secure themselves in the marital home; infertility is deeply feared and results, for many women, in abandonment and mistreatment (Adepoju and Mbugua, 1997; Jejeebhoy, 2000). A study in rural Maharashtra, India, highlights the extent to which newly married young women face pressure to begin childbearing as soon as possible after marriage (Barua and Kurz, 2001). In this study, fertility within a year of marriage was a prime concern to young women and their husbands and mothers-in-law; any gynecological condition perceived to limit fertility prospects tended to receive prompt treatment. Mothers-in-law strongly objected to any delay, and young women themselves were motivated to have a child in the first year of marriage to satisfy social obligations and strengthen their own position in the marital family. This study was limited to brides between ages 15 and 19; we do not know whether older brides would face similar pressures.
In some contexts, a marriage does not receive full social recognition until the arrival of the first birth or until the first pregnancy is celebrated. Van Hollen (2003) describes the Seemantham ritual in Tamil Nadu, which is performed in preparation for a woman’s first delivery. This ceremony, which was traditionally a way to celebrate and legitimize the marital union, has been reinvented in a more modern guise, with the elaborate exchange of gifts and display of conspicuous consumption, representing a final phase of the economic exchanges associated with the marriage itself (Box 8-1).
Chapter 4 documents the worldwide decline in age at menarche and Chapter 7 describes the increase in the age at marriage or union formation. These two facts together mean that, on average, there has been a worldwide increase in the length of the period during which young people are exposed to the risk of having premarital sex. And Chapter 4 provides evidence that premarital sex prior to age 18 is increasing. But it is by no means a given that increasing levels of sex before marriage are leading to increases in premarital childbearing of the same magnitude. There are examples of populations in which a strong taboo against becoming a parent outside marriage persists even after norms forbidding sex outside marriage have weakened; the most notable examples are Japan (Retherford, Ogawa, and Matsukura, 2001) and several Central and Southern European countries (Kiernan, 1999).
Table 8-7 shows trends in the percentage of young women having their first birth before marriage across three cohorts for three ages marking phases of the transition to adulthood: age 18, age 20, and age 25. The overall level of premarital childbearing across all developing countries remains very low, with no more than 5 percent of women having a pre-