Child marriage has a significant economic impact, new World Bank research states

27 June, 2017

London – The first global study on the economic cost of child marriage shows that this human rights violation also has a major negative impact on national economies. The Economic Impacts of Child Marriage research, conducted jointly by The World Bank and The International Center for Research on Women (ICRW), shows that the biggest economic impacts of child marriage are related to fertility and population growth, education, earnings and the health of children born to young mothers. The study highlights that investments in ending child marriage can help countries achieve multiple development goals.

Speaking about the launch of the report today in Washington DC, Lakshmi Sundaram, Executive Director of Girls Not Brides [i], said: “This research provides crucial evidence showing that child marriage doesn’t just impact the lives of the 15 million girls married every year, but also has a major negative impact on the economic development of the countries in which these girls live. Governments and other policy-makers should be spurred on by this research to commit additional energy and resources to ending child marriage by 2030. By ridding the world of child marriage, we can help alleviate poverty and ensure that girls everywhere have access to a brighter future.”

The three-year research project examined existing data from 15 to 25 [ii] countries. It looked at ways in which child marriage may influence economic and social outcomes at the household and national levels.

Education

The results strongly support the promotion of girls’ education to not only protect girls from marriage but also provide them with the tools to lead more empowered lives. Girls who marry as children are less likely to complete secondary education: every year of marriage before the age of 18 reduces the likelihood of girls’ secondary school completion by four to six percentage points. Continuing schooling also helps reduce child marriage – each year in secondary school education reduces the risk of child marriage for girls by six percentage points. In addition, the more education a girl has, the more likely her children will be educated.

Fertility

The report also shows that child marriage and early childbearing have significant implications. Women married before 18 are likely to have more children, impacting both their own health and welfare as well as that of their families. More children in a household reduces the ability to pay for food, education and healthcare. At a national level, child marriage contributes to population growth by increasing fertility. The report estimates that a girl marrying at 13 will have on average 26% more children over her lifetime than if she had married at 18 or later. This has a national impact by placing an increased burden on basic services. The study found that by ending child marriage, birth rates would decrease, productivity increase, and countries could benefit from economic growth and a shifting population age structure, often referred to as the ‘demographic dividend’.

Child health and nutrition

Infant morbidity and mortality is higher amongst children born to mothers under 18. These children have an increased risk of dying before their fifth birthday by 3.5 percentage points on average, and an increased risk of stunting by 6.3 percentage points. The annual estimated economic benefits of ending under-five mortality and stunting would be close to US$98 billion annually by 2030. Ending child marriage would have an impact on reducing early childbirths and reducing child deaths.

Earnings and productivity

Child marriage was identified as having a substantial impact on women’s potential earnings and productivity. This is because child marriage curtails education attainment which in turn reduces women’s expected earnings in adulthood. It also can curb their influence within the household and limit their bargaining power. By ending child marriage, countries could increase their national earnings on average by 1%.

Ms Sundaram concluded by saying: “The 750+ member organisations of Girls Not Brides will not be surprised by the results of this research. Every day, they see the devastating impacts of child marriage. Our members have a key role to play to in raising public awareness of this harmful practice and in encouraging their governments to take action. Using evidence from the World Bank / ICRW study will help reinforce our members’ advocacy work and help make their collective voice stronger. Governments must understand that ending child marriage is not only the right thing to do, it is also the smart thing to do.”

ENDS

For interviews with Lakshmi Sundaram please contact Fiona Carr, Head of Communications, Girls Not Brides: Fiona.Carr@GirlsNotBrides.org / +44 (0)7392 310 256

Notes to editors

[i] About Girls Not Brides – Girls Not Brides is a global partnership of more than 750 civil society organisations from over 90 countries united by a commitment to work in partnership to end child marriage and enable girls to fulfil their potential. In consultation with more than 150 members, partners and experts, Girls Not Brides created a common Theory of Change, which outlines the range of approaches needed to end child marriage.

[ii]  The study focussed on 25 to 15 countries depending on the topic being considered. There were 15 core countries: Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, Nepal, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan, Republic of Congo, Uganda and Zambia. In all countries the main data used for estimations were Demographic and Health Studies (DHS), as well as Living Standards Measurement Studies.

In addition to the analysis of existing data, nationally representative household surveys took place in Ethiopia and Niger, as well qualitative research in six countries, with a focus on Ethiopia, Nepal and Niger.