Policy Points: Improvements in reproductive health lead to improvements in women's economic empowerment. Contraceptive use improves women's agency, education, and labor force participation; higher maternal age at first birth (reducing adolescent childbearing) increases the likelihood of school completion and participation in the formal labor market; and having fewer children increases labor market participation. Reproductive health is not just a benefit to a woman's individual rights, but her gateway for breaking free from her poverty trap and improving the welfare of herself, her children, and her household.
Context: Women's access to employment, business opportunities, and financial resources is critical to achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals over the next 15 years. With increased attention to women's economic empowerment among donors and policymakers across the globe, this moment is a pivotal one in which to review the current state of the research on this topic.
Methods: We reviewed the Population and Poverty (PopPov) Research Initiative results from the past 10 years with attention to the causal link between reproductive health improvements and women's economic empowerment, in addition to seminal research that informed our understanding of the link.
Findings: Our review of PopPov findings revealed that improvements in reproductive health do lead to improvements in women's economic empowerment; expanding contraceptive use improves women's agency, education, and labor force participation; higher maternal age at first birth (reducing adolescent childbearing) increases the likelihood of school completion and participation in the formal labor market; and having fewer children increases labor force participation.
Conclusions: Gaps remain in measuring women's work and in the full exploration of women's economic empowerment. More research is needed regarding the long-term impact of reproductive health improvements on women's economic empowerment, as some studies have shown that at times unintended negative consequences occur after early positive improvements.
Keywords: contraceptive use; education; empowerment; labor force participation; wages.
© 2018 Milbank Memorial Fund.