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The Role of Soft Skills in Pregnancy and Work

Development Challenge

High population growth is among the most damaging factors to economic and social growth; in sub-Saharan Africa, fertility rates are twice as high as in the rest of the world. For youth, the timing of fertility affects labor market choices, while perception of future labor market opportunities affects the timing of fertility. This interrelation fosters a generation of young mothers with fewer years of education and limited earning potential, but there is little evidence of how to disrupt this cycle.

Many interventions are currently implemented across the developing world to improve access to contraceptives, educate women about family planning services, train health workers, and improve the quality of reproductive health services. These can be effective in reducing unwanted pregnancies; however there is a dearth of evidence as to what programs are effective in changing how early in life women want to become parents. Delaying the onset of fertility is crucial for improving the health, education, and job opportunities of both men and women.


As in most developing countries, a large share of youth in Uganda is unemployed or underemployed. Youth encounter numerous challenges entering and succeeding in the labor market, including early marriage and fertility. Many young women have children before turning 25; the annual rural fertility rates are 146 and 350 births per 1,000 women for 15-19 year olds and 20-24 year olds, respectively.

In Uganda, most jobs are on family farms or self-employment. As such, the government is mainstreaming entrepreneurship training in high school curriculum to better equip students with the skills required for such work. This project leverages such programs to test which combination of skills best prepare graduating high school students for the labor market and which skills can affect reproductive health outcomes.

In partnership with the International Labour Organization and Educate!, researchers designed and implemented different three-week intensive entrepreneurship curriculums in forty schools around the country. Graduating male and female high school students ages 18-19 applied to participate. 

Evaluation Strategy

Researchers randomly selected 3,600 students and assigned them to five treatment groups. Two groups received a curriculum focused approximately 75% on hard skills and 25% on soft skills (see table); two groups received the reverse. The fifth group was pure comparison and did not participate in any entrepreneurship training. Within the treatment groups, half of each group received an additional module focused on either reproductive health or technology.

Treatment Group







75% Hard Skills: accounting, generating a business idea, selecting a market, funding a business, investment, financial statements, cash flows, hiring and managing people

75% Soft Skills: communication, judgment, networking, public speaking, risk taking, self-management, goal setting, group decision making, leadership and teambuilding

No training

Reproductive Health Module

Technology Module

Reproductive Health module

Technology Module

The reproductive health module used cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to help students incorporate their professional goals with their plans to start a family. The training was designed to help students assert their needs, control emotions and drives, negotiate, delay gratification, and focus on their own goals. It utilized interactive exercises and role-plays covering topics such as sexual relationship dynamics, assertiveness, risk-taking, and information about reproductive health and family planning services.

Individual students completed a skills test before and after the training to measure its short-term effectiveness. Researchers will continue to track the students as they enter the labor market and post-secondary education via phone and in-person interviews to capture the longer-term effects.

Reproductive outcomes measured will include desired and actual number and timing of children, contraceptive use, marriage, and beliefs about the role of women in child rearing and work. Researchers will also test psychological and behavioral outcomes such as feelings of power and stress, risk-tolerance, time preferences, and negotiation skills. Additionally, the follow up surveys will measure professional outcomes such as university admissions and success, employment, entrepreneurial activities, and writing skills. 

Results and Policy Implications




Photo Credit: Educate!, implementing project partner