Adolescent Well-Being Gap Maps: What We Know and Opportunities for Future Research


  • Prerna Banati UNICEF
  • Cristina Bacalso Independent Consultant, Berlin, Germany



evidence map, adolescent, equity, systematic reviews, impact evaluations


Designing and delivering effective programs for adolescents and youth requires high-quality evidence that is easily available to decision makers. Yet while adolescence as a unique development period has gained policy attention in recent years, and there has been a growth in research, priorities for research investment remain unclear. This paper provides a panoramic view of adolescent development research to review what evidence exists and how evidence is mapped. Our approach interrogated studies mapped by evidence maps (including the subset evidence gap maps or EGMs). Our findings have implications for future directions of research on positive youth development (PYD) in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs): The analysis showed that while most evidence maps exist in the adolescent protection, safety, and security domain, most studies focus on outcomes related to well-being and social and emotional health. There are gaps in demographic groupings and contexts studied. For example, while gender and sex inequities were the most prevalent in the studies identified, though seen in less than 1/5 of the studies analyzed, disability appears in only 3%. Housing, participation, and information communication technologies are researched relatively rarely. Rigorous research in conflict or humanitarian settings is absent. Additionally, while most impact evaluations are conducted in sub-Saharan Africa, followed by Latin America, the Middle East and North America were poorly represented regions. This article reflects on the state of the evidence, argues for a more thoughtful approach to equity in adolescent research, and calls for a stronger link between research, policy, and practice in LMICs.

Author Biography

Prerna Banati, UNICEF

Dr. Banati has over 20 years of international development experience with the United Nations and other international organizations. Since 2012 she has been working with UNICEF, including at their West and Central Africa Regional Office, and at the Office of Research. She brings extensive experience at the intersections of adolescence, gender and social inclusion, supporting evidence generation and technical support to rights-based country programmes of cooperation in collaboration with governments, civil society and the private sector. Over her career, she has led a number of action-research programs, most recently a DfID funded gender-responsive, adolescent-sensitive social protection, and prior to that on the social and structural determinants of adolescent wellbeing.  Before joining UNICEF, she was a Takemi Fellow at Harvard University. She has previously worked for the World Health Organization, the Global Fund to fight AIDS, TB and malaria, and for different NGOs. She sits on a number of advisory boards and has authored many publications in the field of adolescent health and wellbeing, including in reproductive health, mental health, HIV prevention and migration. In 2018, she co-edited the Oxford Handbook of Adolescent Development Research and its Impact on Global Policy. In 2020, she will release her new edited volume on Sustainable Human Development Across the Life Course: Evidence from Longitudinal Research on Children, Adolescents and Youth by Policy Press. She has a Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge.


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