Adolescent fertility in low- and middle-income countries presents a severe impediment to development and can lead to school dropout, lost productivity, and the intergenerational transmission of poverty. However, there is debate about whether adolescent pregnancy is a problem in and of itself or merely symptomatic of deeper, ingrained disadvantage. To inform policy choices and create a revised research agenda for population and development, this paper aggregates recent quantitative evidence on the socioeconomic consequences of and methods to reduce of teenage pregnancy in the developing world. The review finds variable results for all indicator types with the partial exception of knowledge-based indicators, which increased in response to almost all evaluating interventions, though it is not clear that such interventions necessarily lead to short- or long term-behavior change. The evidence base supporting the effectiveness of conditional cash transfers was relatively strong in comparison to other interventions. Similarly, programs that lowered barriers to attending school or increased the opportunity cost of school absence are also supported by the literature. On the basis of these findings, the authors argue that donors should adopt a rights-based approach to adolescent fertility and shift their focus from the proximate to distal causes of pregnancy, including human rights abuses, gender inequality, child marriage, and socioeconomic marginalization. Further research should be conducted to strengthen the evidence base by 1) establishing causality, 2) understanding the differential impacts of adolescent fertility in different contexts, and 3) investigating other the impact of adolescent fertility on other socioeconomic outcomes, such as labor participation, productivity, and the intergenerational transmission of poverty.
Center for Global Development
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