The rippling economic impacts of child marriage


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A new study finds that child marriage could cost developing countries trillions of dollars by 2030, with the largest economic cost coming from its impact on fertility and population growth.

Globally, more than 700 million women alive today married before the age of 18. Each year, 15 million additional girls are married as children, the vast majority of them in developing countries. Child marriage is widely considered a violation of human rights, and it is also a major impediment to gender equality. It profoundly affects the opportunities not only of child brides, but also of their children. And, as a study we issued this week concludes, it has significant economic implications as well.

Every day, we learn more about the drivers of child marriage in different contexts and the ways in which to help end this harmful practice. But to date, we have had only limited information on the negative impacts of the practice across countries, and very little understanding of its economic costs.
The International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) and the World Bank have been collaborating on a multi-year research project to assess these impacts and costs. We looked at the impacts of child marriage on early childbearing, fertility, contraceptive use, intimate partner violence, educational attainment, earnings in adulthood, and decision-making ability within the household, among other outcomes. We also considered impacts on the children of child brides, including, for example, their risk of being stunted and of dying before age five.
Our collaboration, supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation and the Global Partnership for Education, concludes that child marriage imposes very significant social and economic costs, not only at the individual level, but also for societies and for the intergenerational transmission of poverty.

We unveiled our findings at the World Bank’s headquarters in Washington, DC.  Our study finds that child marriage could cost developing countries trillions of dollars by 2030 – the year by which the UN, through its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), calls for the elimination of the practice.
By far the largest economic cost related to child marriage is from its impact on fertility and population growth. By contributing to larger families and, in turn, population growth, child marriage delays the demographic dividend that can come from reduced fertility and investments in education. The associated cost could run in the trillions of dollars globally (in purchasing power parity) between now and 2030.
Other costs are substantial as well. By 2030, countries could see tens of billions of dollars in benefits from the reduction that ending child marriage would bring in stunting and child mortality.
Ending child marriage would also have tremendous positive effects on girls’ education, which in turn would bring many additional benefits. Increased educational attainment for girls contributes to women having fewer children later in life, increases their lifetime expected earnings, improves household income, reduces their likelihood of experiencing intimate partner violence and increases their ability to make decisions. In relation to earnings, our study shows that the interruption of education as a result of child marriage reduces the earnings of child brides in adulthood by 9 percent on average, which has negative impacts for households and national economies.

To ground these figures at the country level, consider this:
In Niger, the country with the highest prevalence of child marriage in the world, eliminating child marriage in 2015 would have led by the year 2030 to annual benefits of up to $1.7 billion in additional welfare, $327 million in savings to the education budget, $34 million through reduced infant mortality, and $8 million through reduced child stunting. In addition, earnings today are $188 million below what they could have been without child marriage, and these losses would grow over time if child marriages continue. Altogether, failing to end child marriage would cost the country billions of dollars, with the impact falling disproportionately on the poor. 

Findings from the study demonstrate that child marriage is not only a social issue, it is very much an economic issue. We hope that by demonstrating these economic costs, we will be able to foster broader investments to end this harmful practice and ensure that all girls have access to the opportunities and the futures that they deserve.
This post also appeared on the ICRW blog.

Find out more about World Bank Group Education on our website and on Twitter.
See the report, press release, infographic, and online discussion.


Quentin Wodon

Lead Economist, Education Sector, World Bank

Suzanne Petroni

Senior Director, International Center for Research on Women

June 29, 2017

Cry me a river. Parents are glad girls move out and get married before 18. No one cares if a girl gets married in Highschool.

vivienne leijonhufvud
July 01, 2017

This is largely the case in the undeveloped world rather than European, Russian, Chinese and US society.

vivienne leijonhufvud
July 01, 2017

The most alarming fact that has arisen is Europe is condoning child marriage by immigrants from third world nations. Girls as young as nine are being married off by their families as well as being shipped out by traffickers. As pointed out the population growth from these low intellect men with little girls is a major strain on society. These poor girls frequently die in childbirth so another wife is taken on and again another child. How on earth are we to deal with this monumental problem?

vivienne leijonhufvud
July 01, 2017

This is becoming a major problem now in Europe. This practice is adopted by most Islamic nations who contribute largely to this major problem - many African nations are now Islamic yet still before converting to Islam the daughters have been sold off. It would be more cost effective to offer free education to every girl rather than marry her off to an old man who will abuse and force himself onto a young girl, who due to her age will become pregnant immediately later dying in childbirth. Society is then left with too many children and old men who are of little use rather they are a burden to the working population. This has to be put into International statute and consequences of practicing child marriage must be penal.

Angapat Raghu Menon
July 01, 2017

In India the child marriage is mostely seeking in the area of Rajastan, Gujarat and Maharastra,further the countries like Pakistan and Bungladesh also consoderable in the view point of Child marriages. After the age of 12 to 18 the Father and mother are finds out the Boy to make marriages in the time. They are given high value to the marriages to give Dovery to the Boys Father and make arrangement for the marriage. The under age the girl will become pregenent and gives birth to the first baby before the age of 18. In the south Asias News are like this . By 2030 the Population of the cildren and the child marriage will become the burden of Trillions of Dollers to be find out to feed the children, the story is the only in the South Asian judgement.

Stephen Mgbemere
July 04, 2017

Child marriage is also affecting the economic growth of the countries concern. Young women who should be educated are subjected to early family life, become part of consuming group instead of contributing to the economic growth of their respective nations. The study is worth it because it will become a working tool for nations to plan and proffer solutions, that even those already married to plan a program to enhance their productivity.

Faith Ogbada
November 20, 2017

Child marriage is a great menace that has eaten deep into our society and needs to be eradicated. I am currently working on a project to fight all forms of abuse and also build a rehabilitation Center in the state I am serving as a Corp member in Nigeria, but we need support to make it a reality.

genci mucaj
November 30, 2017

This a cancer in our society which needs a total chemotherapy! STOP child marriage and all types of child abuse!