Gendered Trajectories of Young People through School, Work and Marriage in Ethiopia

Yisak Tafere
Gender, adolescence & youth
Working paper

This working paper examines how gender affects girls’ and boys’ school, work and marriage trajectories across adolescence and into early adulthood in Ethiopia. It explores when gender inequality begins to open up in childhood; in which domains, how and why gender disparities persist across adolescence and into early adulthood; and, finally, whether and how gendered norms, values and practices impact on children’s trajectories.

Drawing on quantitative and qualitative longitudinal data from Young Lives, gathered from children and their parents, we found that:

  • children developed high educational aspirations and tried hard to achieve them, though often with little success;
  • poverty, work, illness, family-related problems, and (for girls in particular) early marriage had cumulative negative impacts, eventually forcing them to leave school;
  • the transition to marriage affected young women and men differently, and getting married prior to finishing education curtailed the ambitions of some girls.

The findings challenge the normative understanding of ‘transitions’ by suggesting that they are neither clear-cut nor a one-off or one-way process. In Ethiopia, where poverty and social norms shape the majority of children’s lives, their trajectories appear to be interconnected and overlapping, rather than distinct pathways. Finally, the paper highlights some policy implications, calling for comprehensive child-focused social protection interventions to reduce the negative impacts of both poverty and gender on young people’s trajectories.