The construction of adolescence in a changing world: implications for sexuality, reproduction, and marriage

Stud Fam Plann. 1998 Jun;29(2):137-53.


This article aims to show how the period now known as adolescence came into being and how it was shaped by international economic, institutional, and social influences. It considers premodern societies and argues that traditional culture has shaped contemporary adolescence even more than has global society. Explanations are offered for the enormous differences across the world in adolescent sexuality, reproduction, and marriage. The data are drawn mainly from research programs in Nigeria, Sri Lanka, India, and Bangladesh, and comparisons are made with other countries.

PIP: This exploration of the nature of adolescence draws on theories that it is an instrument of social change and that it is a preparation for adulthood; it also draws on research findings from Nigeria, Sri Lanka, India, and Bangladesh to conclude that, while adolescents do not maintain all of their views and behaviors throughout life, contemporary society is modified both by the clash between adolescents and their elders and by the alteration of adult life that occurs because enough adolescent experience is carried forward to modify later adulthood. After an introduction, the essay traces social changes among the Ekiti Yoruba in Nigeria from the late 19th century, highlighting elements of the traditional society that fostered the potential for social change, the impact of missionaries and the British, changes in the marketplace and the economy, and the development of a definite period of adolescence. This discussion then generalizes the Ekiti study to other sub-Saharan societies and considers the impact of AIDS and of economic and social change. The essay moves on to examine how traditional Asian societies differ from traditional sub-Saharan societies and to look at adolescence among the Sinhalese in Sri Lanka, the rural population of south India, and in Bangladesh. The discussion notes that adolescence is fostered by schooling, by increased age for girls at first marriage, and by social change and globalization that promoted the concept of companionate heterosexual relations before and during marriage. The article ends with a discussion of studies in Indonesia, the Philippines, and other areas of Asia as well as a consideration of the forces shaping modern adolescence.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent*
  • Bangladesh
  • Cross-Cultural Comparison
  • Cultural Characteristics*
  • Employment / statistics & numerical data
  • Employment / trends
  • Female
  • Humans
  • India
  • Male
  • Marriage / ethnology*
  • Marriage / statistics & numerical data
  • Marriage / trends
  • Nigeria
  • Reproduction*
  • Sexuality / ethnology*
  • Sexuality / statistics & numerical data
  • Social Change*
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Sri Lanka