Youth in India: Situation and Needs Study

The Population Council surveyed more than 50,000 young people in India on such topics as time use, sexuality and childbearing, and civic engagement. Program planners and policymakers are using this valuable information to inform their work.

The Issue

While young people aged 10–24 years in India represent approximately one-third of the country's population, few programs and policies exist to meet their needs. To explore the needs of India’s youth and produce the evidence needed to design effective programs, the Population Council and the International Institute for Population Sciences (IIPS) conducted the Youth in India: Situation and Needs Study (referred to as the Youth Study) from 2004 to 2010.

The Progress

To inform the study design and development, the Council and IIPS held 104 focus group discussions with young people to understand how best to discuss sensitive issues. The Council and IIPS also conducted 231 interviews with key informants such as community leaders, health care providers, teachers, and youth leaders to identify the factors inhibiting and facilitating young people’s safe transitions to adulthood, and 420 in-depth interviews with parents of young people to recognize their perspectives.

The Youth Study comprised more than 50,000 interviews with married and unmarried young women (aged 15–24) and young men (aged 15–29) on their transition to adulthood. Implemented in six states—Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, and Tamil Nadu—the Youth Study:

  • Identified experiences of young people, including education milestones, work force participation, sexual activity, marriage, and civic participation;
  • Provided evidence on the magnitude and patterns of young people’s sexual and reproductive practices prior to and within marriage; and
  • Identified key factors underlying young people’s sexual and reproductive health knowledge, attitudes, and freedom to make informed life choices for themselves.

The Impact

The Youth Study was the first-ever sub-national, representative study of youth in India. It helped shed light on the realities of India’s youth and presented recommendations for the implementation of appropriate youth-targeted programs and policies. The study was the first to reveal the extent of premarital sex among India’s youth at the sub-national level and countered the common misconception that premarital sex in the country is rare. 15% of unmarried young men and 4% of unmarried young women reported engaging in sexual relations, mostly with a romantic partner. Most of these relations are unprotected, putting young people at risk of infection and unintended pregnancy.

It also was among the first studies to explore parent–child relations, the ability of young people to make important life decisions for themselves, mental health symptoms, and civic participation among the young. The study found that less than half of young men and only about one in seven young women took part in community-led activities, such as celebrations and health-promotion activities.

The study’s findings are "deeply informative and thought-provoking," said Amartya Sen, the Nobel Prize–winning economist and former member of the Council’s Board of Trustees, and "can serve as the basis of a necessary understanding of the lives of young people in India."

The findings and recommendations have been widely disseminated throughout India at the state and national levels. Findings from the Youth Study have influenced public discourse. They are frequently cited by local media and have informed India’s 12th Five-Year Plan, the government’s adolescent reproductive and sexual health (ARSH) strategy, and youth programs in several states.

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