Teen girls choose education over childbearing

PEP studies demonstrate how programs linked to education affect rates of teenage pregnancy.

Every day, 20,000 girls under 18 in developing countries give birth, according to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). This means that 7.3 babies are born to adolescent mothers each year. Of course, not all pregnancies lead to births meaning the number of teenage pregnancies is likely much higher.

Adolescent pregnancy and motherhood are closely linked to human rights issues, health consequences, and vulnerability to poverty. Access to education, information, and health care are highlighted as ways to empower young women. However, sex and reproductive education is limited in many developing countries, and particularly so in rural areas. This limitation is often due to lack of resources and because sex remains a sensitive topic.

As women who are more educated tend to become mothers later than women (or girls) who are uneducated, some governments aim to use programs that encourage education to also reduce the number of adolescent pregnancies. Three PEP studies investigated programs linked to education (e.g. to encourage attendance or further education) to evaluate how they affect the rates of teenage pregnancy.

Getting girls to stay in school in Latin America

Between 14% and 17% of babies born in Chile each year are to mothers under the age of 19. Most of these young women are poor, unmarried, and less likely to finish high school than their childless classmates. Local PEP researchers analyzed the impact of exposing 8th Grade students to information about loans and scholarships for post-secondary education on the desire for further education and the desire to be a teen parent. The team’s findings indicate that the desired age at first birth was higher among girls who received information about financial aid for further education.

Similarly, in Colombia, encouragement to continue education is linked to lower teen pregnancies. A project by local PEP researchers evaluated the impact of two large-scale education-oriented conditional cash transfer (CCT) programs, implemented in Bogota, on teenage pregnancy. The Subsidio Educativo (SE) CCT is conditional on school performance and renewal is conditional on re-enrolment the following year. The Familias en Acción (FA) CCT is conditional on attendance and is only available to families of children under the age of 18.

The PEP team’s findings show that the SE led to a decrease in teenage pregnancy by 3.7 percentage points. However, the FA did not decrease teenage pregnancy rates. The team suggests that the reason for this difference is due to the different conditions. Pregnancy would prevent re-enrolment and reduce school performance, making the families ineligible for the SE. The researchers concluded that, to be effective in reducing adolescent pregnancies, education-related CCTs should reward academic performance and graduation.

The projects carried out in Chile and Colombia were supported through a special PEP-IADB initiative (2009-2011).

Offering education to the most disadvantaged in Egypt

In rural Upper Egypt, around half of adolescent girls have never been to school. Out-of-school girls in this area are some of the most disadvantaged in the country. These girls are particularly vulnerable to early marriage, sexual violence, and poverty. In 2001 the Population Council developed the Ishraq program for out-of school girls aged 12 to 15. Ishraq includes education in literacy, life skills, nutrition, and basic financial skills.

A team of local PEP researchers evaluated the impact of the Ishraq program on the knowledge, skills, and attitudes of teenage girls. The team’s findings show that 85% of Ishraq girls think that marriage and childbearing should begin over the age of 18, compared to 63% of non-Ishraq girls. This may be linked to the findings that about a third of Ishraq girls plan to continue their education, compared to only 5% of non-Ishraq girls. Furthermore, girls who participated in Ishraq have more positive attitudes towards women working than non-Ishraq girls. Finally, Ishraq girls are more likely to be able to identify at least one contraceptive method (66%, compared to 38% of non-Ishraq girls). These attitudes place girls who participated in the Ishraq program in a better position to avoid teenage pregnancy. 

Find out more about the projects featured


Teenage Pregnancy and Education Expectations in Chile

Project page     Final Report


On the Design of Educational Conditional Cash Transfer Programs and Non-education Outcomes: the Case of Teenage Pregnancy

Working paper 2011-21      Policy brief 83     Project page


Evaluating the Impact of Ishraq - A Second-Change Program for Out-of-School Rural Adolescent Girls in Upper Egypt

Project page      Final Report


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