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The current cohort of youth in developing countries is the largest cohort ever, either in the past or predicted for the future, given the stage of the demographic transition which developing countries have experienced on average, though there are variations across countries and regions. This means that whatever investments are made in youth in developing countries have an important impact on a relatively large share of the population. It also means there may be large resource implications and large intergenerational transfers required to make substantial investments in youth.

Major changes have been occurring in the context for youth in developing countries:

  • The world has become more integrated due to economic, technological, and cultural globalization.

  • Developing countries in which hundreds of millions of youth live—particularly in Asia but also elsewhere—have experienced historically unprecedented economic growth, while smaller but still large numbers of youth, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, the Middle East/North Africa, and Central Asia, live in countries with limited economic growth or stagnation, often with high rates of youth unemployment.

  • Human capital investments in the form of formal schooling and training have expanded rapidly, particularly for females, and have facilitated the exploitation of new technologies and new markets by those in whom such investments have been made.

  • At the same time, severe fiscal constraints faced by most developing countries together with reappraisals of governmental roles have led to a growing share of the investments in youth, particularly in health and schooling, being financed directly by households rather than through governments.

  • The health and nutritional environments have changed radically, with rapid transitions in each of these, so that on average there have been substantial improvements as reflected in increased life expectancies, with a shift from contagious diseases and malnutrition that impinge particularly on infants and children to chronic diseases that affect adults and particularly the aging—while at the same time new health problems, most notably HIV/AIDS, have spread rapidly and in some areas have become major threats.

  • Cultural norms and legal changes, often related to globalization, have shifted to more emphasis on gender equalities, individualism, and materialism.

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