These very different circumstances across regions mean that the experiences of today’s young people, as well as the implications of globalization for them, vary enormously. And even in countries in which the rate of economic growth has been very high, for some young people, particularly those in rural areas, the outward patterns and rhythms of life may appear to be largely unaffected.

Because of rapid population growth, young people who are poor are about as numerous today as they were in the past despite declining poverty rates; current estimates imply that roughly 325 million young people in developing countries are growing up on less than $1 a day. Furthermore, the continuing growth in the absolute numbers of young people as well as the lengthening period of years spent unmarried (and in many cases sexually active) ensure a rapid and continuing growth in young peoples’ need for education, as well as for reproductive and other health services. Further challenges include relatively poor learning outcomes in school among enrolled students and persistent disadvantages for young women, young people from low-income families, and young people living in the least developed countries.

Sub-Saharan Africa is a region of special concern. Not only are poverty rates rising and population growth rates proceeding at unprecedented levels, but also the risks of HIV/AIDS for young people are very high and increasing. Furthermore, recent data on school participation suggest that, in some settings during the 1990s, school attendance rates for boys fell as the prevalence of child labor rose. Growing pressures on school systems may further compromise school quality, which is already poor. While fewer African young people marry or bear children during adolescence relative to previous generations, many lack opportunities to use this lengthening adolescent phase of their lives to acquire needed education and training.


The panel’s policy and program recommendations emerge from a conceptual framework that we developed to organize and guide this report. The framework identifies criteria for successful transitions in the context of contemporary global changes. We identified the importance of adequate preparation for five key adult roles: adult worker, citizen and community participant, spouse, parent, and household manager.

The defining attributes of such a conceptualization of successful transitions to adulthood, which must be seen within the constraints of personal endowments and capabilities, include at least the following:

  • Good mental and physical health, including reproductive health, and the knowledge and means to sustain health during adulthood.

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