The rapid expansion of schooling across low-income countries, combined with intensive governmental and nongovernmental efforts to promote education, has encouraged youth in these contexts to form exceptionally high educational expectations, despite immense structural barriers to achieving them. Consequently, many young people's educational expectations go unmet, driving concerns over the possible unintended consequences, including their elevated risk of mental health problems. At the same time, role transitions (e.g., marriage, parenthood) remain important elements of the transition to adulthood in many low-income countries, and may be a source of resilience—allowing youth to shift their identity away from education towards a new role. In this study, we explore the mental health implications of young women's unmet educational expectations, and the possible buffering impact of motherhood, in a low-income community in Malawi, in southeast Africa. Analyses of six years of longitudinal data show that young women's unmet expectations to continue school are associated with multiple indicators of mental health disadvantage across two points in time. In the short term, however, this is only true of young women who did not enter motherhood in the midst of their educational plans going unrealized: young women who became mothers—and thus achieved a key element of the transition to adulthood in this setting—experience fewer mental health disadvantages. The findings demonstrate the potential mental health consequences of young adults' expectations exceeding their outcomes while also highlighting a source of resilience.


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pp. 1112-1142
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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