Adolescent and youth fertility and social inequality in Latin America and the Caribbean: what role has education played?

Jorge Rodríguez-Vignoli, Suzana Cavenaghi


According to the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) monitoring system, Latin America and the Caribbean is the region that presents the highest adolescent and youth fertility rate (for women aged 15-19), behind only  Sub-Saharan Africa. During the 1990’s, several Latin American and Caribbean countries had an increase in this rate. The fertility rates were not only high, but did not decrease and were related to large social inequalities.  Besides presenting high level and resistance to the decline, high early fertility concerns due to its large social inequality. This paper aims to offer a detailed and updated description of  trends in fertility and motherhood among  15-19 year olds  and its socioeconomic inequality in Latin American countries by using the most recent demographic census microdata. Additionally, given the theoretical and policy importance that education plays in adolescent reproduction, this paper aims to determine whether the decreases in fertility rates are due to  advances in education. The results show that in last decade, most of the countries have experienced a decline in adolescent fertility and motherhood percentages, most of it due to the increase in enrollments rates in secondary education, as our exercise of direct standardization shows. Regarding  the effects of education, the higher the schooling the lower the risk of being a mother during adolescence. However, the protective effect of education is declining insofar as its threshold is increasing. This occurs because, in the past, entering  high school (HS), and above all getting a HS diploma implied much lower probabilities of being an adolescent mother  than dropping out before HS. Nowadays this difference is narrower. These findings improve the projections of fertility indicators and its inequalities in the region, which in turn are invaluable for promoting public policies based on human and reproductive rights.

Jorge RODRÍGUEZ VIGNOLI,Research assistant, CELADE-División de Población de la CEPAL, Chile. E-mail:

Suzana CAVENAGHI, Professor, National School of Statistical Science (ENCE), Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE), Brazil.


Adolescent fertiltiy; education; Latin America and Carebbean

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ISSN: 2035-5556

Reg. Tribunale di Roma n. 3321/54