The Fertility Transition in Latin America

By José Miguel Guzmán; Susheela Singh et al. | Go to book overview

17 The Fertility Transition and Adolescent Childbearing: The Case of Colombia

ELENA PRADA-SALAS


Introduction

Since the early 1980s, there has been growing concern about the issue of adolescent pregnancy and early childbearing, not only in developed but also in developing countries. The concern arises out of the possible adverse demographic, social, and economic effects that accompany early conjugal union and the subsequent beginning of childbearing at very early ages.

In Colombia, in spite of the dramatic decline in totalfertility that occurred during the period 1969-86, fertility among teenagers did not decline as rapidly as it did among older age-groups. Similarly, the pace of family formation, defined as the age at which reproductive activity begins, has not undergone the type of major change that might have been expected in light of Colombia's overall decline in fertility and its rate of economic development. And although the present ASFR of 78 births per 1,000 women aged 15-19years is one of the lowest in tropical South America, it is still high compared to levels in developed countries.

It is difficult to predict future patterns of adolescent fertility in Colombia, because the society is passing through a process of such profound social, economic and cultural change. Nevertheless, for a developing society like Colombia, which is becoming increasingly urbanized and industrialized, and in which better and higher levels of education and training are becoming increasingly important, the postponement of childbearing until after the age of 20 is an important policy goal. An abundant literature on the subject has shown that early childbearing is associated with such adverse demographic effects as larger family size, and that it contributes to shortening the average time between generations, thereby leading to a more rapid rate of population growth. In addition to these adverse demographic effects, early childbearing also has negative social and economic consequences for the mother, for her child, and for society in general. The adolescent mother may leave school early, thus reducing her likelihood of completing her education and becoming better equipped to compete in the labour-market, both of which are factors that might enable her to achieve an adequate enough income level to support herself and her child. Without such a capability, the adolescent mother and her child run the risk of becoming a burden on society.

The level of adolescent childbearing is dependent on both the size and the rate of change in the fertility rates of women 15-19 relative to the overall fertility of

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