Young people constitute a high and increasing proportion of the African population, with around 70 percent of the continent’s total population currently under the age of 30. Evidence suggests many young people are choosing not to pursue livelihoods in the agriculture sector, especially as farmers, which may have implications for national and international efforts to drive economic growth through investments in agriculture. An understanding of the aspirations of rural youth and the links between aspirations and career decisions will be critical if agricultural policies achieve their intended outcomes. This paper establishes the foundations for a programme of research by the Future Agricultures Consortium, based on a review of existing research on youth aspirations, expectations and life choices. It describes the dynamic processes through which aspirations are formed, shaped and influenced by economic context, social norms and customs, parental and peer influence, media, previous attainment and gender relations, and relates this to the agrarian context of sub-Saharan Africa. The paper concludes with a series of tentative hypotheses about youth aspirations, how they link to outcomes in the rural African context, and the implications for agricultural policy and practice.