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B r i e f l y No. 12 • December 2011 Emma Näslund-Hadley Gádor Manzano

N o t e d

Quality Education—An Effective Form of Birth Control?

S um m a r y: Teen mothers in Latin America complete 1.8 to 2.8 fewer years of education than Latin American women who delay bearing children. Pregnancy is often believed to be the reason why girls drop out of school. But why are so many girls getting pregnant? The answer may surprise you. Research carried out by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) suggests that many of the pregnancies are not accidents. Imagine that you are young, disadvantaged, and cannot see how education will improve your future. Getting pregnant to get out of school makes perfect sense. This note summarizes the results of a quantitative and qualitative investigation into teen pregnancy and education.1

A complex relationship between education and the increase in the proportion of teen births Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) is the only world region in which the rate of childbearing among adolescents has risen over the past 30 years. The fertility rate among teens in LAC is 80 births per thousand adolescents, well above the world average (Vignoli 2009). This decade alone, more than 20 million babies will be born to adolescent mothers.2 In LAC the overall fertility rate and the adolescent fertility rate are not related. The accompanying figure groups countries according to their total and adolescent fertility rates. Colombia has a low fertility rate overall, but its adolescent fertility rate is very high, with 96 births per thousand girls, well above the world average of 55 per thousand. On the other hand, Haiti has a high total fertility rate but a low rate of adolescent fertility. Teen pregnancy in LAC is associated with a series of disadvantages, including low educational achievement (Alcázar and Lovatón 2006). It is widely believed that pregnancy causes girls to leave school. But this conventional wisdom may obscure the true causes of teen pregnancy.

Edited by Steven B. Kennedy • Design and layout by Laura C. Johnson

The views and interpretations in this document are those of the authors and should not be attributed to the Inter-American Development Bank, or to any individual acting on its behalf.

Copyright © IDB 2011 • Inter-American Development Bank 1300 New York Avenue, N.W. • Washington, DC 20577 • USA

This document may be freely reproduced provided credit is given to the Education Division–SCL, Inter-American Development Bank.


2 IDB Briefly Noted

The chances of becoming a teen mother are inversely proportional to a girl’s socioeconomic status. In Peru more than 29% of the poorest teenage girls become mothers, whereas among the wealthiest quintile of families the rate is 4%. In Paraguay the fertility rate among teens of low socioeconomic status is more than double that of teens from families with average incomes. Effective policy responses to teen pregnancy require a deeper understand of its root causes and how they affect educational outcomes and life plans.

A mixed methodology We employed a mixed methodology that combines quantitative analysis of demographic and health surveys with a qualitative study designed to help us interpret the quantitative data. The quantitative analysis explored the educational disadvantages facing teen mothers in LAC. It covered six countries with different fertility rates: Colombia (low), the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, and Peru (mid-level), and Haiti and Bolivia (high). The qualitative study gathered information through in-depth interviews designed to uncover the motivations behind teens’ behaviors and decisions and to study the links between pregnancy and education. A total of 118 women from Lima and Asuncion were interviewed. Half had had their first child as teenagers; the other half became mothers after adolescence. We also interviewed adolescents who were currently pregnant and their mothers.

What are the educational disadvantages of adolescent mothers in LAC? Quantitative analysis revealed that the relationship between teen pregnancy and educational level— whether measured by school attendance, enrollment, or completion—is stronger in LAC than in other parts of the world. Also, teen mothers in all six countries face a larger number of disadvantages. Teen mothers have 1.8 to 2.8 fewer years of education than other girls and are 14 times more likely to drop out of school. In all six countries, most adolescent mothers do not attend school, even if they had done so before they became pregnant. Between 67% and 89% are out of school, compared with 14% to 35% of girls who did not have children during their teenage years. Similarly, the proportion of girls who completed compulsory education before leaving school is lower among adolescent mothers: 32% to 55% compared with 55% to 62% among girls who did not bear children in adolescence.

Does teen pregnancy really cause educational disadvantages? The qualitative interviews did not suggest that pregnancy was the principal reason for dropping out of school, as is commonly assumed. Nevertheless, it is quite possible that adolescent mothers would have attained lower educational results than other teens even if they had not become pregnant. The vast majority were doing poorly in school when they became pregnant and were not seriously considering the possibility of continuing their studies. The few teen mothers who were achieving good academic results when they became pregnant generally completed their secondary education. Early cohabitation may contribute to leaving school. The quantitative analysis reveals that in all six countries the dropout rates from compulsory education are higher among adolescent mothers who cohabit with their partners than among those who do not. This finding was confirmed by the qualitative data, which showed that early cohabitation often precedes and hastens pregnancy. Qualit y Education—An Ef fective Form of Bir th Control?


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Adolescent mothers have 1.8 to 2.8 fewer years of education


4 IDB Briefly Noted

What motivates teens to get pregnant? The teen mothers we interviewed who dropped out of school did not believe that education would change their lives. In many cases, pregnancy was seen as a way out for teens who were in such a completely disadvantaged situation that early pregnancy seemed to promise not to change their path in life but simply to speed it up. They did not see how the education they were getting would affect their future. Their expectations of having a life different from that of their parents were low or nonexistent. In the context of such beliefs, getting pregnant so as not to have to go to school makes perfect sense. Teen mothers, even if aware of contraceptives, generally chose not to use them or used them inconsistently in order to become pregnant and thereby give their life meaning. One of the girls we interviewed, a mother at age 16, exemplified this way of thinking: “I took precautions the first month. Then I stopped. I had this crazy idea that I had to have a baby.”

Policy recommendations: Helping girls imagine a better future through education If pregnancies are planned or are not actively avoided, information and access to contraceptives will not be an adequate policy response. A variety of interventions are needed in school if teens are to develop and pursue goals that go beyond replicating their parents’ lives of socioeconomic deprivation. School should raise teens’ expectations and encourage them to envision a better future. Possible policy instruments include: counseling and mentoring programs that give teens a clear and positive self-image, formal recognition of behaviors that promote school attendance, and tutoring for students who perform poorly and are at risk of dropping out. If such aid had been available to the participants in the study many of them might have postponed their pregnancy. As one teen mother put it: “I love my daughter, but I wish I hadn’t gotten pregnant so early; I would have liked to wait a little longer.”

References Alcázar, Lorena, and Rodrigo Lovatón. 2006. “Perspectivas socio-antropológicas sobre la adolescencia, la juventud y el embarazo.” In Embarazo y maternidad en la adolescencia: estereotipos, evidencias y propuestas para políticas públicas, ed. M. Gogna, 33–65. Buenos Aires: CEDES/UNICEF/Ministry of Education. Giovagnoli, Paula, and Evelyn Vezza. 2009. Early Childbearing and Educational Outcomes: A Quantitative Assessment. Washington, DC: InterAmerican Development Bank. Näslund-Hadley, Emma, and Georgina Binstock. 2011. “El fracaso educativo: embarazos para no ir a la clase.” IDB Technical Note 281. Washington, DC. Vignoli, Jorge Rodríguez. 2009. Reproducción adolescente y desigualdades en América Latina y el Caribe: Un llamado a la reflexión y a la acción. Madrid: Organización Iberoamericana de Juventud (OIJ). Databases Demographic and health surveys of Bolivia (2003), Colombia (2005), the Dominical Republic (2007), Haiti (2005), Nicaragua (2001), and Peru (2004–06).

Notes 1. This note presents results from Giovagnoli and Vezza (2009) and Näslund-Hadley and Binstock (2011). 2. The estimate is based on population projections from the international database of the U.S. Census Bureau.

About the authors Emma Näslund-Hadley is a senior education specialist at the IDB. Gádor Manzano is an education specialist at the IDB.

Qualit y Education—An Ef fective Form of Bir th Control?

idb briefly noted: no. 12: december 2011: quality education - an effective form of birth control?  

teen mothers in latin america complete 1.8 to 2.8 fewer years of education than latin american women who delay bearing children. pregnancy i...

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