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Trends in stratification of pre-marital childbirth

Kirsten Stoebenau and Sangeetha Madhavan examine impact of economic inequality through NICHD R03
Trends in stratification of pre-marital childbirth

Madhavan and Stoebenau

Across the global North, as economic inequality rises, premarital childbearing and single motherhood are becoming increasingly concentrated among lower-income and less-educated women, with negative consequences for their children’s health. In sub-Saharan Africa economic inequality is also rising and family formation patterns are in flux, but we do not know if family patterns are also becoming stratified by education.

Drs. Madhavan and Stoebenau will examine whether premarital childbearing is becoming increasingly stratified by women’s educational attainment across sub-Saharan Africa and identify the contextual factors which help explain any increasing stratification. This is important because children born to unmarried or never married mothers in sub-Saharan Africa have a higher risk of death and poor health than children born to married mothers, and in some countries the rate of premarital childbearing is on the rise. If they find that premarital birth is becoming concentrated among low-educated women it will confirm the need for targeted interventions to mitigate the effects of premarital birth for disadvantaged women and their children.

Specifically, their research will examine trends in premarital birth by education over time in countries in sub-Saharan Africa. It also will identify contextual factors that influence a divergence in premarital birth by educational attainment. The researchers will analyze Demographic and Health Surveys, nationally representative surveys conducted on average every five years across most countries in sub-Saharan Africa. The project will draw on 92 surveys across 20 countries, including 199 subnational regions, to examine trends in premarital birth and education for women ages 15 to 34 who were born between 1965 and 1994.

The expectation is that premarital birth is becoming increasingly more likely among women with lower levels of education over time, particularly in countries where economic inequality is rising. Data will be pooled across country and over time to examine whether factors at the subnational level including measures of economic inequality, gender inequality, extent of urbanization, or aggregated ideal family size influence the extent to which a women’s likelihood of having a premarital birth diverges by educational attainment over time. The expectation is that in contexts marked by economic inequality or high levels of urbanization the extent to which premarital birth diverges by education will be accentuated; and in contexts marked by gender inequality, and high ideal family size, the level of divergence in premarital birth by education will be diminished.

Findings from this research are expected to direct policy development to mitigate impact on mothers and their children in settings of concentrated disadvantage.

Trends in stratification of pre-marital childbirth, NICHD R03, $154,500
Sangeetha Madhavan, African American Studies; Kirsten Stoebenau, Behavioral and Community Health