Teenage pregnancy, childbirth and parenthood is a widespread problem in the developing countries but is not an exclusive problem to them. According to Children Having Children, a report by the State of the World's Mothers published by Save the Children in 2004, one in every ten children is born to a mother who herself is still a child.
Sub-Saharan African countries tend to have the highest rates of early marriage and early motherhood as well as the highest mortality rates for young mothers and their babies. Other countries where girls often become mothers at an early age include Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Yemen, Guatemala, Haiti and Nicaragua. In some of these countries, due to different traditions, girls may be married and start having sex even before they become sexually mature.
In the industrialized world the highest rate of early motherhood is registered in the United States, where the problem is most often limited to teenagers. According to Children Having Children, the US adolescent birth rate exceeds that of the United Kingdom by about two-and-a-half times, that of the Netherlands or Japan by more than ten times and that of the Republic of Korea by over 17 times.
Early pregnancy and childbirth lead to different complications both for the mother and for the baby. On the one hand there are clear health complications. The risk of death from pregnancy and childbirth-related causes is estimated to be twice as high for teenagers as for older women. The risk is even higher for younger girls aged ten to 14. In the developing world such complications are the main cause of death for young women aged 15 to 19. Babies born to teenage mothers face a 50% higher risk of dying before reaching one year of age compared with babies born to women in their twenties.
Limited education can be both a cause and an effect of early motherhood. There is a tendency for educated girls to marry later and have fewer children than girls who do not go to school. On the other hand girls who go to school but get married and/or become pregnant usually leave school and have problems finishing their education. The lack of education is a big disadvantage to both the mother and her children. Young uneducated mothers are more likely to be poor as they have difficulties finding jobs. They also tend to get pregnant more often, which only intensifies the problem. Such girls usually know little about family planning and sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV and AIDS. In addition, young uneducated mothers are generally less prepared to take care of their children and ensure their health, well-being and educational prospects.
Besides limited education, poverty may also be both a cause and an effect of early pregnancy and childbirth. Girls who are poor tend to have children at a younger age and when they do they are more likely to remain poor. Naturally poverty also has negative effects on children born to young mothers as they have limited access to food, health care and education. As a result, there is a greater chance that these children will repeat the cycle of poverty and limited education by themselves having children at an early age.
In the United States and other industrialized countries the government has aid programs to help teenage parents become self-sufficient and reduce their long-term welfare dependence. These programs are often focused on supporting young mothers to continue school or prepare them for employment. According to a study cited in Teenage Parents and Welfare Reform: Findings from a Survey of Teenagers Affected by Living Requirements (2002), teenage parents who have not completed high school are at a particularly high risk of remaining on public assistance.
Another way to support teenage parents in the United States is to help them fulfill the requirement that they must live in an appropriate living situation, usually with a parent or guardian. For example, the so-called Teen Living Programs initiative developed by the State of Massachusetts supports minor teenage parents that receive welfare and are not able to live with family members by offering alternative housing arrangements.
Despite the negative effects that early motherhood has both on the mother and on the child, there are long-term studies examining the life course of adolescent mothers and their children showing that a big percentage eventually attain positive outcomes later in life. However, finding ways to maximize the chance of teenage parents and their children achieving well-being remains an important social goal in the United States.