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Growing Up Global: The Changing Transitions to Adulthood in Developing Countries
population of these regions. The population of young people of the world is quite unevenly distributed: 86 percent of all young people live in developing countries, and 71 percent of young people in developing countries currently live in Asia (United Nations, 2003b). Furthermore, rates of growth vary widely. In terms of absolute size, each subsequent cohort of young people in the developing world is projected to continue to increase until 2035, as the rapid growth in Africa and parts of Asia counteracts some slow declines in absolute numbers in other parts of Asia and in Latin America.
Across the developing world, the life experience of many young people today is profoundly different from the experience of their parents or even of young people growing up a decade ago. While change in and of itself is not new, the rapidity and scale of recent change has profound implications for both the opportunities and the risks faced by the current generation of young people and for relationships between the generations.
Improvements in health and survival have ensured for a great many more infants and children the opportunity to enjoy life into adolescence and beyond. These improvements, moreover, have meant that these children have developed better cognitively as well as in terms of physical health. Furthermore, the fertility transition, which is in process in most of the developing world, means that many young people are growing up with fewer siblings and in smaller households. Rapid urbanization also means that a higher percentage of young people are growing up in cities or moving to cities during their formative years. School enrollment and attainment are increasing around the world at the same time that ages of labor force entry are rising. With rising levels of education, young people have more possibilities to participate in a rapidly modernizing economy—in their local village, a nearby town, the capital city, or even another country—and experience and enjoy freer and more fulfilling lives. However, that promise cannot be realized without certain legal rights and protections and supportive institutions, including good schools, a sufficient number of remunerative and satisfying jobs, the opportunity for community participation and political voice, the absence of discrimination, good nutrition and health, access to health services, and, for women, a choice about freedom from premature marriage and childbearing.
Barriers to mobility have lessened due to reduced costs of transportation and increasingly available means of transportation at the same time that greater access to information conveys news of a wider range of geographic opportunities for schooling, jobs, and marriage partners. The development of a global youth culture is facilitated by the growing accessibility of international media and the Internet but at the same time fully effective connectivity requires adequate income to afford access, language competency, and computer literacy—skills that are hard for many young people to acquire without more and better schooling opportunities. Later ages of