Although the marriage of adolescent girls has been declining in many regions of the world, significant proportions are still marrying at a young age. Early marriage is most common in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Central America. This report focuses on the relationship of age of marriage with:
- Age of onset of sexual activity: A delay in marriages has in some cases resulted in a rise in the age of sexual debut, but in some contexts there seems to be a shift from marital to non-marital sexual initiation.
- Timing of first pregnancy and spacing of births: Married adolescents ‘have earlier and higher fertility, poor fertility outcomes, inadequate number of years between children, and lower contraceptive use than have married young adults’. For these adolescents, these patterns persist into adulthood.
- Use of contraception and the level of unintended pregnancies: The use of contraception in most developing countries is usually lowest among adolescents and women in their forties. Women who are married, even as adolescents, may be expected to have children right away. This is particularly the case in contexts where women’s gender identities and social status are tied to motherhood, such as in sub-Saharan Africa. However, some authors suggest an absence of expectations on young wives to bear children straight away, and that early marriage might lead to higher contraceptive uptake.
- Vulnerability to contracting HIV and other STIs: Findings are mixed regarding the links between early marriage and young women’s risk of contracting HIV/STIs.