A considerable proportion of women worldwide are married during childhood. Although many studies have examined early marriage (before age 18), few have compared outcomes or correlates among girls married during different stages of adolescence or have focused on girls married very early (before age 15).
Data from a population-based survey conducted in 2009–2010 in seven Ethiopian regions were used to examine early marriage among 1,671 women aged 20–24. Cross-tabulations and logistic regression were used to compare characteristics and contextual factors among girls married before age 15, at ages 15–17 or at ages 18–19 and to identify factors associated with selected marital outcomes.
Seventeen percent of respondents had married before age 15 and 30% had married at ages 15–17. Most of those who married before age 18 had never been to school. Compared with young women who had married at ages 18–19, those married before age 15 were less likely to have known about the marriage beforehand (odds ratio, 0.2) and more likely to have experienced forced first marital sex (3.8). Educational attainment was positively associated with foreknowledge and wantedness of marriage and with high levels of marital discussions about fertility and reproductive health issues.
Initiatives addressing the earliest child marriages should focus on girls who have left or never attended school. Given the vulnerability of girls married before age 15, programs should pay special attention to delaying very early marriages.