Featured Research

Global efforts to address adolescent motherhood need more focus on partners

23 June 2022

A new study on high rates of motherhood among married adolescent girls in low and middle-income countries highlights the need to also target partners in early pregnancy intervention programs.

Led by Life Course Centre researchers at the Institute for Social Science Research at The University of Queensland, the study is the first of its kind to examine the associations between partner characteristics and the prevalence of adolescent motherhood across multiple countries.

The study, utilising Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) data, covers 54,285 married adolescent girls, aged 15-19 years, in 48 low and middle-income countries in Africa, Asia, Europe, Oceania, Latin America and the Caribbean. Partner characteristics were assessed in a sub-sample of 24,333 girls.

The overall prevalence of adolescent motherhood was 73.98% among married adolescent girls in the study, which also found persistent associations between adolescent motherhood and partners’ desire for more children and spousal age gap. Furthermore, the majority of adolescent mothers in the study (67%) experienced their first birth within two years of their marriage.

“Our findings highlight the importance of incorporating partners of married adolescent girls into prevention and intervention programs aimed at delaying age at first birth,” said lead author and Life Course Centre Research Fellow Dr M. Mamun Huda.

“More attention needs to be directed to married adolescent girls who have older partners, and efforts to discourage marriages with much older partners may also have a secondary benefit of reducing adolescent motherhood in low and middle-income countries.” he said.

M Mamun Huda

Young motherhood is a major global health problem and the burden is disproportionately higher in low and middle-income countries. Each year, an estimated 21 million girls aged 15-19 years in low and middle-income countries become pregnant and an estimated 12 million give birth in every year.

The high rates of young motherhood in low and middle-income countries is proving hard to shift and is associated with greater risks of maternal and child health issues and social and economic burdens.

Associate Professor Abdullah Mamun, a Life Course Centre Chief Investigator at ISSR, said the study provides an important first step in developing an evidence base to enable policymakers to design prevention interventions for adolescent motherhood aimed at partners, rather than just at girls.

“Understanding the risk factors for motherhood among married adolescent girls can better inform programs to prevent early pregnancy, and the negative health and social implications that arise from it.”

Abdullah Mamun

“Our results show that partner characteristics, particularly a partner’s desire for more children and a large age gap between the adolescent girl and her partner, are strongly associated with adolescent motherhood. Policymakers and program designers should therefore consider these risk factors to improve the effectiveness of early pregnancy intervention programs in low and middle-income countries.”

The study was authored by Life Course Centre researchers Dr Huda, Associate Professor Mamun, Dr Martin O’Flaherty and Dr Shannon Edmed of ISSR in collaboration with Dr Jocelyn Finlay of the Department of Global Health and Population at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health in Boston.

Contact: Dr M Mamun Huda, Email: m.m.huda@uq.edu.au

Go to full article: ‘Partner’s characteristics and adolescent motherhood among married adolescent girls in 48 low-income and middle-income countries: a population-based study’ BMJ Open.