in a highly patriarchal setting where women may have nominal rights to own land and assets, but in reality, have little control over them.

“Some of the study participants will be still married, but many will be widowed or divorced. Given the virtual non-existence of pensions and savings in rural areas, widowed and divorced women face particular difficulties.

“In that setting, widowhood entails considerable social and economic vulnerabilities for women,” said Agadjanian. “And if you divorce a man, you usually lose everything because you don’t have control over the land, household assets or livestock.” In addition to socioeconomic consequences, widowhood and divorce also have major physical and mental health impacts on women.

“We will look at women’s informal social ties and exchanges, especially with their late adolescent/ young adult children, but also with other relatives and non-relatives, to see how these social connections help women navigate these challenges and impact their psychosocial well-being.

“We have built good rapport with our study participants. In fact, I’m hearing from my local contacts that they have been asking where we have been and when we are coming back, as we haven’t been going to those areas in person since the pandemic hit. Thus, we very much look forward to seeing and talking to them again.”

As was the case with Agadjanian’s previous projects, findings from the new study will be shared with local and national government bodies, as well as nongovernmental organizations in Mozambique, in the hopes that they will inform future social policies aimed at protecting and enhancing the well-being of rural women.


Project: “Women’s Social Ties and Psychosocial Well-Being in a Resource-Limited
Patriarchal Setting: A Longitudinal Perspective”
Funding: $2.7 million grant
Grantor: National Institute of Aging/ National Institutes of Health

Victor Agadjanian (UCLA) is one of the two principal investigators on the grant, together with Sarah R. Hayford of Ohio State University. The five-year study (2022–27) is based administratively and financially at the UCLA California Center for Population Research and will be implemented by UCLA, Ohio State University and CEPSA. The team will conduct both large-scale, standardized survey interviews with roughly 1,850 women and ethnographic interviews with a subsample of survey participants.