A Sequence-Analysis Approach to the Study of the Transition to Adulthood in Low- and Middle-Income Countries

Popul Dev Rev. 2021 Sep;47(3):719-747. doi: 10.1111/padr.12425. Epub 2021 Jul 13.


This study investigates whether young people in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) have experienced processes of destandardization of the life course similar to those observed in high-income societies. We provide two contributions to the relevant literature. First, we use data from 263 Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) across 69 LMICs, offering the richest comparative account to date of women's transition to adulthood (TTA) patterns in the developing world. In so doing, we adopt sequence analysis and shift the focus from individual life-course events-namely first sexual intercourse, first union, and first birth-to a visually appealing approach that allows us to describe interrelations among events. By focusing on the analysis of trajectories rather than the occurrence of single events, the study provides an in-depth focus on the timing of events, time intervals between events, and how experiencing (or not) one event might have consequences for subsequent markers in the TTA in cross-national comparative perspective. Second, we identify clusters of TTA and explore their changes across cohorts by region and household location of residence (rural vs. urban). We document significant differences by macro-regions, yet relative stability across cohorts. We interpret the latter as suggestive of cultural specificities that make the TTA resistant to change and slow to converge across regions, if converging at all. Also, we find that much of the difference across cluster typologies ensues from variation related to when the transition begins (early vs. late), rather than from the duration between events, which tends to be uniformly quick across three out of four clusters.

Keywords: Cluster Analysis; Demographic and Health Surveys; Fertility; Low‐ and Middle‐Income Countries; Sequence Analysis; Transition to adulthood; Union Formation.