To date, most research on families in sub-Saharan Africa focus on the various risks associated with family life—transmission of HIV, violence, human rights abuses, and over-population.
Substantially less research explores how family membership supports human life and flourishing. In this study we use data from two different cross-sectional studies to investigate whether family functioning, among females (n = 1789), and conflict tactics, among males (n = 263), predict meaning in life.
We hypothesized that better family functioning would predict more social support, which would in turn mediate the association between family functioning and meaning in life. Among males, we hypothesized that less violent conflict and more negotiation-based conflict would predict less loneliness, which in turn would predict more meaning in life. In both samples, family relationship quality predicted meaning in life, and were mediated by measures of social belonging.
Among females, better family functioning significantly predicted more meaning in life, an association mediated by more social support.
Among males, less violent conflict and more negotiation-based conflict predicted less loneliness. While there was no direct association between negotiation-based conflict and meaning in life, there was an indirect association through lower loneliness.
The general picture from both samples is that family dynamics provide the opportunity to belong for both women and men, and that this opportunity for social belonging can predict more meaning in life.
Further research is required to understand the cultural construction of meaning, and how this can be enhanced by family identification, and conflict tactics. Efforts to strengthen families to reduce risks associated with family life may draw upon the inherent drive towards meaning common across cultures and income levels.