Marital Strategies for Regulating Exposure to HIV


In a setting where the transmission of HIV occurs primarily through heterosexual contact and where no cure or vaccine is available, behavioral change is imperative for containing the epidemic. Abstinence, faithfulness, and condom use most often receive attention in this regard. In contrast, this article treats marriage as a resource for HIV risk management via mechanisms of positive selection (partner choice) and negative selection (divorce of an adulterous spouse). Retrospective marriage histories and panel data provide the evidence for this study, and results indicate that men and women in Malawi increasingly turned to union-based risk-avoidance strategies during the period that the threat of HIV/AIDS materialized. Although both sexes strategize in a similar fashion, men are better equipped than women to deploy these strategies to their advantage. The article concludes with reflections on the long-term and population-level implications of these coping mechanisms.