Teenage Pregnancy in Brazil


Increasing the number of secondary schools in the cities of Brazil has led to a fall in the number of children born to teenage women, as many women choose to educate themselves so as to get a better job. That is the central finding of research by Jesse Matheson and Martin Foureaux-Koppensteiner, presented at the Royal Economic Society’s 2013 annual conference.

The research looks at one of the largest school building programmes on record, which took place in Brazil between 1997 and 2006. More than 6,000 publicly funded secondary schools were built, raising the number of schools by 57%. During that period the number of boys and girls in secondary education rose dramatically.

To see the effect of these new schools, the researchers examine data on more than 5,000 municipalities and many millions of newly born babies, comparing areas that received new schools with those that did not. The study finds that:

  • In urban areas, a 10% increase in the number of schools led to a 7.5% decrease in teenage childbirths.
  • But in small rural municipalities, introducing one school (a 100% increase over the average) led to a 10% increase in teenage childbirths.

The researchers see this as evidence that it is not the school itself that leads to lower teenage pregnancy but the opportunity for women to get better jobs. In urban areas where there are more jobs available for educated women, many teenagers choose school and a career over having children.

In rural areas, however, there are far fewer job opportunities for educated women so there is less to discourage teenagers from becoming pregnant. The authors explain the increase in pregnancy in rural areas by pointing out that adding one school in a sparsely populated rural area might actually provide more opportunities for young men and women to meet.


Does improving access to secondary education affect the incidence of childbirth among young women? Jesse Matheson and Martin Foureaux-Koppensteiner address this question in their research.

Examining one of the largest secondary school expansions on record, across the country of Brazil, they find that, in urban municipalities, a 10% school increase leads to a 7.5% decrease in teenage childbirths. But in small rural municipalities, introducing one school (a 100% increase over the average) leads to a 10% increase in teenage childbirths.

This study combines data from the annual Brazilian school censuses, vital statistics data from 45 million live births by age of mother and the Brazilian population censuses. The researchers follow age-specific childbirths and secondary school expansions for 5,566 municipalities between 1997 and 2006. Changes in incidence of teenage childbirth for municipalities into which a school was introduced are compared with municipalities that did not receive a school to estimate the causal effect of increasing the availability of post-compulsory education on teenage fertility.

The stark difference between large and small municipalities suggests that the relationship between education and teenage childbirth is dependent on the perceived impact that education will have on future earnings.

In the late 1990s, Brazil went through an ambitious programme of expanding secondary schools. Between 1997 and 2006, more than 6,000 publicly funded secondary schools (a 57% increase) were created. This study finds a significant increase in both female and male secondary school enrolment following the introduction of a school into a municipality.

This study builds on previous research, which has established that, relative to women who begin childbearing later in life, women who have children as teenagers obtain less education and have lower earnings as adults. It is difficult to draw conclusions about the extent to which this relationship reflects the negative effect of having children young on educational attainment, or differences between teenage mothers and non-teenage mothers in perceived opportunities (real or otherwise) for education.

There is reason to believe that education opportunities are important to teenage childbearing. If improving access to education is perceived as reducing the cost of improving future earning potential, we expect to see young women forgo childbearing in favour of investing in education.

The findings for larger urbanised municipalities suggest that higher education has a salient impact on future earnings. Therefore, improving access to education leads some young women to put off childbearing in favour of increasing their human capital.

The findings for small municipalities suggest a different mechanism. Small municipalities in Brazil tend to be rural with the populations spread over large geographical areas. This may affect the relationship between schools and childbearing in two ways.

First, educational opportunity may be perceived to have little impact on economic opportunity. If so, then we would not expect to see childbearing decisions influenced by a school introduction.

Second, schools may act as a co-ordination mechanism, bringing together young women and men previously separated by a relatively large geographical distance. If this is the case, then this may explain the positive effect on teenage pregnancy rates following the introduction of a secondary school into these municipalities.


Notes for editors:

‘Does access to education matter for teen pregnancy? Evidence from Brazil’ by Martin Foureaux-Koppensteiner and Jesse Matheson


Jesse Matheson: 07530 122 585, jm464@le.ac.uk

RES media consultant Romesh Vaitilingam:
+44 (0) 7768 661095

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