Adolescent Childbearing in Developing Countries: A Global Review

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Citation: Singh, Susheela Adolescent Childbearing in Developing Countries: A Global Review.

Tagged: uw-madison (RSS), wisconsin (RSS), sociology (RSS), demography (RSS), prelim (RSS), qual (RSS), WisconsinDemographyPrelimAugust2009 (RSS)


This article discusses the current levels and recent trends in the rate of adolescent childbearing, the timing of the first birth, and births to unmarried women for 43 developing countries. Differences in rate of adolescent childbearing by residence and level of education are also examined. The analysis is based on nationally representative fertility surveys, the World Fertility Surveys (WFS), administered in the 1970s and the Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS), administered between 1985 and the early-1990s. The DHS covers all women in sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America, but only ever-married women in North Africa, the Near East, and Asia. The countries included in these surveys account for 73% of the population of the developing world, excluding China. WFS data is used to evaluate trends in countries for which data is available for at least two time periods. Two different measures of adolescent fertility are used to provide two different perspectives on early childbearing. These two measures are: the age-specific fertility rate for women ages 15-19 and the proportion of women who have had a child by a given adolescent period in this study, by ages 15, 18, or 20. The first measure is affected by the extent to which adolescents have more than one birth between the ages of 15-19, while the second measure describes more accurately the timing of early childbearing, but is available for women ages 20 or older only. The countries of sub-Saharan Africa have the highest levels of adolescent childbearing in the developing world. Mali and Niger have the highest rates. Latin America and the Caribbean region have the next highest levels. Five of the eight Asian countries represented have low-to-moderate rates. The other three Asian countries have higher rates (Bangladesh has rates similar to sub-Saharan Africa, while Pakistan has rates similar to Latin America and India falls between these two. Countries in the Near East and North Africa show the lowest levels of adolescent childbearing, with Tunisia showing the lowest levels. The incidence of childbearing before age 15 is substantial in several sub-Saharan African countries, with 8-15% of girls this age having had at least one birth. For women under age 18, 25-40% have had at least one birth in most sub-Saharan countries, while 15-20% have done so in most Latin American countries and in some countries of North Africa, the Near East, and Asia. Morocco, Tunisia, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Burundi, and Rwanda have extremely low levels of early childbearing. Substantial declines in adolescent fertility have occurred in North Africa and Asia, but levels are still high in some countries. Declines are beginning to occur in sub-Saharan Africa, but current levels are still high most countries in this region, and the proportion of births to unmarried adolescents is increasing in a few countries. Declines are largest in Kenya and Senegal. Increases are found in Uganda. Large declines are found in North Africa and Asia in all countries except the Philippines and Sri Lanka, both of which had low levels to begin with. In Latin America, where the level of teenage childbearing is moderate, declines are less prevalent and some small increases have occurred. Declines occurred in the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Mexico, and Peru. Increases have occurred in Brazil and Columbia. Especially in Latin America, declines in childbearing have been much greater among older women than among adolescents. Higher education (measures in two ways: proportion who had no schooling, a primary-level education, and a secondary-level education; and by the proportion of those who had fewer than seven years of schooling versus that of those who had more than seven years of schooling) is associated with lower rates of adolescent childbearing, but other socioeconomic changes cancel or reduce this effect in several countries. Brazil has a very low rate for adolescents with secondary schooling, compared to other countries. Level of adolescent childbearing is generally lower in urban areas than in rural areas, but there are a number of exceptions (e.g. Namibia, Sri Lanka, Trinidad, Tobago, and Turkey). Urban Botswanan women experienced a greater increase in adolescent childbearing than did rural Botswanan women. Differences by residence are generally smaller than differences by education levels. Moderate-to-high proportions of adolescent mother say that their pregnancy was unplanned or mistimed.