Making the transition to adulthood in Zambia
: a comparison of the experiences of caregiving and non-caregiving youth

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    Studies of ‘young carers’ in sub-Saharan Africa have increased in recent years. A focus on ‘children’ caring for parents with HIV has meant the role of older youth has often been neglected in discussions of caregiving, particularly how caring influences their futures and life transitions. Young people are under increasing pressure to obtain a good education and employment to support their families and make 'successful' transitions to 'adulthood', whilst in some instances also having to cope with the loss of parents and care for relatives with little external support. This thesis discusses the experiences and perceptions of young people making transitions to adulthood in Zambia and examines how these might be shaped by the ‘critical moments’ (Thomson et al, 2002) that occur in their lives. It is a comparative study of youth (aged 14 to 30) with and without caregiving responsibilities for a sick or disabled parent or relative, to establish how the responsibility of caring influences young people’s transitions in comparison to their demographically similar but non-caregiving peers. Interviews and life-mapping methods were conducted with a total of 35 young people, 12 parents and relatives and 14 professionals. The thesis analyses young people's perceptions of significant transitions, such as initiation rites, marriage, leaving school and earning an income, in addition to more unpredictable changes in young people's lives, such as bereavement, parental divorce and separation, family illness and caregiving which often have significant impacts on young people’s ability to navigate their pathways to adulthood according to wider social norms and ways. The study concludes that comparing caregiving and non-caregiving young people is not an appropriate way to understand the wider nuances of young people’s lives. Youth in Zambia negotiate their livelihood realities across a continuum of care that they move in and out of, which alongside other significant factors such as poverty, challenge their ability to complete socially expected transitions to adulthood.
    Date of Award28 May 2014
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • University of Reading
    SponsorsRoyal Geographical Society
    SupervisorRuth Evans (Supervisor) & Sophie Bowlby (Supervisor)


    • Youth
    • Transitions
    • Caregiving
    • Family
    • Aspirations
    • Zambia

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