Volume 28 - Article 37 | Pages 1053–1092

Transitions to adulthood in urban Kenya: A focus on adolescent migrants

By Shelley Clark, Cassandra Cotton

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Date received:09 Mar 2012
Date published:28 May 2013
Word count:8572
Keywords:adolescence, employment, family structure, Kenya, marriage, migration, pregnancy, transition to adulthood


Background: Migration is often intrinsically tied to key adolescent transitions in sub-Saharan Africa. However, while many adolescents move in order to improve their life trajectories, migration may also coincide with new challenges and considerable disruption of family support.

Objective: This paper seeks to better understand how migration and associated changes in family support are related to youth’s prospects of finishing secondary school, finding employment, getting married, and initiating child-bearing.

Methods: Drawing on detailed life history data from over 600 young men and women in Kisumu, Kenya, we use piecewise exponential survival analysis to examine how migration is related to key transitions to adulthood and how variation in family support moderates these relationships. All analyses are run separately for young men and women.

Results: Migration is associated with a sharp decline in parental support and a corresponding rise in reliance on other relatives, partners, or one’s self. For both men and women, migration also frequently coincides with a permanent exodus from school, which cannot be fully explained by changes in family support or transitions into marriage or work. We find strong evidence that young men move to Kisumu to obtain their first jobs and little evidence of subsequent discrimination against male migrants in the labor market. For young women, not only does migration coincide with marriage, but young female migrants also get married and become pregnant at younger ages after they have moved.

Conclusions: Adolescent migrants experience significantly lower levels of parental support, are more likely to drop out of school, and make earlier transitions to adult roles, potentially increasing their long-term economic and social vulnerability.

Author's Affiliation

Shelley Clark - McGill University, Canada [Email]
Cassandra Cotton - Arizona State University, United States of America [Email]

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