Greater self-esteem and opportunities can reduce the risk of teenage pregnancy. That is a lesson of a job training program advanced by the Youth and Employment Program in the Dominican Republic. The country has the highest rate of teenage pregnancy in Latin America and the Caribbean, with 104 births per 1,000 people between the ages of 15 and 19, almost equal to that of the Sub-Saharan Africa (110 per 1000 inhabitants).
The women who participated in the job training program reduced their chances of becoming pregnant by 20 percent. That is a significant reduction, bringing the rate more in line with the median for the region (74 per 1000 inhabitants).
Why were almost half of the young participants in the program able to avoid pregnancy? Was it because they got a job that forced them to postpone motherhood? Or was it because they were left with less time to seek a partner?
The results of the impact evaluation point to a change in the participants’ expectations, thanks to a strengthening of their socio-emotional abilities: greater self-esteem, improved ability to plan and take control of their future, and a better capacity for organization both outside and within their jobs.
The program boosted the young women’s capacity for leadership and their ability to set goals and persevere in attaining them. Most importantly, it had a clear impact on how they envisioned their future and how optimistic they were in their ability to change it.
When teenagers can’t get a job and thus can’t imagine a prosperous future, or when they don’t want to keep studying, they often opt for motherhood as a means to escape their circumstances. Pregnancy allows them in a sense to leave behind their adolescence and become “adult women.”
Strengthening socio-emotional abilities is a main component of the job training program. One of every three hours of training (75 hours of a total of 225) is dedicated to providing the participants with tools that not only help them get a good job but also to handle decisions beyond the workplace, like avoiding pregnancy at an early age.
From the beginning, the program included a rigorous experimental evaluation aimed at measuring the impacts of the program.
The program selected its beneficiaries randomly from a group of young people who were eligible and were interested in the program.
The program followed both participants and nonparticipants. In this way both groups were basically the same (on average), except for the fact that one group was trained by the Program and the other group was not.
The Youth and Employment Program reduced pregnancies in young women by 20 percent among those aged between 16 and 19. But it is also noteworthy that the impact is a result of strengthening young women’s socio-emotional abilities and improving their expectations. It is proof that increasing opportunities for young women through more and better training is a good formula for promoting positive behavior.