Eliminating reproductive risk factors and reaping female education and work benefits: A constructed cohort analysis of 50 developing countries (Qingfeng Li and Amy Tsui)

Proponents of the Demographic Dividend (DD) framework recommend investing in human-capital quality, including schooling, nutrition, healthcare, and job-skills training, to boost economic growth and productivity in the first phase and continuation through the second. The gendered perspective advocates prioritizing investments in the female population to capture their potential contributions to the DD. Our analysis assesses the impacts of reproductive risk factors prevailing at the time of daughters’ births on their subsequent health, reproductive, and socioeconomic outcomes in adulthood. Measuring the benefits for female schooling and paid work achieved by eliminating the risks associated with early childbearing, higher-parity births, and short birth intervals can provide insights on the DD’s potential in low and/or middle income countries and the Sub-Saharan region.

The first study aim is to test a pseudo-cohort approach to gain a longitudinal perspective on life-course changes. Second, we assess whether a daughter born to a young mother (under age 18), at high birth order (parity 4 or more), or soon after the previous sibling (within 18 months) shows elevated probabilities of experiencing adverse reproductive and adult health and social welfare outcomes, particularly with respect to years of schooling or paid work in adulthood. We simulate for adult female cohorts the expected mean years of schooling and mean proportion with paid work given the elimination of reproductive risks. Third, we examine if these cohort summary measures differ appreciably for the Sub-Saharan Africa region.

Single-year birth cohorts are constructed using birth histories and socioeconomic data from cross-sectional rounds of Demographic and Health Surveys (DHSs) conducted in 50 developing countries between 1986 and 2012. Overall 2,542 cohorts, including 1,386 for Sub-Saharan Africa, are linked by year of birth across DHS rounds such that risk conditions at birth for daughters come from birth histories provided by their mothers as female respondents in the first DHS round and adult socioeconomic outcomes are provided by female respondents in subsequent DHS rounds belonging to the same birth cohort year. Generalized linear modeling is used to estimate the effects of each reproductive risk on outcome proportions. Post-estimation simulation is carried out with the systematic elimination of each reproductive risk factor.

The results show that eliminating early childbearing and short birth spacing can increase average years of schooling for female cohorts from an observed 6.42 years to 6.63 and 6.99 years, respectively, For Sub-Saharan Africa cohorts, the increase is from an observed 5.21 years of schooling to 5.22 with no early childbearing and 6.14 years with no closely spaced births. Eliminating high-parity births in Sub-Saharan Africa cohorts increases the average years of schooling to 6.20 years or by nearly one year. The elimination of all three risks generates a predicted gain of 0.81 years for all cohorts and 1.94 years for Sub-Saharan Africa cohorts. Across the three reproductive risks, eliminating early childbearing shows the highest gain in the mean proportion having paid work—from 0.286 to 0.326. The individual elimination of the other two risk conditions does not increase the mean cohort proportion with paid employment; however, the elimination of all three raises the mean proportion with paid employment from 0.286 to 0.305. Eliminating any or all risk conditions in the Sub-Saharan Africa cohorts does not increase the mean proportion with paid work.

Qingfeng Li is a Research Associate and Amy Tsui is a Professor with the Bill & Melinda Gates Institute for Population and Reproductive Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in the United States.

Li Tsui Presentation








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