Journal Article

Education, child marriage, and work outcomes among young people in rural Malawi

School attainment has increased and gender gaps narrowed in many settings without commensurate declines in child marriage and with persistent gender gaps in work. This paper investigates whether child marriage changes young people’s ability to translate education into paid work in rural Malawi.

Using data from a longitudinal study of adolescents in rural Malawi followed through young adulthood, individual-level fixed-effects regressions that account for time-invariant factors were used to investigate differences in child marriage status on the extent to which grade attainment, reading, and numeracy skills lead to higher participation in paid work and reduce participation in unpaid work. Gender differences in these relationships were explored.

Prevalence of child marriage is high for young women (53% vs. 6% for men), and participation in paid work low (7% vs. 42% for men). Attainment of six grades among young married women and nine grades among young married men was associated with paid work irrespective of child marriage. Reading with comprehension in two languages was associated with paid work for young men married as adults (coefficient = .27, p ≤ .01). Numeracy was associated with paid work among unmarried young women (coefficient = .04, p ≤ .01). Negative associations between grade attainment and unpaid work were found for young women married at ages 16–17 and unmarried, while positive associations were found for young unmarried men.

The relationship between education and work among young people in Malawi is compromised by related challenges of poor learning and continued high levels of child and young adult marriage.