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The Economic Impact of Child Marriage

Child marriage is a current widespread issue that violates basic human rights. It hinders the social and economic development of children.

The history of child marriage is rooted in gender inequality, illustrating how young girls and women will be deemed at a low value. This preconceived notion put towards young girls and women causes the idea of child marriage to be accepted in societies as a social norm and become commonly practiced. Unfortunately, more than 140 million girls will marry in the next decade or nearly 40,000 girls per day if this continues.

Socio-economic statuses, education status, and community context influence the likelihood of a child being married to an adult. Some of the poorest countries have been recorded to have the highest child marriage rates. Among the poor, their access to fewer resources and opportunities to research alternative options of young girls and boys pushes them more towards child marriage if their children are seen as an economic burden.

The lack of agency from young brides, their lack of educational attainment, and the decline of their labor force participation all have a huge impact on the economy. This can lead to future health issues and exposure to violence from their spouses.

Lack of empowerment

A lack of voice and agency of some girls is rooted in gender inequality. This is why child marriages push a feeling of alienation towards a child bride, causing them to lose sight of having the opportunity to contribute to society. Child brides can face overlapping experiences such as being poor and undereducated, which affects their access to resources they could bring into their marital household.

Overall, the lack of agency within household-decision making and civic participation that accompanies child marriage limits young brides’ input into community decision making, such as applying for jobs. Research suggests that for victims of child marriages, a woman's greater involvement in political decision-making would increase the likelihood of economic growth and education.

Economic and Educational Barriers

Furthermore, removing education and social opportunities from a child’s life limits their prospects for employment and ability to gain skills, thus impacting their lifelong economic prospects. Not only does a lack of education deprive young brides of a learning self-advocacy in their day-to-day lives and decrease their learning opportunities, but it can create intergenerational effects that will impact their children’s education, nutrition, and physical/mental health. A lack of education also makes it even harder for child brides to acquire health and/or welfare services for themselves or their children.

Child brides have limited success in accessing the labor force because of their lack of access to education and social opportunities. A lack of education is a barrier towards entry into formal paid employment. Secondary and post-secondary education are options that are strongly associated with labor force participation but are rarely acted upon by child brides because many are prohibited from reaching that level.

Pregnancy, Violence, and Health Effects

Moreover, the act of early childbearing has an impact on the labor force participation of young girls who survive. Severe complications that happen while giving birth along with long-term physical, psychological, social consequences can cause young girls to experience economic consequences, including withdrawal from the labor force.

Children who marry are at higher risk of experiencing intimate partner violence (IPV) than those who marry after the age of 18. Protection from violence within a child marriage is never guaranteed, and physical/sexual violence is often experienced at the hands of the adult once the marriage has occurred. Economic impacts and costs of IPV for child brides are noted in reduced earnings and productivity which can shift their entire investment towards their households and increase out-of-pocket costs for health-related expenses.

Finally, young brides are reported to show higher rates of malnutrition, isolation, and depression because of their marriage. Young girls who give birth as a result of their marriage are more likely to have higher maternal mortality rates than women who marry after the age of 18, in part due to the effects of IPV.

Young brides are less likely to receive proper medical assistance during their pregnancy and delivery than those who give birth later. The combination of them being physically immature and their lack of proper medical care during their pregnancies puts them at a higher risk for complications during their deliveries, including obstructed labor, fistula, and death (paywall).

Young brides' nutrition levels are subject to decline if they are married early because of the high probability of their family living within the poverty line, causing them to be at risk for severe malnutrition. Overall, the economic impacts and resulting costs associated with child marriage can result in out-of-pocket expenses for medical and associated costs.

Recent studies from the World Bank’s headquarters find that child marriage could cost developing countries trillions of dollars by 2030. These alarming rates of potential economic downfalls within the near future as a result of child marriage should be a sign to push the efforts of stopping the practice of it and to help protect young girls and women in different communities across the world.

Join Students Against Child Marriage in our fight to ending child marriage and protecting children from harm in the United States.

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