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Spring 2005 Vol. 5 No. 1

Table of Contents

©Taren Riley/ The Road to Adulthood

Stretching Opportunities for Youth in the Developing World

In the past, young people in developing countries often had to quickly jump from being children to playing adult roles out of necessity. But the economic, cultural, and demographic influences of globalization have delayed the transition to adulthood -- giving them more time to learn and to engage in civic activities.

Compared with the same age group 20 years ago, young people in the developing world are now more likely to enroll in school and to spend more years there -- postponing entry into the labor force and delaying marriage and childbearing. But they are also exposed to more ideas that may clash with traditional values, and to information about global inequities.

Decisive steps should be taken to ensure that more youth in the Third World acquire the skills and knowledge necessary to thrive as adults and to compete for a wider array of jobs in the global marketplace, says a new report from the National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine.

Adequate schooling is critical. In developing countries, recent gains in the rate of school participation and in the grade level attained have been historically unprecedented and greater for girls than boys. The economic payoffs have been significant, too. These trends are not universal, however. For example, school attendance rates vary significantly based on family wealth. The dismal quality of some schools also hinders learning and discourages enrollment, the report says.

Although young people are reaching adulthood healthier than before, sub-Saharan Africa remains a region of special concern, the report says. HIV/AIDS is the leading cause of death among young people there. The region's poverty rates are also climbing, and studies show that impoverished youth are more likely to engage in risky sexual behavior.

Among young women in many developing nations, mortality and morbidity related to pregnancy and childbirth and to unsafe abortions are still huge health risks, the report adds.

Poverty is the greatest enemy of successful transitions to adulthood, the report stresses. Policies and programs for youth in developing countries should target the poor, particularly impoverished girls. Policy-makers should also boost school quality and expand enrollment in secondary schools to better prepare students who can contribute to their societies. In addition, officials should provide youth with more information about sex and good health practices -- and increase the availability of reproductive health services for those who are sexually active.

If they are well-prepared, the report says, adolescents and young adults in developing nations can benefit from the global forces that are transforming their worlds.   -- Vanee Vines

Growing Up Global: The Changing Transitions to Adulthood in Developing Countries. Panel on Transitions to Adulthood in Developing Countries, Committee on Population, Board on Children, Youth, and Families, National Research Council and Institute of Medicine (2005, 736 pp.; ISBN 0-309-09528-X, available from the National Academies Press, tel. 1-800-624-6242; $74.00 plus $4.50 shipping for single copies).

The panel was chaired by Cynthia B. Lloyd, director of social science research at the Population Council in New York City. The study was funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, David and Lucile Packard Foundation, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and the World Bank.

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Copyright 2005 by the National Academy of Sciences