Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

First Advisor

Roger A. Wojtkiewicz


Studies on sexual behavior in Africa have shown that the proportion of women with premarital sexual experience is high, but the factors associated with premarital sexual behavior have not been clearly identified. This is partly due to the separation between theory and research. This study attempts to fill this gap by constructing a new conceptual framework in which hypotheses of rational adaptation, social disorganization, and patrilineal bias theories can be empirically tested. Based on a life history approach, the present framework emphasizes the role of three dimensions of family background in shaping individual behavior: financial capital, human capital, and social capital. The data derive from a random sample of 2,000 women aged 14-24 years interviewed in Kinshasa in 1995. The results show that 46 percent of respondents were sexually experienced before marriage, but only 16 percent of them used contraceptives at their first sexual intercourse. Among these 2,000 respondents, 26 percent had sexual relations with multiple partners. The results of multivariate analysis show that AIDS knowledge reduces the risk of engaging in premarital sexual activity. Even those who elect to have intercourse before marriage, knowing AIDS significantly limits the number of sexual partners and increases the chance of having first contracepted sexual experience. Consistent with the anthropological hypothesis of patrilineal bias, these data indicate higher risk of premarital sexual activity and more chance of having multiple sexual partners among matrilineal women than their patrilineal counterparts. This study offers only partial support to the social disorganization theory. While education and human capital are positively associated with both premarital sexual permissiveness and premarital promiscuousness, urban background and exposure to mass media reduce the risk of having premarital sexual experience. Also, unlike what has been commonly assumed about female poverty, current data reveal a positive association between financial capital and premarital sexuality. Similarly, social capital within the family increases the risk of having premarital sexual intercourse, suggesting that children in larger families receive less adult attention. These findings indicate the importance of AIDS information, family background, and kinship system in research and intervention programs aimed at reducing the burden of premarital sexuality.