in most settings, schooling is often not an option for parents, particularly mothers, although in this area change is beginning to be seen.
The moment that young people become first-time parents, they become major actors in shaping the health and well-being of the next generation. There is a vast and growing literature on the determinants of success in early childhood. Not surprisingly, parental income, schooling, health knowledge, and the availability of community services have all been documented to be important to child survival and early childhood health and development in a diverse range of developing country settings (Bicego and Boerma, 1993; Cleland and van Ginneken, 1988; Hales et al., 1999; Mahy 2003; United Nations 1991; World Health Organization, 2000). The literature on rates of returns to schooling documents empirically the myriad social benefits that come from investing in schooling, particularly for girls, including smaller family size, better child health, and greater investments in schooling for the next generation. Because of the many global changes we have discussed, there is also increasing recognition that motherhood involves not only a caretaking role but also a role as an economic provider, as has always been the case for fatherhood (Bruce, Lloyd, and Leonard, 1995).
Social concerns about the implications of premature parenthood arise for several reasons. One is the potential health consequences for very young women of pregnancy and birth if their physiological development is incomplete. Other consequences may include premature exit from school, reduced earnings prospects, reduced chances of community participation and the acquisition of social capital, a heightened possibility of divorce or single parenthood, and a greater risk of living in poverty. These other consequences of early parenthood are likely to be greater for young women than young men; in most societies, women have the primary responsibility of child care and childrearing, and parenthood for them often coincides with a shrinking of opportunities and reduced scope for independent action.
We begin with an empirical overview of trends in the timing of first parenthood in developing countries, relying primarily on data from the Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS), which are unique in their careful and comparable measurement of women’s birth histories (see Appendix A for further discussion). While the data on young men are more limited, we explore age patterns of parenthood for both. We then go into more depth on early motherhood, presenting data on trends as well as a review of the literature on consequences. Next, we present data on the sequencing of parenthood with marriage, including trends in premarital childbearing as well as trends in the length of the first birth interval. After reviewing the limited evidence on the consequences of premarital childbearing, we explore some of the factors affecting the changing context of first-time parenthood, including the rise of formal schooling, the rise in paid employment among women, changes in health and health behaviors, in particular HIV,