Every day, 41,000 girls marry before they are 18 years old. That’s 15 million girls every year. What are the economic impacts and costs of child marriage, and how does the practice relate to girls’ educational attainment?
A new study on the economic impacts of child marriage by the World Bank and the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) suggests that the negative impacts of child marriage on a wide range of development outcomes are large. This is the case not only for child brides, but also for their children and for societies overall. The study benefited from support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, and the Global Partnership for Education.
Child marriage leads to population growth and entrenched poverty
Detailed analysis was carried for 15 countries, with extrapolations done for some of the impacts and costs of child marriage for more than 100 developing countries.
Globally, between now and 2030, child marriage is expected to cost the equivalent of trillions of dollars to populations in the developing world.
The largest impacts in terms of economic costs are through fertility and population growth. Child marriage leads girls to have children earlier and more children over their lifetime. This in turns reduces the ability of households to meet their basic needs, and thereby contributes to poverty. Ending child marriage would generate large welfare benefits through a reduction in population growth, helping to usher in the demographic dividend.
Early marriage makes completing education almost impossible for girls
The relationship between child marriage and educational attainment for girls is also strong. In most developing countries, it is extremely difficult for girls to remain in school once they get married.
As a result, child marriage reduces the likelihood that girls will complete their secondary education. This emerges clearly from questions asked to parents in household surveys as to why their daughters dropped out of school. Marriage is often one of the main, if not the main reason, that adolescent girls drop out of school.
A similar conclusion is reached when modelling the relationship between child marriage and educational attainment econometrically. The effects are large. Every year that a girl marries early (i.e., before 18) is associated with a reduction in the likelihood of completing secondary school of typically four to 10 percentage points, depending on the country or region. This leads to lower earnings for child brides in adulthood since a lack of education prevents them from getting good jobs. In addition, child marriage also reduces education prospects for the children of child brides by curtailing their mother’s education.
The good news is that conversely, keeping girls in school is one of the best ways to delay marriage.
This finding emerges from the literature on interventions that have proven successful in delaying the age at first marriage. It also emerges from the empirical estimations conducted for the study. The estimates suggest that across the 15 countries for which the empirical work was carried, each year of additional secondary education reduces the likelihood for girls of marrying as a child and of having a first child before the age of 18 by five to six percentage points on average.
Child marriage must end
The study provides a clear economic rationale for ending child marriage. Child marriage is not only a social issue with potentially dramatic consequences for child brides and their children. It is also an economic issue that affects the ability of countries to grow and reduce poverty. The study also suggests how ending child marriage can be done: by keeping girls in school.
What’s next? With support from GPE, two additional studies are being prepared by the World Bank team. The first study will estimate the benefits from investments in girls’ education using an approach similar to that used for the estimation of the economic costs of child marriage.
The second study will look more broadly at the role that human capital plays in the changing Wealth of Nations. Preliminary findings suggest that human capital is the largest component of the Wealth of Nations, ahead of produced and natural capital.
Together, it is hoped that these three studies on (1) the economic impacts of child marriage, (2) the benefits of investments in girls’ education, and (3) human capital and the Wealth of Nations will help advocate for increased investments in education.
For more information: