Relationship Inequality and HIV Risk in Malawi

Jenny Trinitapoli, Pennsylvania State University
Emily Smith-Greenaway, Pennsylvania State University

In the generalized AIDS epidemic of sub-Saharan Africa, HIV transmission primarily takes place within stable relationships. This has motivated a line of research to determine what relationship characteristics are associated with risk of HIV. The existing literature focuses on the gender and age inequalities that are implicit in relationships in Africa. We expand this research and explore the relevance of multiple domains of inequality that commonly define relationships: education, religion, sexual experiences, and physical attractiveness. Because people’s perceptions of risk are known to reflect their actual risk, we use new couple-level data from an ongoing study in Malawi to evaluate what dimensions of relationship inequality are associated with perceived risk of HIV infection. We find that an understudied dimension of inequality – physical attractiveness –is a key factor in determining couples’ risk perceptions. Our findings demonstrate utility in expanding consideration of forms of relationship inequalities when studying risk of HIV.

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Presented in Session 9: Sexual and Romantic Relationships