Malawi Longitudinal Study of Families and Health (MLSFH) (ICPSR 20840)

Published: May 21, 2008

Principal Investigator(s):
Jere R. Behrman, University of Pennsylvania. Population Studies Center; Agnes M. Chimbiri, University of Malawi. College of Medicine; Angela Chimwaza, University of Malawi. Kamuzu College of Nursing; Hans-Peter Kohler, University of Pennsylvania. Population Studies Center; Susan C. Watkins, University of Pennsylvania. Population Studies Center

Version V1

Malawi Diffusion and Ideational Change Project (MDICP), 1998 and 2001 [previous title]

The Malawi Longitudinal Study of Families and Health (MLSFH) [previous title: Malawi Diffusion and Ideational Change Project (MDICP)] is one of very few long- standing longitudinal cohort studies in a poor Sub-Saharan African (SSA) context. It provides a rare record of more than a decade of demographic, socioeconomic, and health conditions in one of the world's poorest countries. The MLSFH cohorts were selected to represent the rural population of Malawi, where the vast majority of Malawians live in conditions that are similar to those in the rural areas of other countries with high HIV prevalence: health conditions are poor, health facilities and schools are over-burdened and under-staffed, standards of living are low and nutritional needs of adults, children and the elderly are often not met. With 7 major data collection rounds between 1998 and 2012 for up to 4,000 individuals, as well as ancillary surveys and qualitative studies, the MLSFH has been a premier dataset for research on health, family dynamics, social networks, and HIV infection risks in a rural SSA context. Providing public-use data on the socioeconomic context, demographics and health of individuals and their families in Malawi over more than a decade, the MLSFH has been the basis of more than 150 publications and working papers submitted for publication. Importantly, the MLSFH has also informed health policy discussions in Malawi and elsewhere in SSA. The MLSFH/MDICP was originally developed as a sister project of the Kenya Diffusion and Ideational Change Project (KDICP), but with a larger sample and greater geographical dispersion. Both the KDICP and the MLSFH/MDICP aimed to examine the role of social interactions in changing demographic attitudes and behavior.

The first two waves of the MLSFH data collected in 1998 and 2001 are archived and available for download at ICPSR-DSDR. The first two waves focused on two key empirical questions: the roles of social interactions in (1) the acceptance (or rejection) of modern contraceptive methods and of smaller ideal family size and (2) the diffusion of knowledge of AIDS symptoms and transmission mechanisms and the evaluation of acceptable strategies of protection against AIDS.

More information and data for all waves of the MLSFH study can be found on the MLSFH project Web site. The MLSFH Data Web site contains instructions on how individuals can currently obtain the data (6 waves, 1998-2010). The MLSFH Cohort Profile is available as a University of Pennsylvania Population Studies Center (PSC) Working Paper. This cohort profile is the main documentation for the general study design, sampling framework, etc., and it summarizes some key findings as well.

Behrman, Jere R., Chimbiri, Agnes M., Chimwaza, Angela, Kohler, Hans-Peter, and Watkins, Susan C. Malawi Longitudinal Study of Families and Health (MLSFH). Ann Arbor, MI: Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research [distributor], 2008-05-21.

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United States Department of Health and Human Services. National Institutes of Health. Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (R01HD053781)

Rockefeller Foundation




The sampling strategy was not designed to be representative of the national population of rural Malawi, although the sample characteristics closely match the characteristics of the rural population of the Malawi Demographic and Health Survey. The target sample was 500 ever-married women in each district, plus their husbands. Husbands were included in the sample not only to gauge the effect of informal conversation networks on their sexual and fertility behavior, but also to examine the extent of informal conversations between husbands and wives on these issues. For polygamous men, it was important to restrict the men's responses about dealings with their spouse to one of their wives. This was done by randomly assigning the reference wife prior to interviewing. If a man had two or three wives who qualified for our sample, each wife had an equal chance of being a referent wife. Thus, w/ 2 wives --> 1/2 chance, and w/ 3 wives --> 1/3 chance. In each case we marked questionnaires before going to the field (e.g., "if 2 wives then ask about second wife in this case"). However, the way that the questionnaires were distributed in the field was random.

Ever-married women and their husbands in the Rumphi, Balaka, and Mchinji Districts of Malawi.


survey data




  • The public-use data files in this collection are available for access by the general public. Access does not require affiliation with an ICPSR member institution.

  • The citation of this study may have changed due to the new version control system that has been implemented.
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This study was originally processed, archived, and disseminated by Data Sharing for Demographic Research (DSDR), a project funded by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD).