Extreme poverty teenage mothers and care and human capital investment decisions in early childhood

Correa, Lorena Sofía (2014). 'Extreme poverty teenage mothers and care and human capital investment decisions in early childhood' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, 2-5 September 2014, Athens, Greece.

Teenage pregnancy is a poverty trap that constitutes a big problem in the underdeveloped world because mothers and their children are affected for generations. Teenage pregnancy is related to low levels of human capital investment from the mothers to their children, preventing the complete cognitive, emotional and social development of the children and thus perpetuating poverty. These children will have difficulties to be productive and to adapt to society in the future, which means it limits the development of many of their individual capacities.


The adverse effects of teenage pregnancy are different for rich and poor teenagers. The first group has a wide range of choices for providing care for their babies, so they are not forced to sacrifice their investment in the development of their own human capital to take care of their children. On the opposite, poor teenagers don't have many options for providing care for their babies, because they lack personal and family human capital and have limited access to services, financial resources and welfare. This situation rises the value of their decisions in terms of human capital investment and the possibility to have access to higher wages, reducing social mobility and reinforcing the conditions that keeps them in poverty.


According to Amartya Sen's approach of human development, poverty limits and restricts access not only to goods but also to services, information and knowledge. Lack of access is not given only by lack of money but also because of misinformation, which prevents the real and effective practice of teenage mother rights.


The main objective of this research is to generate accurate knowledge about teenage pregnancy and it's relation to poverty in Colombia, this will help to design better and more accurate public policies for this matter. The phenomenon of teenage pregnancy is growing in Colombia and this could be related to the fact that maybe the public policy strategies aimed at reducing teen pregnancy and promote family planning are not focused or designed properly. The reduction of teenage pregnancy and the subsequent human capital rising of both mother and son are a poverty exit, allowing social mobility, empowering teenagers regarding their life project and raisings the opportunities to develop their skills freely and completely.


This paper explores how extremely poor teenage mothers make decisions about the care for their children in early childhood. The data used in the study came from the UNIDOS[1] Strategy of the Colombian government to alleviate extreme poverty. This survey collects information about 1'500.000 families in extreme poverty across the country.


Through a Propensity Score Matching model (PSM), we test the hypothesis that these mothers made low human capital investments in their children between 0 and 5 years. Three proxies of childcare will be used: 1) the number of development controls the child had in the last 12 months, 2) the vaccination of children and 3) if children receives formal care. The objective is to compare teenagers by the age when they become mothers, since 13 to 20 years, and at the time of the survey, their children age is between 0 and 5 years. The treatment-groups are teenagers who were mothers at X years   , the control-groups are teenagers that were mothers at X +1 years  


Preliminary data exploration and preliminary regressions show interesting results. For example, teenage mothers' children have a higher percentage in full course immunizations compared with non-teenager mothers' children, as well as a higher average in development controls. Moreover, these percentages increase as the mother is younger. However, non-teenage mothers' children have more formal care than the others and this percentage increases with the age of the young mother. This behavior may possibly be explained because many of the younger teenage mothers live with their families, and this is a fundamental support for childcare. Regarding formal care, this behavior could be explained because non teenage mothers live alone or with her husbands and do not have family support, and because of that they have to go nursing homes.


In this context, several things for the design of public policies regarding the reduction of teenage pregnancy and childcare in poor homes are proposed. First, the policy must be comprehensive and involve not only young people who are potential teenage parents but also their families on issues of sexual and reproductive health. Second, the public policy should encourage and facilitate proper care and investment in human capital development in early childhood for poor families. It is important that this policy is differentiated by age, because younger teenagers are statistically different from those who are in their late teens.


Keywords: Childcare, teenager pregnancy, extreme poverty.


[1] UNIDOS is the Strategy of Government for overcoming the extreme poverty in Colombia, and this Strategy is led by National Agency for Overcoming Extreme Poverty (ANSPE). ANSPE become of 26 entities network which give basic social services to extreme poor people. 

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