Adolescent Fertility and Child Health: The Interaction of Maternal Age, Parity and Birth Intervals in Determining Child Health Outcomes


  • Jocelyn E. Finlay Department of Global Health and Population, Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health,
  • Melanie K. Norton Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies, Harvard University
  • Iván Mejía- Guevara Department of Biology, Stanford University



Maternal age, parity, birth intervals, child health, sub-Saharan Africa.


Introduction: Contributing to the Sustainable Development Goals, Global Goals, Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescents’ Health 2016-2030, we clarify the interaction between maternal age, parity and birth intervals to examine the effects on child health.

Methods: We use Demographic and Health Survey data from 33 sub-Saharan African countries, and apply multivariate Poisson and logistic models to first examine the effect of maternal age (15-17, 18-19, 20-24, 25-29, 30-39) on infant mortality and stunting, then modify this relationship by parity and account for the confounding effects of short birth intervals.

Results: We find that poor infant mortality outcomes of children born to teen mothers are driven by higher parity children, not first-born children. While first-born children of teen mothers are at a high risk of stunting, they are likely to survive. Short birth intervals have a negative effect on infant survival and stunting outcomes. But controlling for short birth intervals does not completely offset the effect of young age at birth on child survival outcomes.

Discussion: High parity children of young mothers are at a high risk of infant mortality, driven in part – but not completely – by short birth intervals. Policies aimed at delaying first birth are warranted, but should not overshadow the need to support adolescent mothers at risk of multiple births that are tightly spaced.


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