Youth transitions into adulthood in protracted crises (GSDRC Helpdesk Research Report 1293)



In conflict/politically protracted crises, how are transitions into adulthood delayed or accelerated for young people? What are the implications of these delayed/accelerated transitions? What does the evidence say about the different experiences of boys and girls in relation to this question? (Young people will be defined as 10-24 year olds).


Protracted crises can have a significant impact on youth transitions into adulthood, both by delaying and accelerating them. Waithood is a term commonly used to describe the state in which youths find themselves when their transitions to adulthood are delayed.

There is a significant body of literature on youth transitions into adulthood in developing countries, with heavy emphasis on the Middle East and North Africa, while there are also numerous studies looking at youth transitions to adulthood in Sub-Saharan Africa. There is consensus in the literature that economic independence and family formation are key components of youth transitions into adulthood. A number of studies also include political citizenship in this list, while some studies add additional components, such as overall well-being.

Key findings from the literature include:

  • Delayed transitions to adulthood can be the result and the cause of conflict, fragility, and violence.
  • Lost years of schooling and poor quality education in conflict-affected areas impede young people’s chances of achieving economic independence.
  • A number of studies find that family formation is often difficult for young people who are not economically independent. This is because economic independence, which can be hard to achieve in times of conflict, is seen as a prerequisite for marriage in many cultures.
  • One study finds that young people do not always resign themselves to waithood. Faced with delayed transitions to adulthood some can create new sub-cultures and alternative forms of livelihoods and social relationships.
  • Accelerated transitions into adulthood are not necessarily permanent. One study argues that many children who assume adult roles may later find themselves in waithood. An example is that of child soldiers in the aftermath of conflict. These young people may find their transitions to adulthood delayed because they have not met the milestones required for this transition (e.g. economic independence and family formation), despite having fulfilled an adult role during times of conflict.


Strachan, A.L. Youth transitions into adulthood in protracted crises (GSDRC Helpdesk Research Report 1293). Governance and Social Development Resource Centre, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, UK (2015) 10 pp.

Youth transitions into adulthood in protracted crises (GSDRC Helpdesk Research Report 1293)

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