The ages 10 to 14 are among the most critical for human development, yet one of the most poorly understood stages of the life course. While biological processes are universal, the social contexts within which they occur vary considerably. During this transition, young people are expected to assume socially defined gender roles that shape their sexual and reproductive health future.

Fifteen-City Study in Poor Urban Environments

A cross-cultural comparison offers a unique perspective on the commonalities and contrasts of the social processes shaping young people's health; with particular attention to the ways gender norms inform adolescent sexuality.

The focus is on urban poor youth, a vulnerable and fast growing population worldwide. Our sites range from small communities to those that are vast. Focusing on poor, urban youth will generate information for parents, teachers, youth workers, and youth themselves that will inform programs and services.

Phase I of the GEAS took place in 15 countries. Click to enlarge.

Study Goals

The Global Early Adolescent Study seeks to understand the factors in early adolescence that predispose young people to subsequent sexual health risks and conversely promote healthy sexuality, so as to provide the information needed to promote sexual and reproductive well-being.

A Gender Focus

The study will explore how young people perceive gender norms regulating interactions between boys and girls, how they form their own normative beliefs about gender, and how these beliefs align with social norms in their community and specific environment. Additionally, we will be investigating how gender beliefs act as a regulatory mechanism informing behaviors.

The focus of the study goes beyond the traditional conceptualization of sexual risks. The study will investigate the concept of healthy sexuality in early adolescence, including the following issues:

  • Body pride (e.g. satisfaction with physical characteristics and appearance)
  • Comfort with emerging sexuality (i.e. pubertal development)
  • Self-efficacy in relationships
  • Equitable relationships
  • Sexual behaviors including sexual risks and sexual satisfaction

Study Design and Objectives

The Global Early Adolescent Study will be conducted in two phases.

Phase I took place over 2 years, and used a mixed-method approach to develop and test four instruments to assess gender norms and sexuality for use among early adolescents and to explore the ways gender norms are related to different domains of sexuality in this age group. In-depth interviews with adolescents and caregivers were conducted to develop a narrative on the unfolding of adolescence revealing the ways young people navigate the social boundaries of gender norms and how these norms inform their emerging sexuality.  Phase I also involved the development and piloting of three new quantitative instruments to be used with early adolescents on gender norms about relationships as well as on health, sexuality and related behaviors. Finally, the GEAS team conducted a systematic review of the gender literature globally as it pertains to young adolescents.

Phase II uses the validated instruments produced in Phase I to pursue the following objectives through a 3-year longitudinal study of 10 to 14 year-olds. The objectives of Phase II are to: 

  1. Describe gender socialization as an evolving process in different cultural settings from early to later adolescence;
  2. Investigate parental/caregiver and peer influences on gender socialization of young adolescents; 
  3. Understand how the contexts (schools, neighborhoods, media, culturally diverse settings) within which a young adolescent develops moderate parental/adult caregiver influences on gender socialization;
  4. Assess the relationships between gender socialization in early adolescence and both sexuality and subsequent sexual behaviors throughout the adolescent years.