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Youth in a global world

Rachel Nugent

Population Reference Bureau

May 2006

SARPN acknowledges the Population Reference Bureau as a source of this document:
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In today’s world, “growing up” is not what it used to be. The lives of youth today present a wide range of educational, family, employment, and health experiences that depart in major ways from those of youth one or two generations ago. These different experiences can be attributed to the effects of globalization, technological advances, and widespread economic development.

There are more youth (also referred to as “young people” in this brief ) in the world now than ever before, and they are concentrated in developing countries. Youth spend a longer time in school, begin work at a later age, and get married and have children later than their counterparts did 20 years ago. They are also less likely to live in poverty, unless they are growing up in sub-Saharan Africa, or parts of Eastern Europe or Central Asia. While in many ways the lives of young people are more complex and challenging than ever, in most countries they are also more varied, full of opportunity, and more secure than in the past. In general, modern youth spend longer preparing for adulthood than their parents. However, the transition to adulthood is also laden with risks and challenges, and the youthful time of life for a young woman in sub-Saharan Africa is drastically different from that of a young man in China.

Youths come face-to-face with numerous health risks along the path to adulthood, many of which will affect the length and quality of their lives. Foremost among them is HIV/AIDS, which is increasingly afflicting young people, especially women, in some regions of the developing world. Other potential risks to health usually encountered for the first time as youth are alcohol, tobacco, and road accidents. Early sexual activity and early childbearing also have longterm effects on quality of life. The health needs of youth are best addressed through multisectoral strategies that respond to the varying social and economic circumstances that different youth experience today.

Programs that reduce maternal deaths and help prevent HIV/AIDS (in sub-Saharan Africa) have the greatest promise of improving young people’s lives. Programs should not be embedded only in the health sector, as they are more successful across multiple sectors (such as both health and education) where messages and interventions can be reinforced. School-based programs can reduce the risk of sexually transmitted diseases and increase contraceptive use. Such programs are most effective in changing behavior when they are repeated, consistent, and well targeted. They offer the potential to reach large numbers of youth, especially girls. Young married women are often neglected in designing interventions, but they present an especially important target group. Other types of interventions that have demonstrated effectiveness in specific settings are mass media programs to increase knowledge and change attitudes, peer promotion of healthy behaviors, and workplace health promotion.

This policy brief describes what it’s like togrow up in today’s world, with a focus on four major experiences in the lives of young people: schooling, health, marriage, and childbearing. The brief synthesizes parts of a 2005 report from the U.S. National Academies of Science (NAS), Growing Up Global:The Changing Transitions to Adulthood in Developing Countries, and uses selected data compiled more recently by the Population Reference Bureau.

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