up in traditional rural households, while others grow up in more progressive urban areas. In many settings, traditional family configurations are changing with fertility decline and rising divorce and remarriage rates, implying smaller average household size and more complex and multi-residence families. A recent cross-national study of living arrangements in Africa found that nuclear households—that is, households consisting only of parents and their biological children—were the predominant living arrangement in 4 of the 11 countries examined. In four other countries, extended households—consisting of parents, their biological children, and other family members or nonrelatives—were predominant. In three other countries, children were almost equally divided between nuclear and extended households (Gage, Sommerfelt, and Piani, 1996).
In many settings, including large parts of Asia, Africa, and the Arab world, many families continue to be quite authoritarian and patriarchal, despite the social pressures of the modern world. In India, for example, parental involvement and control is still very high, particularly with respect to issues related to gender socialization and marriage (Verma and Saraswathi, 2002). A survey of adolescent respondents found that even among the privileged Westernized upper middle class, a large majority of boys and girls still prefer arranged marriages (Pathak, 1994, cited in Verma and Saraswathi, 2002).
Parents and other family members are important actors in many other aspects of young peoples’ lives, including influencing decisions regarding when to leave school. For example, Lloyd and Blanc (1996) examined the role of parents and other household members on schooling outcomes in seven African countries. They found that the resources of a child’s residential household—in particular the education of the household head as well as the household’s standard of living—are determining factors in explaining variations in children’s schooling. The authors also found that children living in female-headed households have better school outcomes than children living in male-headed households, when households with similar resources are compared. More recently, Case, Paxson, and Ableidinger (2004) found that orphans in Africa are particularly disadvantaged in terms of school enrollment, and this is largely explained by their greater tendency to live with distant relatives or with unrelated caregivers.
Family members are also frequently portrayed as being influential in young people’s decision making in matters of sexual and reproductive health. But too few studies have addressed this issue adequately (Gage, 1998). For example, little information is available with regard to the exact nature and frequency of discourse between young people and their parents on reproductive health matters, which can be a source of embarrassment and discomfort on both sides. Furthermore, there is very little information available on how often discussions occur, the nature of these interactions,