Publications Summary

Document Type
Comparative Reports
Publication Topic(s)
Fertility and Fertility Preferences, Gender
Recommended Citation
Westoff, Charles F. 2003. Trends in Marriage and Early Childbearing in Developing Countries. DHS Comparative Reports No. 5. Calverton, Maryland, USA: ORC Macro.
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Publication Date
July 2003
Publication ID


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Profound demographic changes are occurring in the developing world in connection with women’s age at entry into marriage and parenthood. A demonstrable pattern of later age at marriage has emerged from analyses of Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) data from 59 countries in surveys conducted between 1990 and 2002. The delay of marriage is now evident in many but not all countries in sub-Saharan Africa. The trend is mo re advanced in Asia and North Africa; and it is continuing in Latin America, although only modestly. It is occurring in both urban and rural areas and among women with no formal education as well as educated women. In many developing countries, it is reflected by later age at birth for women having their first child. Although teenage fertility is declining in some countries, a few Latin American countries have experienced increases in teenage pregnancy and childbearing, evidently caused by increases in the proportion of sexually active adolescents. These exceptions notwithstanding,the general picture is one of changes consistent with lower fertility and associated improvements in women’s status. Other analyses confirm the decline of polygyny in sub-Saharan Africa, although its prevalence remains high in some countries. Informal unions are increasing. The trend toward later age at marriage for women in sub-Saharan Africa is not evident for men. One result of this difference is the narrowing of the age difference between spouses.


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