Fertility Timing and Women’s Economic Outcomes in South Africa

Dates: November 2012 – July 2015

Funding: Population Reference Bureau / William and Flora Hewlett Foundation


Building on 15 years of collaboration between the principal investigators, this project uses unique longitudinal data to analyse the impact of fertility timing on women’s long-run economic outcomes in South Africa. We will look at the impacts of teen childbearing, the timing of first birth more generally, and the number of children on a wide range of long run economic outcomes, including employment, earnings, migration, and poverty transitions.

We will use three longitudinal surveys that the research team was involved in designing and which we have used in previous research – the Cape Area Panel Study (CAPS), the Africa Centre Demographic Information System (ACDIS), and the National Income Dynamics Study (NIDS). These surveys combine retrospective birth histories with prospectively collected fertility data.

We will use multiple approaches to deal with the difficult issues of causal inference:

  1. First, we will take advantage of our rich longitudinal data to control for a large set of individual, family and community characteristics that precede the first birth. For example, by linking NIDS information on where respondents lived in 1994 with rich geocoded community data (e.g. from the 1996 census), we can control for the effect of pre-fertility characteristics in an analysis of the effect of having a birth on later-life economic outcomes.
  2. Second, we will exploit variation over space and time in access to Family Planning (FP) services, using access measures as instrumental variables to predict the timing of first birth. There is considerable evidence that access to health and FP services continues to be imperfect, especially for young people. In our stakeholder workshop, participants noted numerous barriers to contraceptive access, including distance to clinics, limited clinic hours, long queues, and unsympathetic staff. One particularly promising direction of research is analysing the impact of the National Adolescent Friendly Clinic Initiative, an adolescent-focused FP clinic-accreditation program.