Although recent studies examine overall fertility trends in West Africa, few using advanced demographic techniques focus on adolescents. This study explores long‐term patterns of adolescent childbearing in 12 West African countries using 51 Demographic and Health Surveys covering birth cohorts that span 54 years (1940–1994). We employ classic demographic measures as well as disaggregation by early‐ (10–14 years old), middle‐ (15–17), and late adolescence (18–19). Cohort‐based estimates of total adolescent births, parity progression ratios, and rapid repeat birth probabilities reveal little change over time. Most women begin childbearing in adolescence, the progression to additional adolescent births remains common, and the incidence of rapid repeat births is high. In recent cohorts, women exit adolescence with an average of between 0.4 (Ghana) to 1.3 (Niger) births. Contrary to common assumptions, it is women commencing motherhood in early‐ and middle‐, not later adolescence, who account for most West African adolescent fertility.
Published in a peer-reviewed journal of the Population Council.