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Growing Up Global: The Changing Transitions to Adulthood in Developing Countries
ing countries experiencing economic growth, low-cost child labor still can give producers a competitive edge. The heightened concern about child labor in developing countries reflects these two contradictory realities. When children take up full-time work responsibilities in the home or labor market too soon, their future productive potential can be comprised.
Throughout history, much learning has been acquired in the context of work through formal or informal apprenticeships. However, certain important skills that are increasingly required in today’s job market are rarely acquired on the job, but are more typically acquired in school. These include proficiency in reading, writing, mathematics, abstract reasoning, critical thinking, and computer literacy as well as skills in lifelong learning. Given the early and rapid development of the brain, children benefit most when these skills are acquired at a young age. For these reasons, successful transitions to adult work roles in today’s workplace are likely to be completed later, involve more formal schooling, and possibly play out more gradually than in the past.
The pathways of young men and women typically diverge as they prepare for adult work roles. The socialization of young people for adulthood starts in the family and is usually modeled on the norms and values of adult family members, as colored by their own life experiences. The traditional division of labor between the sexes—which has been reinforced over the generations through this socialization process—stems from a universal concern with the protection, feeding, and rearing of the young and a recognition of the importance of maintaining physical proximity between mother and child. Women’s productive activities have traditionally remained close to home and have been less likely than men’s to yield direct personal remuneration in the form of cash income. As a result, young women have been trained for and aspired to adult work roles and livelihoods that are compatible with mothering, whereas young men have pursued a wider set of potentially more remunerative options.
The growing importance of a cash economy brings with it both opportunities and pitfalls for a current generation of young women who are anticipating and planning for adult lives that are likely to be quite different from their mothers’. On one hand, the growth in remunerative market job opportunities, particularly for those with secondary schooling, has the potential to attract young women into the labor force, put cash in their hands, and give them opportunities for greater agency in their lives, whether it is a better choice of spouse, an opportunity to save, a greater say in the family, or more money for personal consumption. On the other hand, the growing importance of a cash economy can also ultimately reinforce existing intrahousehold inequalities, if young women revert to traditional roles after marriage and childbearing while young men gain increasing control of the