National Surveys Provide Insights into Lives of Adolescents in Egypt and Ethiopia

Article excerpt

The Population Council has recently completed national surveys on the lives of young people in Egypt and Ethiopia. Young people are powerful catalysts for development and change, as young Egyptians demonstrated in early 2011. Adolescence is a critical phase of human development during which the stage is set for adult life. More than 1.5 billion people aged 10-24 in developing countries are making the transition from childhood to the roles and responsibilities of adulthood--as workers, citizens, spouses, and parents--during a period of unprecedented global change. Subsequent generations of young people will be even larger.

To develop programs and policies that meet the needs of adolescents, governments and program managers require solid, reliable data about the challenges young people face. Existing data rarely provide the in-depth information that is gained by surveying adolescents themselves. The Population Council has implemented such surveys throughout the world. The recent surveys in Egypt and Ethiopia afford crucial insights into young people's schooling, livelihoods, and, particularly, the effect of restrictive gender roles on their lives.


About 40 percent of Egypt's population is between the ages of 10 and 29 years, a "youth bulge" in the population. "With the right investments, these young people will be able to positively shape Egypt's future," said Nahla Abdel-Tawab, director of the Population Council's regional reproductive health program and acting country director in Egypt. "However, the large size of this group is placing enormous pressure on social services and the labor market and creates major challenges for development planning."

The Survey of Young People in Egypt (SYPE) is the largest survey to date of young people in the Middle East and North Africa. SYPE builds on the Council's ground-breaking 1997 Adolescence and Social Change in Egypt survey. Council interviewers spoke to some 15,000 young people between the ages of 10 and 29 from a representative sample of 11,000 households. The survey revealed regional and gender-specific disparities in schooling, high rates of youth unemployment, and persistent gender inequities.

While early childhood education is spreading in Egypt, more than 2 million young people are out of school, many of them concentrated in a few governorates. Gender and regional disaggregation shows that 80 percent of those out of school are girls from rural areas and in Upper Egypt. The main obstacles to education are high out-of-pocket education-related expenses and cultural norms that keep girls out of school. Seventy-seven percent of the children attending school are from the richest households, compared to 14 percent from the poorest households.

Although unemployment among young people declined between 1998 and 2006, the unemployment rate remains high at 15.8 percent among young people aged 15-29, and gender gaps persist. The unemployment rate among females (31.7 percent) is more than double that among males (12.5 percent). A number of interrelated factors could contribute to females' disadvantaged position in the Egyptian labor market, including unfavorable work conditions, fewer networking opportunities, lower mobility, and difficulty engaging in entrepreneurship.

Young people aged 15-29 in Egypt, both female and male, tend to have conservative attitudes toward gender roles. More than 80 percent of young women and men believe that men should have priority over women in the labor market when jobs are scarce. More than three-quarters of young women and men believe that a woman must obey her husband's orders in all cases. Sixty-two percent of young men and 37 percent of young women believe that a husband should make decisions about household expenses. About 75 percent of young women and men believe that a woman who dresses provocatively deserves to be harassed. And two-thirds of young women and men agreed that wife beating is justified in some situations. …