Young People in India: Their Situation and Their Needs

Population Briefs, December 2010 | Go to article overview

Young People in India: Their Situation and Their Needs


Population Council scientists in India have collaborated with researchers at the International Institute for Population Sciences to investigate the many facets of the lives of the country's young people. This landmark study covered almost every aspect of the lives of young people in India: growing up, socialization, education and work, romance and sex, marriage, domestic violence, voting behavior, religious beliefs, and more. "This is the first sub-nationally representative study focused on young people in India," says Shireen Jejeebhoy, Population Council social scientist and a lead researcher on the study. "It was the first to cover multiple dimensions of young people's lives and the first to obtain in-depth state-wide data on premarital relationships and sex, as well as on symptoms of mental health problems."

The study was undertaken between 2006 and 2007 in six states: Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, and Tamil Nadu. It covered all districts of these states, and thus can give reliable information on the lives of young men and women: married and unmarried, rural and urban. The women surveyed were between 15 and 24 years old. The unmarried men surveyed were between 15 and 24 years old. Married men up to age 29 were surveyed. More than 50,000 young people were interviewed. The six states taken together are representative of the country as a whole in such sociodemographic indicators as percentage of youth aged 15-24, literacy rate, and percentage of the population living in urban areas. Additionally, these states lie at extremes of the socioeconomic and cultural spectrum of the country, reflecting the regional diversity within India.

According to the most recent estimates, young people aged 10-24 constitute some 354 million of India's more than 1.1 billion people, representing about 30 percent of India's population. Thus, investments made in India's young people and behaviors formed by them will play a key role in the development, health, and future of India. The study shows that young people in India are poorly equipped to come of age in a world with a global economy.

The findings are "deeply informative and thought provoking," said Amartya Sen, Nobel Prize-winning economist and former Population Council trustee, in the keynote address at the meeting to discuss the study's outcomes. The study "can serve as the basis of a necessary understanding of the lives of young people in India."

Education and employment

The study found that education is far from universal. Eight percent of young men and 25 percent of young women had never been to school. Seventy-five percent of young men and 57 percent of young women had completed seven years of schooling, and only 42 percent of young men and 30 percent of young women had completed secondary education. Although more urban than rural youth finish school, the researchers observed the widest differences by household economic status, suggesting that poor boys and girls, whether rural or urban, face greater obstacles to school completion than their wealthier peers.

The researchers also detected variations by state. In Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, and Tamil Nadu 44-52 percent of young men and 36-48 percent of young women completed secondary education, compared with only 30-38 percent of young men and 13-18 percent of young women in Bihar, Jharkhand, and Rajasthan. Between 14 and 16 percent of young men and women in the six states were unemployed. Unemployment rates were much higher among the well educated than the poorly educated.

Sexual and reproductive health

Youth are poorly informed about sexual and reproductive health, even about the most basic facts. For example, only 37 percent of young men and 45 percent of young women knew that a woman can become pregnant the first time she has sex. Only 45 percent of young men and 28 percent of young women knew what HIV is, how it is transmitted, and how to prevent transmission.

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