Boys and young men in Ethiopia have higher aspirations than their parents did, but often feel ‘hopeless’ due a lack of education or access to high status jobs, says new research.

A picture has emerged of many being taken out of school to work on the family farm or business, or in paid work. Girls had greater flexibility to combine their household responsibilities with their schooling so were able to progress academically.

The research paper, based on of nearly 1,000 boys and girls in rural and urban parts of Ethiopia, is one of those presented at the Young Lives Gender and Youth Conference in Oxford and shows boys as well as girls need to find their social worth in developing countries. Oxford University researchers from the Young Lives project find that, generally, Ethiopian boys’ educational aspirations are initially higher than the girls, with parents also having higher expectations for sons at the outset. However, after the age of 15, boys’ decline in comparison. Of 908 aged between 15 and 19, more than a third of the boys were working (36%) and one third were studying and working (32%); whereas 39% of girls reported ‘only studying’ and 23% ‘studying and working’.

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In the sampled studied, 60% of boys compared to 12% of girls were overage for their grade in school at age 12. As a result, many boys end up in jobs without the status they seek, experiencing long periods of uncertainty about generating income. In the capital Bertukan (Addis Ababa), urbanization is rapidly taking hold and there are many signs of development, such as the construction of international hotels and modern shopping malls. Yet Ethiopia’s strong and broad-based economic progress jars with a sense of stagnation experienced by many young men who feel ‘stuck’ without prospects, says the study. It tells of community concerns about youth unemployment and hopelessness spiraling into self-destructive behaviors like gambling, alcoholism and drug addiction, particularly in urban areas.

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