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Growing Up at the “Margins”: Concerns, Aspirations, and Expectations of Young People Living in Nairobi's Slums


  • The Transitions to Adulthood project was part of a larger program, the Urbanization, Poverty and Health Dynamics in sub-Saharan Africa (UPHD) Program, that was funded by the Wellcome Trust (Grant Number GR 07830M). Analysis and writing time was funded by Wellcome Trust (Grant Number GR 07830M), the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation (Grant Number 2006-8376), and the Rockefeller Foundation (Grant Number 2007-HE 008). The authors thank Dr. Chimaraoke Izugbara, Dr. James Kimani, and Prof. Richard Jessor for their valuable comments on earlier versions of the manuscript. We are immensely grateful to the fieldworkers, data entry workers and transcribers, and to the youth in Korogocho and Viwandani.

Requests for reprints should be sent to Caroline W. Kabiru, African Population and Health Research Center, APHRC Campus, Manga Close, off Kirawa Road, P. O. Box 10787–00100 GPO, Nairobi, Kenya. E-mail: or


We explore the concerns, challenges, aspirations, and expectations of sub-Saharan African youth, and investigate how these youth cope with neighborhood constraints to aspiration achievement. We draw on cross-sectional survey data from 4033 12–22-year-olds (50.3% males) from two Kenyan urban slums and subsequent in-depth interviews conducted with a subset of 75 youth when they were 13–24 years old (45.3% males). We observe that despite the challenges characteristic of urban slums, some youth maintain high aspirations and try to achieve them through education, delinquency, residential mobility, and religion. We note that others adjust their aspirations to account for limited opportunities. Overall, our findings highlight positive youth agency and underscore the need to improve the quality of life in urban slums.

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