The Way Forward
The juxtaposition of rapid global change, emergent opportunities, glaring inequities, and resource constraints has focused the attention of policy makers on a shared concern for the elimination of global poverty, with all its attendant negative consequences. The UN Millennium Development Goals, adopted by the United Nations in 2000, recognize the urgent need to accelerate the pace of development in the poorest countries and among the most disadvantaged populations in order to bring greater convergence of experience and opportunity across nations and among individuals. The future will soon be in the hands of the largest generation of young people ever born. Almost universally, these young people will aspire to have healthy lives, progress beyond their parents in school, have a say in their futures, secure productive livelihoods, participate in their communities, find happiness in marriage or other partnership, and raise a family.
The UN Millennium Development Goals are targeted to the elimination of extreme poverty but were not originally developed with a particular focus on young people. However, in the panel’s view, the successful achievement by 2015 or beyond of many of these goals will require that policy makers center their attention on young people. There is an urgent need to identify and implement, with a renewed commitment of resources, promising and cost-effective investments that will allow the rapidly growing population of young people to expand their capacities during their adolescent years while staying safe and healthy. Investments not made during this phase of the life cycle often are opportunities missed for a lifetime. Young
people growing up in disadvantaged circumstances cannot achieve their full potential if they have only their families to support them. Facilitating young peoples’ success in this stage of life cannot be the responsibility of parents alone but must also be a responsibility shared with the international community, national and local governments, schools, health service providers, communities, employers, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and last but not least, the research community.
The panel’s charge was to review research findings on the transition to adulthood in developing countries in order to identify research gaps and promising program and policy options for young people. The fulfillment of this challenging assignment has involved the review and integration of multiple literatures on many topics and from many disciplines as well as the careful analysis of comparative data sets. The result is a very long book. In this short concluding chapter, we summarize key cross-cutting findings, make policy and program recommendations based on these findings, identify knowledge gaps, and highlight fruitful directions for future research. Because each individual chapter includes a summary of key findings and a discussion of research needs specific to its topic area, we limit ourselves here to some of the overarching research issues. These include both age-old questions that remain unanswered as well as new themes that are reflective of emergent interests and trends. The panel acknowledges the research challenges that are particular to the study of this phase of the life cycle and suggests directions for future research that could go a long way toward meeting some of these challenges and making more effective links between research and policy.
CONTEXT AND CHANGE
Context and change are two central themes that have guided the panel’s conceptual approach to the study of transitions to adulthood in developing countries. The report begins by identifying key contextual domains at the international, national, and local levels that have the potential to affect transitions to adulthood. The panel put a special emphasis on the compilation and comparative analysis of the very best recent empirical data on each domain of the transition to adulthood in order to document what is known about it, in particular recent changes in these transitions. For each domain of the transition, the results of existing literature, including behavioral research and policy evaluation, are interpreted as much as possible in terms of the panel’s conceptual framework. Differences in transitions by gender and by socioeconomic status are given special attention throughout. Differences by other categorizations, such as race, ethnicity, caste, tribe, religion, and language group, may also be very important in particular contexts, but these categorizations differ substantially across develop-
ing countries, so we have not been able to incorporate these myriad differences as much as those for gender and socioeconomic status, which are more common across societies.
Young people born recently have, for the most part, seen dramatic improvements in their health, education, and employment opportunities compared with those born earlier. These changes have been supported by significant parental and social investments and have also been accelerated by rapid globalization. The challenge for the future is to see that young people in the poorest countries, in which demographic transitions have begun more recently, as well as poor young people residing in countries in which demographic transitions are much further along, will experience at least the same level of progress; otherwise existing global inequalities will widen further.
CHANGING TRANSITIONS TO ADULTHOOD
For most young people growing up in developing countries (except in sub-Saharan Africa), health conditions for young people are continuing to improve steadily, as they have over the past 20 years. However, behavioral choices that adolescents make at this age have critical implications for their health and mortality in early and later phases of their adulthood, particularly in the context of HIV/AIDS.
HIV/AIDS is now the leading cause of death among 15-29-year-old young women in sub-Saharan Africa. And, because of the heavy weight of deaths in Africa in the global total of deaths at this age, HIV/AIDS is also the leading cause of death among this age group globally. For this reason, unprotected sex during these years is one of the most dangerous behaviors for young people, given its potential consequences for later health and mortality.
Promising new program models are beginning to emerge to address the reproductive health needs of adolescents. These include multicomponent community-based programs as well as youth development and livelihood programs.
School participation and attainment have important and mostly positive associations with young people’s health. Across almost 50 countries with varying levels of enrollment and very different school environments, the panel found that girls who are currently enrolled in school are substantially less likely to have had sex than their unmarried peers who are not currently enrolled. While many adolescent reproductive health programs have yet to prove their effectiveness, policies enabling more young people to remain in school and progress to secondary school emerge as particularly promising for the achievement of better health during the teenage years as well as over the life cycle.
Adolescent health and mortality rates would be better for young women, however, if it were not for the high rates of pregnancy and childbearing that still occur during this phase of the life cycle. Deaths from maternal causes remain a major factor in the health profile of young women in many developing countries. In Western and Middle Africa, the percentage of young people giving birth before age 18—the internationally recognized age of adulthood as defined by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child—remains in excess of 30 percent, while in Southern Asia, Eastern and Southern Africa, and Central American and the Caribbean, rates of early childbearing remain over 20 percent. On average, rates of early childbearing have declined by over 20 percent in the past 20 years; the percentage of young women marrying before the age of 18 has declined even more rapidly but still remains unacceptably high at 38 percent.
Young people spend a growing share of their adolescent years attending school. With a decline in the age of puberty and a rise in the age of marriage and childbearing, reproductive and work transitions to adulthood are now occurring simultaneously. In order for young people to stay in school, have a healthy transition to adulthood, have productive experiences in the labor market before marriage and childbearing, and develop a readiness for parenthood, they face the challenge of managing their sexuality while continuing to develop their capabilities in school and work. With a growing percentage of young people making their sexual debut before marriage as the age of marriage rises, there is a growing need for accessible family planning and reproductive health services so that young people can protect their health, avoid pregnancy, and delay childbearing until they are ready.
Global trends in fertility, mortality, health, urbanization, and education have all contributed positively to the rapid rise in school enrollment rates that has occurred during the teenage years, particularly among girls, in most developing countries in recent years. This increase in enrollment rates has occurred in conjunction with very rapid growth in the sheer numbers of young people coming of school age. While data on trends in learning outcomes do not exist, however, the results of recent internationally comparable standardized tests raise serious concerns about how much students are actually learning in school and, therefore by extension, about school quality. Furthermore, evidence suggests that the pedagogical practice of rote learning remains widespread, a practice that does not reward critical thinking—an increasingly important skill in the context of rapid global economic change.
The economic returns to schooling at the secondary and tertiary levels are consistently high (and differentially high for young women). In addition, the gap between the returns at higher versus lower levels of schooling is widening, thus putting an increasing premium on secondary schooling
for later success in adulthood. It is not known whether this shift in rates of return is largely due to globalization or whether other factors, such as declines in school quality, could also have played a role. Young people with secondary or more schooling are increasingly advantaged relative to their less educated peers in the labor market, in terms of earnings, job stability, and upward mobility. Indeed, in relative terms, their less educated peers are worse off than their parents were in terms of skills and marketability.
Despite the very rapid growth in the size of youth cohorts, it would appear that, in much of Latin America and Asia where data exist, the formal and informal labor markets have effectively absorbed increasing numbers of young people over the past 20 years, including a growing number of young women, without large increases in unemployment rates. Some countries, particularly in Asia, have succeeded in reaping a demographic dividend as a result in terms of economic growth. However, the challenge of youth employment remains substantial in some of the poorer countries of Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, and the Middle East, which are currently experiencing unprecedented growth in the size of their youth populations. Rates of growth in the size of the potential youth labor force (ages 15-24) have now peaked in most countries, even though the absolute numbers continue to grow.
Young people who grow up in poor households are likely to achieve significantly less success in their transitions to adulthood. Because of rapid population growth, poor young people are about as numerous today as they were in the past, despite declining poverty rates; the number of young people ages 10-24 in developing countries living on less than $1 a day at the turn of the twenty-first century is estimated at roughly 325 million. They are more likely to work as children, more likely to drop out of primary school (and in some cases never have a chance to go to school at all), more likely to engage in risky sexual behavior (not always voluntary), more likely to marry and bear children early and less likely to find stable and remunerative employment as adults. A substantial majority of the poor by most measures still live in Asia. However, sub-Saharan Africa is a region of special concern because the prevalence of poverty has been increasing there, while declining elsewhere, at the same time that the population of young people is growing more rapidly than in other parts of the developing world.
Some trends suggest a convergence of experiences of young people around the world; other trends suggest just the opposite. Converging trends include increases in school attendance among young people, declining rates of child labor, rising rates of labor market participation among young women, and closing gender gaps in schooling. The economies in which young people are growing up are also tending to converge in terms of their structure of production, urbanization, and increasing intranational and
international communication and transportation (Behrman and Sengupta, 2005).
In contrast, there is a divergence of experiences across regions. Young people making the transition to adulthood in Asia, where the majority of young people live, have been doing so in rapidly expanding economies. Most young people in Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America and the Caribbean have been making these transitions in stagnant or even declining economies. Furthermore, health among young people is improving in most places but deteriorating in sub-Saharan Africa. While marriages take place at older ages in most parts of the world, there has been no recent delay in marriage in Latin America and the Caribbean, despite continuing increases in school enrollment rates among young people. While rates of early childbearing have decreased substantially in most parts of the world, they have increased slightly in South America. While the percentage of young people having sex before age 18 is rising in some places, it is declining in others. While some young people are engaged in wars and civil strife, others are voting for the first time. While some young people are accessing the Internet, others have never been to school. Thus, despite global changes that have led to a convergence of experiences among young people in certain domains of life, the experiences of many young people remain sharply divergent.
Young women have been making very rapid progress in school, and gender gaps in school enrollment and attainment are closing. Indeed, they have been eliminated in Latin America and the Caribbean and a few other countries. Young women are also much more likely to enter the paid labor force than in the past. As marriage is delayed in most parts of the world, age gaps between spouses are narrowing. This is typically interpreted as a sign that the traditional disadvantage that women experience in marriage, in terms of access to resources and a role in decision-making, is declining slightly. Furthermore, there is some evidence that, relative to the past, marriages are more likely to involve some choice of partner on the part of the bride and groom. Nonetheless, young women’s overall work burden, as measured in weekly hours, still exceeds that of young men, even when they are students, and these differences in work burdens continue to shape adult gender roles. Furthermore, in many parts of the world, the content of textbooks and the attitudes and behavior of teachers continue to socialize boys and girls into traditional gender role expectations, even as overall levels of grade attainment rise.
Globalization and trends toward greater democratization have changed the opportunities for youth civic and political engagement. At the same time that young people express greater voice at the local, national, and international levels, there is greater awareness among young people of global diversity and inequality as a result of globalization, democratization, rising rates of schooling, and growing access to the media. Recent survey
data show that a majority of young men in many Latin American and Asian countries express an interest in politics and a willingness to engage in political activism, whereas young women appear somewhat less inclined to express these views.
Concepts of citizenship go beyond political participation to embrace various forms of participation in the life of the community. A variety of institutions are potentially important actors in encouraging young people to become more active in the community. However, comparative data are lacking on the extent and nature of community participation among young people or on the roles that various institutions play in encouraging or discouraging participation.
Lessons from Policy and Program Experience
Although evaluations of interventions in the fields of education and sexual and reproductive health are abundant, only in the field of education did we find many that met the panel’s rules of evidence. The quality of evaluation research is improving rapidly, however, as the standards of evidence applied become more rigorous.
Recent evaluations of interventions in schooling have shown that conditional grants or targeted subsidies can be effective strategies for increasing school attendance and grade attainment among disadvantaged groups, as well as for reducing child labor. The long-term implications of these policies are unknown, however. Success in the long run requires that improvements in education lead to a decline in poverty in the next generation, so that the conditions that fostered child labor are also improved.
Most other evaluation studies in the education field have measured the impact of one or several discrete policy or program changes among a much wider array of factors affecting either the demand or the supply of schooling. Both positive and negative results have been documented, but effects are usually small in size and context-specific. Systemic reforms are rarely evaluated, although they are increasingly being implemented. After a decade of active research and experimentation with a range of school innovations, many development experts are now calling for systemic school reform, but specific roadmaps are lacking.
Recently published and ongoing evaluations of sexual and reproductive health progress are using more rigorous evaluation designs and more appropriate statistical methods. To date, insufficient data exist to evaluate the relative effectiveness of different approaches. Furthermore, the cost-effectiveness of various approaches has not been assessed. Sexual and reproductive health interventions have generally been more successful at influencing knowledge and attitudes than at changing behavior. Furthermore, there is no evidence that these interventions contribute to greater
sexual experimentation among young people. Among those programs that were able to demonstrate behavioral impact, the magnitude of the effect has generally been modest. Given past experience, many now see multiple-component community-based programs as well as comprehensive youth development or livelihoods strategies as more promising approaches than single-component strategies.
Evaluations of interventions to provide job training, promote livelihoods, delay marriage and childbearing among young women, or promote citizenship and provide citizenship education are rare. While governmental and NGO efforts have emerged in each of these domains, these interventions need to be better documented and evaluated.
POLICY AND PROGRAM RECOMMENDATIONS
Some of the panel’s recommendations are derived from careful empirical studies of policy and program effects that met our rules of evidence. Others emerge from the identification of problem areas through literature reviews and data analyses. They address areas that are potentially encompassed within the scope of the UN Millennium Development Goals and others that are not within their current scope but are nonetheless of vital importance for young people. In the panel’s view, policies and programs, if they are to be effective, will need to be evidence-based, appropriate to the local context, and developed in cooperation with developing country governments and local communities.
The UN Millennium Development Goals, the international community’s unprecedented agreement initiated in 2000, are targeted on the elimination of extreme poverty but were not originally developed with a particular focus on young people. In the panel’s view, the successful achievement by 2015 or beyond of many of these goals will require that policy makers center their attention on young people. Young people currently growing up in poverty face much greater health risks in both the short and longer term and are much less likely to attend schools of adequate quality, to complete primary school, to find secure and productive employment, to have opportunities for community participation, to marry well, or to be able to provide good care and support to their children. Young women who are poor are particularly disadvantaged.
Policies and programs designed to enhance successful transitions for young people, whether they are reproductive health programs, programs to enhance school quality or reduce dropout rates, job training programs, livelihood or civic education programs, or programs for first-time parents,
should be targeted to the poor, particularly poor young women, who are often doubly disadvantaged. Evaluation research shows that important actors in the system—parents, students, teachers, employers, and administrators—can be very responsive to well-designed incentive programs.
At their best, schools have the capacity to enhance success in all transitions to adulthood through the acquisition of literacy in a commonly spoken language and the transmission of knowledge and means to sustain health, prosocial values and citizenship knowledge and skills, and decision-making, negotiating, and leadership skills and skills for lifelong learning. While the panel supports the UN Millennium Development Goals for education, it does not see the achievement of these goals—universal primary school completion rates and the elimination of gender disparities at all levels of schooling—as sufficient for the next generation of young people to acquire the skills necessary for successful transitions to adulthood. The rapidity of global change and changing patterns of employment require that policy makers give equal attention to investments in school quality in order to ensure adequate learning outcomes at the primary level as well as to create a stronger base for further expansions in enrollment at the secondary level. The panel also identified carefully targeted subsidies as a particularly promising way to increase enrollment and reduce the prevalence of child labor among the poor.
Declines in fertility and improvements in child health have been shown to have contributed to past increases in the demand for schooling. Policies and programs supporting further progress in these areas are likely to continue to contribute to future growth in school enrollment and attainment.
Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women
The panel’s recommendations on gender equality emphasize the promotion of gender-equitable treatment in the classroom, the development of compensatory educational and training programs for disadvantaged and out-of-school youth, particularly girls, and the adoption of policies and programs that support delays in marriage in places where girls still marry before the age of 18. Addressing gender problems in society will call for interventions that affect all social classes.
Health, Including Sexual and Reproductive Health
The panel has identified maternal mortality as one of the major causes of death and morbidity for young women and HIV/AIDS as the major
cause of death and morbidity for young people in sub-Saharan Africa. In the view of the panel, programs designed to reduce risky and unprotected sex among young people are critical to successful transitions and are likely to require multipronged and multisectoral approaches that are culturally appropriate and community based, including active collaboration between the health and education sectors. Indeed, some of the most important reproductive health interventions for young people may lie outside the health sector. For example, school participation and attainment appear to have important and mostly positive associations with young people’s health; unmarried girls who remain enrolled during their teens are substantially less likely to have had sex than their unmarried nonenrolled peers. Thus resources spent on expanding opportunities for secondary schooling for girls may have a direct impact on their reproductive health.
No single strategy is likely to be effective in changing sexual behavior on its own and no single program is likely to be able to serve the needs of all young people. In particular, most family planning and reproductive health programs designed to serve young people have neglected the special needs of married adolescents, a particularly disadvantaged group.
Policies and programs with implications for young people’s successful transition to work in developing countries exist at all levels of action. However, labor market regulations that are commonly enacted in developing countries for the purpose of improving the terms and conditions of employment put young people at a disadvantage in competing for jobs in the formal labor market and encourage the growth of an informal, unregulated sector: young people are likely to fare better in a labor market in which employers do not face excessive regulation or where government incentives encourage firms to invest in training.
The panel has also noted that too often policies affecting aid and trade are not coordinated. For example, trade sanctions against products produced with child labor or against countries known to violate international labor standards relating to child labor are likely to do more harm than good in contexts in which poverty is persistent and the family economy still relies on child labor. In general, trade and agricultural subsidies in developed countries compromise the competitiveness of products and services produced in developing countries and are more likely to hurt than to help poor children and their families, even when the intention of trade policies is humanitarian rather than protectionist. Thus, while the focus of this report has been on policies and programs directly targeted to young people, the panel notes that agricultural and trade policies aimed at reducing nonmarket imperfections in the terms of trade between developed and developing coun-
tries could potentially be a far more effective means of helping the poorest people in the world, particularly young people, seeking decent and productive employment opportunities appropriate to their skills.
Evaluation should be adopted as an integral part of policy and program innovation for all interventions designed to enhance successful transitions to adulthood. If rigorous evaluation becomes a routine part of a phased implementation, lessons can be learned and adjustments made before implementation goes to scale, increasing the chances of success.
KEY KNOWLEDGE GAPS
Much more is known about basic patterns and trends than about the determinants of these trends or the consequences of these trends for later phases of the life course. Much more is known about the timing of some transitions—in particular, school leaving, marriage, and first birth—and much less about the context and content of those transitions (e.g., skills acquired in school, migration for school or marriage or economic arrangements surrounding marriage). The understanding of the timing of other transitions, such as the transition to work, the transition to citizenship or the transition to household manager, remain murky due to the greater difficulty of defining a beginning or an end to the transition. Furthermore, the individuality of the research subjects rarely emerges because the primary focus of research on transitions in developing countries is on the interrelationships between the variables that surround individuals rather than on the individuals themselves. Even so, these interrelationships can be explored only descriptively, given the cross-sectional nature of much of the available survey data. Moreover, there is very little systematic cross-cultural information on some possibly critical aspects of young people and their transitions to adulthood, such as their mental health. Finally, the rapidity of global change itself limits the transferability of lessons learned in one context to other contexts, unless these contexts are well specified. As a result, lessons for policies and programs are currently relatively limited and are confined to single-sector interventions in the areas of education and reproductive health.
Gaps in knowledge that emerge from the juxtaposition of our conceptual framework and our compilation of solid evidence form the basis of research questions that are provided at the end of each chapter. From these, the following cross-cutting research questions emerge.
What are the implications of rising rates of school attendance among young people for health and reproductive health? Students appear to be less likely to engage in sex, more likely to use contraception, and possibly more likely to resort to abortion when they remain in school. Given the possible significance of school enrollment for reproductive health during the teenage
years, it is important to learn more about what it is about schools, and the potential opportunities that schools can open up, that can make a difference for health and reproductive health.
What are the links between poverty, economic opportunity, and risk behaviors? There is much anecdotal evidence that poverty is associated with various kinds of risk-taking by parents or young people that compromises the health of young people either during the transition or later in life. Examples include children not completing their schooling level, children taking up work at young ages in unsafe environments, students exchanging sex for money to pay school fees, parents marrying off their young daughters to older men, young girls participating in trafficking to meet the demand of older men for safe sex with virgins, pregnant teenagers resorting to unsafe abortions, and jobless teenagers getting in trouble with drugs and alcohol. Solid empirical evidence is surprisingly slim.
What are the implications of the HIV/AIDS epidemic for the transition to first-time parenthood? Parenthood continues to be highly valued even in contexts in which getting pregnant can be risky to the health of mother and child. Little is known about how young men and women negotiate the transition to parenthood under these difficult circumstances or how best to support them in the process.
What are the implications of rapid demographic change for intrafamilial resource allocation, with particular implications for investments in young people? While there has been much research on intrafamilial resource allocation, that research has not been situated in the dynamic context of demographic change or focused in particular on the implications for young people. The marriage market might be an interesting example. Changing cohort size has led to a marriage squeeze, and rising dowry has led to delays in marriage and more women working before marriage to raise money for the dowry. While cohort sizes are beginning to decline in some parts of the developing world, they will continue to rise in other parts of the developing world for many years to come. There may be lessons learned in some settings that can be applied to others.
What is the explanation for the rapid rise in girls’ schooling? Why are enrollment and grade attainment rising more rapidly for young women than young men? Possible explanations include declining family size affecting quality-quantity trade-offs in the family, changing rates of return in the job market or the marriage market that could be affected by global demographic or economic shifts, changes in the relative costs of schooling due to policy interventions encouraging girls’ schooling relative to boys’, or changing norms about the value of schooling and women’s place in society.
What are the determinants and the implications of differences among groups categorized by ethnicity, race, caste, tribe, language, and religion for successful transitions to adulthood? From casual observations of individual
societies, it appears that these differences are important. The options appear different for Sunni and Sufi young people in many countries in the Middle East; for young people of indigenous, African, and European descent in Latin American and the Caribbean; for young people from various tribal groups in sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, and isolated areas of Asia; for young people of different castes in South Asia; for overseas Chinese and other young people in various countries in Asia; and for religious and language minorities and those belonging to majority groups throughout the developing world. However, because of the global sweep of this report, we have not been able to consider the myriad of such differences. But in the consideration of any particular context, such differences may be very important.
How is globalization affecting job opportunities for children, young women, and young men? While data on labor force participation are generally available by age, data on occupational distributions are not. It is thus very difficult to tease out how the changing distribution of job opportunities is affecting young people in particular. For example, we do not know whether young women fare better or worse than older women in terms of occupational discrimination. We do not know whether rapid urbanization has created new demands in the labor market for child workers.
How are patterns of migration (both national and international) changing among young people in response to globalization, rapid urbanization and changing employment prospects? Young people migrate in search of better schools, better jobs, and better marriage opportunities; sometimes they are forced to move due to conflict or environmental disasters. We would expect that the rapid changes documented in the report would have important implications for migration patterns. However little is known about how these migration flows are changing or about the implications of these changes for transitions to adulthood.
What are the explanations for delays in the age of family formation for both men and women? What are the implications of very late marriage ages for men? The traditional explanation—increases in educational participation and attainment—does not explain the trends fully. Possible explanations include demographic shifts affecting the marriage market; changing views and expectations surrounding marriage, childbearing, and childrearing; and shifts in early work patterns.
What elements of school quality are critical for successful transitions to work, marriage, citizenship, and parenthood? Do students from disadvantaged backgrounds have special needs in each of these domains? How can these aspects of school quality be improved? Most research on school quality has concentrated on aspects of schooling that are expected to affect cognitive competencies. There has been little attention to other valued outcomes of schooling, including the socialization of the young to attitudes
that are prosocial and gender equitable, the teaching of languages of global commerce, the teaching of job-related skills including computer literacy, and the transmission of knowledge supporting healthful behaviors.
What are the near-term and long-term consequences of very early or very late marriage and childbearing for reproductive health, education, work, and citizenship roles in the context of rapid global change? While global standards and norms increasingly see marriage below age 18 as inappropriate, there has been no rigorous research exploring the subsequent consequences for young people, in terms of other role transitions, of marrying while still a child. These consequences are likely to vary by context. Furthermore, age at marriage for men in some parts of the world is rising to unprecedented levels. Are there implications of these trends for reproductive health and overall satisfaction and well-being?
How are the social norms, values, perceptions of opportunity, and goal aspirations changing among young men and women in the context of rapid global change? What consequences do these changes have for behaviors and successful transitions? While most surveys of young people ask questions designed to solicit their views on various topics, there are rarely longitudinal data designed to explore whether these views have changed. These changes may have important implications for all aspects of the transition to adulthood, including the formation of citizenship, one of the adult roles about which the least is known.
Do such experiences as secondary school attendance, work for cash during the middle or later phases of adolescence, participation in sports, livelihood programs, or other group or community activities, particularly for young women, increase young people’s sense of agency, self-esteem, identity, and decision-making skills? Do these types of experiences enhance success in other transitions? Very little is known about agency among children and young people and how it is changing. There is some information that young people have greater choice of marriage partners than in the past, but little else. Economic models of decision-making typically include parents as major players in the lives of young people. Changes in the pace and timing of transitions may require that models be adapted to encompass the transition in decision-making roles that occurs during the transition to adulthood.
In addition to the many cross-cutting questions laid out above, new research areas are emerging as a result of global change that need attention as well:
The role of the media in forming and changing social norms, values, perceptions of opportunity, cultural identity, and goal aspirations.
The relationship between citizenship education and gender role socialization.
The cost-effectiveness of policy interventions designed to enhance schooling and health outcomes, including both direct and indirect effects.
The role of culture and context in adolescent development, emotionally, physically, and cognitively.
The consequences of health behaviors developed during adolescence for health and well-being in later life.
The role of the military or national service in the transition to work and citizenship.
The particular needs of out-of-school young people and the effectiveness of alternative pathways to the acquisition of capabilities, resources, and opportunities to enhance success.
The implications for transitions to adulthood of the rapid expansion of noncommunicable diseases, mental health conditions, and injuries in developing countries.
How do civic participation and attitudes toward politics differ between young citizens in new democracies and young citizens in established democracies? What does it mean to be a citizen in an authoritarian state?
What factors affect the age of marriage of men? How do men’s decisions about marital timing influence those of women and vice-versa?
DIRECTIONS FOR FUTURE RESEARCH
Many gaps remain in the knowledge about transitions to adulthood in developing countries, their determinants and consequences, and how they are changing. While we have focused on specific research questions in each of the chapters and have summarized the main cross-cutting themes and emergent questions above, we have not yet discussed what types of data and what styles of research would be most fruitful in order to deepen knowledge of the transitions to adulthood and at the same time to keep up with the very rapid and accelerating changes that are occurring in young people’s lives. We have postponed this discussion to the end of the book, because our recommendations cut across research topics and it would therefore be repetitive to treat these recommendations in each individual chapter. Furthermore, we hope that the next generation can explore the ways in which various transitions interconnect and interact and to see changes in transitions unfolding as they are occurring rather than retrospectively through the filtered memories of adults.
In order for research to yield insights about the transitions to adulthood and lessons for programs and policies that go beyond the specific research context, the research must be situated in a behavioral model and must identify and measure critical elements of the context in a way that allows for comparison across time and space. The juxtaposition of global
change, adolescent development, and cultural diversity in the panel’s conceptual framework presents a simultaneous challenge to research along three very different dimensions. Without good behavioral theory and contextual specification, it is hard to generalize and draw lessons for the future from even the very best designed research studies.
From the very rich experience of researchers in the West on transitions to adulthood, there is much to be gained from building multidisciplinary research teams; following cohorts over prolonged periods of time; and measuring a full range of social, psychological, health, and economic outcomes while deploying a mix of research methods. Jessor (1996), commenting some years back on the state of research on adolescent development in the United States, stated that “there is a growing commitment to methodological pluralism and more frequent reliance on the convergence of findings from multiple and diverse research procedures (p.4).” The same cannot yet be said for the state of research on adolescent development in developing countries.
Researchers exploring transitions to adulthood in developing countries currently depend primarily on the cross-sectional household survey. It measures and describes trends in key demographic markers of the transition, such as the timing of first sex, marriage, and childbearing as well as school enrollment and employment status but rarely looks beyond these markers to capture the quality of the developmental experience or its implications for later life success. Drawing causal inferences from cross-sectional surveys is also challenging, given the likelihood that some key behavioral determinants were not or cannot be measured, leaving webs of causation difficult to untangle even when sophisticated statistical techniques are employed. Furthermore, poor contextual specification has made it difficult to apply lessons learned in one setting to other cultural settings in which the configuration of risks and opportunities for young people are also very different.
In order to deepen the research on transitions to adulthood in developing countries, increased sensitivity is needed to some of the challenges of collecting data from a population group that straddles the divide between childhood and adulthood. These young people are gaining knowledge, cognitive capacities, common sense, opinions, and agency as they mature. Their parents may be their guardians at the youngest ages but often not at the end of the transition. Cultural sensitivities about privacy and consent vary in different contexts. Young people are highly mobile, and the households they live in at the end of the transition may suggest very little about their natal experiences, particularly in places where marriages are exogamous or urbanization is occurring rapidly. All of these features of growing up have implications for research approaches. Researchers working on this age group must be thoughtful about these issues in their research designs
and provide research protocols that make their approach transparent to users.
In the sections that follow we (1) recommend ways that existing data collection operations can be enhanced; (2) identify promising research approaches, not always new but underutilized, that would significantly deepen the understanding of transitions; and (3) suggest how program and policy evaluation can be more effectively integrated into policy innovation.
Enhancement of Existing Data Collection and Compilation Operations
The cross-national comparability of the Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) data has been a great asset to the work of the panel. In the recommendations below, we have placed an emphasis on the encouragement of cross-national comparability in other large multinational survey efforts.
The publication of comparable data by age: To substantially increase the comparability and usability of data published by various UN agencies (e.g., United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization [UNESCO], International Labour Organization [ILO]; World Health Organization [WHO]; United Nations Children’s Fund [UNICEF]; and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS [UNAIDS]) on topics related to transitions to adulthood, such as education, work, marriage, childbearing, health, and mortality, among others, the panel strongly recommends that data always be collected by age and published, at a minimum, in 5-year age groups (10-14, 15-19, 20-24) rather than in broader or open age ranges. As changes occur rapidly during these ages, it is important that age groups be narrowly constructed and consistent and that data be collected at regular intervals for the monitoring of trends.
The development and publication of rating systems for data quality: Data quality can vary for many reasons, not only those that relate to data collection techniques, but also for reasons that relate to the built-in penalties or rewards that are incurred by respondents, collectors, or reporters of data if data are reported accurately. Such incentive and disincentive structures exist at all levels. The panel recommends that international agencies responsible for publishing cross-national data develop a transparent rating system of data quality, drawing on statistical expertise outside their own institutions, so that users will have a better understanding of variations in data quality when undertaking data analysis. The introduction of such a rating system would also encourage national data collection systems to be more answerable to concerns about data quality. Greater investments in the training of government statisticians would also support the improvement of data quality.
The expansion of access to national censuses and surveys: The panel
benefited in its data analysis from the limited international census data currently available from the University of Minnesota’s Integrated Public Use Microdata Series (IPUMS), which is housed in the Minnesota Population Center. In order to analyze recent trends in various transitions simultaneously, the panel relied on our own members and other colleagues on an ad hoc basis to access other data sets and ultimately found relatively few that were sufficiently well documented to be used. Thus, given our own experience, we recommend very strongly that international and bilateral agencies as well as other donors require public access and support the costs of necessary documentation and archival capacity when providing financial support for data gathering. We also recommend that such efforts as the IPUMS data base be well funded so that country statistical offices and other data gathering operations have a central repository through which their data can be shared.
The adaptation of DHS questionnaires to address adolescent issues: In most of Asia and the Middle East, DHS surveys continue to be restricted to ever-married women. With delays in the age of marriage and an increasing likelihood that the prevalence of premarital sex will rise further it is important to standardize approaches to data collection so that the comparability of data is enhanced and emergent trends in the transition to adulthood can be documented. Furthermore, at a minimum, the addition of just a few questions on the ages of entry and exit from school and the age of entry into the labor force would allow for a clearer sequencing of reproductive and work behaviors so that interrelationships between school attendance, labor force participation, and reproductive behaviors could be more fully explored.
The expansion of World Values Surveys, Barometer surveys, and other value and opinion surveys to be more representative of young people through the transition to adulthood and to allow for better indicators of community participation: Currently, neither the World Values Surveys nor the Barometer surveys have been designed to give special attention to young people. Sample sizes are too small to single out for analysis those under age 25 or subgroups of particular interest, in particular differentials by ethnicity, caste, religion, race, tribe, or language group. Furthermore, samples tend to be biased toward the more educated and the more urban. While sample weights allow the analyst to make corrections for these biases, the underlying samples are too small to derive confident estimates. Those who are poor, rural, and less educated, are the most likely to be disenfranchised; more needs to be known about the practice of citizenship and community participation of these groups.
Promising Research Strategies
The greater use of multidisciplinary, multimethod panel research designs: During the transition years, most young people graduate or leave school, have sex, enter the military or national service, get their first job, leave home, become a parent, get married, and have many other experiences as well, all for the first time. This is a very busy phase of life when change happens rapidly and can have long-lasting effects. The timing and sequencing of transitions have important implications for success in adult life. Nonetheless, we are not aware of data collection efforts of this kind in developing countries that have followed cohorts starting at the age of school entry and continuing through labor force entry, leaving home, marriage, and parenthood or linked these transitions to the context of young peoples’ lives through data on schools, communities, parents, and employers. The panel recommends the launching of three to four sustained longitudinal studies of contemporary cohorts of young people in a few developing countries currently experiencing very rapid change (possibly one in each major region). These should focus on multiple outcomes simultaneously and be sustained for 10 to 20 years. They should be designed to allow for comparative analysis, be informed by theory, and be sensitive to critical dimensions of context. In some cases, it is likely to be desirable to build on previous nationally representative household longitudinal surveys and to follow young people as they age, whether or not they separate from their parental household, because this would enable building on extensive existing data sets. Examples of such possibilities include the Indonesian Family Life Survey, the Mexican Family Life Survey, and the Vietnamese Living Standards Measurement Survey.
The development of research protocols that allow for a more in-depth exploration of adolescent development in different contexts: A full understanding of adolescent development during the transition to adulthood has eluded the grasp of the conventional research design: its characteristic reliance on survey methods; its typical focus on one or two problems, such as sex, or drugs, or labor market participation; its concern with context being almost exclusively the family, rarely the larger ecology of school and friends and neighborhood; its conceptual interest confined largely to risk factors; its explanatory unit being variables rather than persons; and its source of data limited to the respondent alone. What has been missed in most such research is a sense of the full complexity of an adolescent’s life, an understanding of the choices and decisions that shape the course of its development and an appreciation of the meanings and interpretations the young person attributes to daily life experience. Yet such knowledge is essential in foretelling the future and in predicting the role the adolescent will play in
determining it. The desired understanding we advocate is likely to be obtained through qualitative or mixed-method approaches.
There have been salutary changes in adolescent developmental studies that promise to overcome at least some of the limitations of traditional inquiry. Theory-derived surveys mapping more comprehensively both individual-level and contextual attributes, engaging a wider range of behavior, prosocial as well as problematic, concerned with protective factors as well as risk factors, and eliciting characterizations of the multiple settings of daily life—family, school, neighborhood, community, or friends—are not only feasible but increasingly available. Furthermore, theory-derived qualitative inquiries with selected subsamples of the survey population can be used simultaneously to enlarge understanding of the survey findings. Finally, systematic engagement of other observers in the life of young people—parents, teachers, friends, neighbors—as part of the same research enterprise not only can illuminate the daily context a young person traverses, but also can provide independent, external information against which to appraise a young person’s reports. Ambitious as this may sound, it is a way of designing research that would strengthen our understanding of the lives of young people in transition to adulthood in developing societies. Implementing such an approach is strongly recommended by the panel where feasible; where constraints prevent full implementation, it is an approach to be approximated as closely as possible.
Integration of Well-Designed Evaluation Studies into Policy Innovation
Very few policies and programs have been properly evaluated, whether they are designed to address the needs of young people or other population groups. Proper evaluation requires not only a scientifically sound research design and an independence between researcher and program implementer but also a thorough documentation of the content and context of the intervention. Without the latter, empirically validated success or failure is difficult to interpret, making scaling up or replication problematic. Proper evaluation also requires a full accounting for costs as well as both direct and indirect program effects. The suitability of a particular policy is determined not only by its effectiveness but also by its cost-benefit ratio in relationship to alternative policies or programs that might achieve the same objectives.
Reliable estimates of the effects of various interventions for young people can be found mainly in the area of formal schooling. Few studies, however, include adequate data on costs, making the comparison of programs according to cost-effectiveness next to impossible (Knowles and Behrman, 2005).
The panel recommends that evaluation be adopted as an integral part of policy and program innovation for all interventions designed to enhance
successful transitions to adulthood. If rigorous evaluation becomes a routine part of a phased implementation, lessons can be learned and adjustments made before implementation goes to scale, increasing the chances of success.
Proper evaluation requires preprogram baseline data, knowledge about what population the sample is representing (ensured, for example, by stratified random sampling of the population), means of comparing an individual affected by the program with what that same individual would have been likely to do without the program (through random assignment to treatment and control samples or through statistical methods such as matching), longitudinal data to follow the impact over time, and community-level data to investigate the impact of context on individual behaviors and to permit use of statistical methods to control for behavioral choices (e.g., instrumental variables).
The development of evaluation designs should explore direct and indirect effects. The transition to adulthood is multifaceted. A program designed to increase school enrollment is likely to have impacts on other aspects of the transition to adulthood. Evaluations of schooling interventions often look at implications for labor force participation but rarely explore reproductive outcomes. It is likely that increased school attendance will have consequences for reproductive health and behavior but it is currently difficult to assess and compare the effectiveness of schooling interventions to reproductive health interventions for young people in terms of their reproductive health benefits. The same could be said for the impact of reproductive health programs on school retention.
Evaluations should be set up for a sufficient amount of time to assess longer term outcomes. This would allow program and policy objectives that are usually expressed in terms of outcomes, such as higher test scores, delayed age of marriage, reductions in the prevalence of risky sexual behaviors, condom use, or reduced rates of HIV infection to be properly assessed against their objectives rather than against various correlates of these outcomes such as attitudes and behaviors that can be measured more quickly but may or may not ultimately lead to the desired objectives.
At the end of such a long and complex report, it is important to leave the reader with a few key themes. First, on average, the chances for young people living in developing countries to complete successful transitions to adulthood have increased thanks to the many increased opportunities and improved conditions created by recent global changes, although prospects for success for young women still lag behind young men. However, because 70 percent of young people in developing countries live in Asia, this state-
ment is most strongly reflective of the experience of Asian young people. Second, because of continuing population growth, poor young people are almost as numerous today as they were in the past. In the panel’s judgment, poverty is the greatest enemy of successful transitions. Third, young people in sub-Saharan Africa appear to be experiencing diminished chances for successful transitions to adulthood given the poor economic conditions and the HIV/AIDS pandemic, at the same time that their numbers are increasing relative to the population of young people in other regions. In the context of continuing global change and differential prospects for success, the panel sees policies that support universal basic schooling of adequate quality so as to create a stronger base for the continuing expansion of secondary enrollment and promote health during this phase of the life cycle as essential in their own right but also important because of their roles in promoting success in other domains.
Ultimately, this report is not just a story about transitions but also the product of a field in transition. Not only does globalization bring changes in the lives of young people, but it also changes the nature of the research enterprise, with expanding opportunities for data and knowledge sharing across countries and disciplines as well as new research techniques for more rigorous analysis and policy evaluation. The story we leave with the reader is rich, dynamic, and complex but incomplete, because change continues and because our angles of vision on the past have been limited by the information at hand.