Document Type

Working Paper

Date of this Version



This study investigates whether young people in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) have experienced processes of de-standardization of the life course similar to those observed in high-income societies. We provide two contributions to the relevant literature. First, we use data from 263 Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) across 69 LMICs, offering the richest comparative account of women’s transition to adulthood (TTA) patterns in the developing world existing to date. In so doing, we shift the focus from individual life-course transitions towards a holistic approach that allows us to characterize the life-course complexity by detailed sequences of events, namely first sexual intercourse, first union, and first birth. Second, using a clustering algorithm based on optimal-matching distances of lifecourse sequences, we identify clusters of TTA and explore their changes across cohorts by region and urban/rural location of residence. Results stress the importance of investigating cross-regional differences in partnership and fertility trajectories by looking at the interrelation and complexity of status combinations. Summarizing the ensuing heterogeneity through four clusters, we document significant differences by macro-regions yet relative stability across cohorts. We interpret the latter as suggestive of cultural specificities that make the TTA resistant to change and slow to converge across regions, if converging at all.


LMICs, Demographic and Health Surveys, transition to adulthood, life course, sexual relations, marriage, parenthood, first birth



Date Posted: 09 June 2020