Estimates of the period mean age at first birth are readily available for countries with accurate vital statistics (i.e., in much of the developed world). In contrast, in most developing countries vital statistics are lacking or incomplete and estimates of the period mean age at first birth are therefore often unavailable. The Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) program provides a large set of demographic and health statistics for many developing countries, but not the mean age at childbearing or the mean age at first birth.
We propose two different methods for the estimation of the period mean age at first birth from information collected in DHS surveys. The first method is the same as the one used in populations with accurate vital statistics and is based on a weighted average of single year of age first birth rates. The second is the singulate mean age at first birth.
A comparison of the two estimates obtained from the latest surveys in 62 countries shows excellent agreement in countries in which there is no evidence of a rise in childlessness. But, as expected on theoretical grounds, there is less agreement in populations that have experienced an increase in the proportion childless.
Based on these results, we recommend the first method. The measure is relatively straightforward to calculate and, since it refers to recent births, is presumably more accurately reported than indicators based on events that occurred in the more distant past. This measure makes it possible for the first time to assess recent trends in the onset of childbearing in developing countries with multiple DHS surveys and to compare recent period estimates of the mean age at first birth among countries.