For teenage parents and especially for mothers, teenage childbearing is associated with a lower probability of being enrolled in formal education at age 19. At a period when an important proportion of young women in Peru are able to attend higher education, teenage mothers typically stay at home dealing with household chores. This is likely to have long run effect on women´s employability.
In our study, we identified a number of aspects measured during childhood and early adolescence that predict teenage pregnancy. First, material poverty and the prolonged absence of one of the parents are found to have detrimental effects. Girls that grew up in poor households—as measured by an index that contain information on housing quality, access to basic service and access to durable goods—are more like to be teenage mothers.
Behind this association there can be multiple causes, including economic constraints that reduce school investments and increase the likelihood of child work; and, heterogeneity in household preferences and in access to information. In addition, we found that the absence of one of the parents when we visited the household for the first time—at the age of 8—is associated with a higher probability of teenage pregnancy. We stress that this relationship is only observed when the absence occurs for a long period of time.
School progress also emerges as an important determinant. Specifically, school attendance at age 15 and higher test scores at age 12 are associated with a reduction in the probability of teenage pregnancy. This likely reflects that girls that perform well at school have ‘more to lose’ in becoming teenage mothers. We also found that girls whose self-efficacy and educational aspirations reduce during adolescence are at more risk of becoming teenage mothers. This decline in psychosocial competencies is often related to poor school performance.
What does our analysis suggest can be done to reduce the underlying drivers of teenage pregnancy in Peru?
Firstly we have to make it worth girls’ time to stay on in school. Policies aimed at improving school performance and school completion rates are regarded as effective tools for reducing unwanted early pregnancy by increasing the opportunity cost of such a decision. Both social policy and educational policy are relevant in this respect. Anti-poverty programmess such as the Juntos conditional cash transfer program fulfill the double objective of alleviating monetary poverty and providing incentives for girls to stay at school. On the educational policy arena, the Minister of Education is currently implementing an Extended School Day Programme (Jornada Escolar Completa, JEC, described in this short animation) in public schools. This initiative seeks both to extend the length of the school-day and to provide better services to students at the secondary level in urban areas. Inasmuch as JEC is likely to improve school attainment and to enhance educational aspirations, it has the potential to reduce teenage pregnancy. Note that while JEC provides an opportunity for urban girls, an equivalent model needs to be developed in rural areas.