The influence of women’s early childbearing on subsequent empowerment in sub-Saharan Africa

Publication Subtitle

A cross-national meta analysis

Publication year


Publication Author

Michelle Hindin, The Johns Hopkins University

Preventing adolescent pregnancy is a key avenue for promoting the empowerment of women and girls as well as achieving the international development agenda, such as the Millennium Development Goals. More than half of sub-Saharan African adolescents have a child, with levels ranging from 26% in Rwanda to 69% in Niger. Evidence suggests that adolescent childbearing may interrupt school attendance and impair young women’s long-term social and economic mobility. Also, given the subordinate status of women in many African settings, once pregnant, young women may have limited ability to negotiate decisions around the pregnancy as well as within their relationships.

Our data come from the most recent Demographic and Health Surveys in 25 sub-Saharan African nations.  Using attitudes towards wife beating as a measure of empowerment, we conduct a country-by-country multivariable analysis and provide an overall assessment of our hypothesis of the influence of early childbearing on women’s empowerment using meta-analysis techniques.  Results show in nearly all countries that overall, women who had a birth under the age of 20 or 16 were significantly more likely to believe wife beating is justified.  These results support the argument that adolescent childbearing may adversely affect future empowerment as those who began childbearing earlier have expectations of poorer status and empowerment within marital relationships.

This research is part of the Fertility & Empowerment Network Working Paper Series, which is examining whether and to what extent increasingly smaller family sizes in lower and middle income countries have empowered women or resulted in fundamental transformations in inequitable gender systems.