Costs of child marriage: what does the World Bank research say?

A young woman and her child. According to the World Bank, a girl marrying at 13 will have on average 26% more children over her lifetime than if she had married at 18 or later. Photo credit: World Bank.

How much is child marriage costing the global economy? We have a much better answer to this question, thanks to new research by the World Bank and the International Centre for Research on Women (ICRW).

For the first time, we have global estimates of the economic costs of child marriage and the benefits of ending the practice, as well as data for 18 countries.

How can the findings help Girls Not Brides members make that case for ending child marriage? We look at three key takeaways to support your arguments.

1. Child marriage is costing countries a fortune

Child marriage is costing countries trillions of dollars through its impact on fertility and population growth, earnings and child health. This is important evidence for Girls Not Brides members trying to convince governments, donors and development agencies of the need to end child marriage.

We know that ending child marriage is a human rights imperative. Now we have data that shows it makes economic sense for governments to address it.

And because the research comes from the World Bank, it gives it extra weight.

2. Child marriage affects population growth, girls’ education, women’s earnings as well as maternal and child health

This new research tells us that child marriage is felt not only by girls and their families, but by nations as a whole. It gives us additional arguments to show that ending child marriage could help governments make progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals.

Child marriage increases population growth by increasing fertility.

The research confirms what we know: when they marry before 18, girls are more likely to have more children over their lifetime. What is new, however, is that the research projects the economic costs of this increased population growth.  

Providing basic services for larger populations puts a burden on the economy, reducing GDP per capita. In Niger, for instance, ending child marriage and early childbearing would reduce the population by 5% between 2015 and 2030, with significant impacts on national budgets and welfare.

Girls who marry as children tend to have completed fewer years of education.

The data confirms that every additional year that a girl spends in school reduces her chance of marrying before 18. Child marriage not only has an economic impact by reducing girls’ potential earnings, it also affects the prospects of their children being educated. 

Child marriage has a substantial impact on women’s potential earnings and productivity.

By putting an early end to their education, child marriage reduces girls’ expected earnings in adulthood by 9%. With more children and bigger families, child marriage indirectly limits the jobs available to women in the labour market, as well as the number of hours they can work. The World Bank estimates that countries lose on average about 1% of their earnings base due to child marriage.

Child marriage is linked to maternal and child deaths through early pregnancy and childbirth.

84.4 % of children born to mothers younger than 18 are due to child marriage.

This data confirms what we already know: that adolescent girls are more likely to die or have complications in childbirth, particularly when they have children before 15. And that children born to mothers under 18 are more likely to die before the age of five and face stunting due to lack of nutrition.

The World Bank estimates that if child marriage was ended between 2016 and 2030, over 2 million children could survive beyond the age of five, 3.6 million could avoid stunting, and 140,000 children’s lives could be saved on average every year.

3. The economic benefits of ending child marriage by 2030 would be huge

The costs of child marriage are big, but the economic benefits of ending it are even bigger. Some of the most striking findings are that: 

If child marriage had ended in 2015, the global economy could have saved $566 billion by 2030The effects would be felt by the poorest countries and households in particular.

The annual welfare gains from ending child marriage in Niger could reach $1.7 billion in the year 2030, solely from the effect of reducing fertility rates. In Ethiopia the benefit would be ever larger at $4.8 billion, while in Nepal this would be almost $1 billion.

In addition to the clear human imperative, the annual benefits from ending under-five mortality and stunting would be up to $98 billion by 2030.

In Bangladesh, ending child marriage could generate close to $4.8 billion annually in additional earnings and productivity. In Nigeria, the annual economic cost of child marriage as a result of lost earnings and productivity could be up to $7.6 billion.

Ending child marriage would lower population growth and therefore result in significant budget savings. Governments from the 18 countries studied could save up to $17 billion per year by 2030 just from the savings related to providing public education.

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The costs of child marriage are in the trillions and so are the benefits of ending the practice. This new study gives us concrete data showing how child marriage affects countries’ bottom line and should prompt them to act.

However, it is important to remember the end goal of our collective efforts is not just to delay age of marriage. But rather to create a world when women and girls are equal to boys and men. With solid data, this research can bring us closer to our ambitious vision for girls. 

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