The research points to the critical need to strengthen sexual and reproductive health and rights and expand economic opportunities for girls and women throughout their lives.
Drawing from nationally representative Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) data in 43 low- and middle-income countries, representing more than 600 million women, the analysis found that:
- Childbearing before age 18 is widespread. Despite global declines in the rates of adolescent childbearing in the last 25 years, the study found that it remains common in many low- and middle-income countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa where in nearly a dozen countries at least 30% of women have a child before age 18.
- Women who have a child before age 18 are less likely to earn cash for their work throughout their lives. More specifically, women (ages 20–24) who have a child before age 18 are more likely to be employed in the short term; however, they are less likely to earn cash in the short term and throughout their reproductive lives.
- Most women work, but whether they are paid for their work differs. In many countries, women do not have control over their own earnings. In the majority of countries studied, most women work; however, whether they are paid for their work or not varies widely, as does their ability to control their earnings. In Togo, for example, among married and cohabiting women, most (86%) work, earn cash (62%), and retain control of their earnings (57%). In contrast, the vast majority of married and cohabitating women in Burundi work (94%), but just 16% earn cash and 4% retain sole control over their earnings.
The analysis used the newest available DHS data (2012–2018) from 43 countries and included all women ages 20–49, allowing for nationally representative findings that are comparable across countries and over time. Few studies have considered the short- and long-term effects that a birth before age 18 have on women’s earning potential.