In contrast to most other low-fertility regions, a sharp decline in fertility rates at young reproductive ages in Latin America did not accompany the fall in period fertility to a subreplacement level. Reconstructing period fertility rates by age, birth order, and level of education, we investigate changes in the age pattern of childbearing in four Latin American countries that experienced a decline in period total fertility rates below the replacement level in the early 2000s—Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, and Uruguay. Our analysis shows that all four countries display a combination of continuing high rates of childbearing among adolescent women, with a parallel increase in first birth rates at later reproductive ages. This pattern is manifested by the emergence of bimodal schedules of first birth rates by age, especially in Chile and Uruguay. We show that this reproductive polarization is more pronounced than the bimodal profiles identified earlier in selected countries of Europe and the United States. We suggest that the Latin American low-fertility pattern is linked to a high level of income inequality and wide social status differences in the region that go hand in hand with a high rate of unplanned early pregnancies and births, especially among women with low levels of education.
Published in a peer-reviewed journal of the Population Council.