Rural-urban migration associated with earlier sexual debut in Thailand

Rural-to-urban migration and sexual debut in Thailand.

Anglewicz P, VanLandingham M, Phuengsamran D. Demography. 2014 Aug 22. [Epub ahead of print]

Migration from one's parents' home and sexual debut are common features of the transition to adulthood. Although many studies have described both of these features independently, few have examined the relationship between migration and sexual debut in a systematic manner. In this study, we explore this link for young adults in Thailand. With relatively high rates of internal migration, rapid modernization, a moderate HIV epidemic, and a declining average age of sexual debut, Thailand presents an instructive environment in which to examine migration and sexual debut. We use two waves of a longitudinal data set (2005 and 2007) that includes a subsample of young adults who migrated to urban areas during that period. We identify characteristics and behaviors associated with sexual debut and examine the role of migration on debut. Our approach reduces several common sources of bias that hamper existing work on both migration and sexual debut: (1) the longitudinal nature of the data enables us to examine the effects of characteristics that predate both behaviors of interest; (2) the survey on sexual behavior employed a technique that reduces response bias; and (3) we examine differences in debut by marital status. We find that migrants have a higher likelihood of sexual debut than nonmigrants.

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Editor’s notes: Much of the research on sexual behaviour comes from sub-Saharan Africa. It is useful to see a study on rural-urban migration and sexual debut in Thailand, a rapidly urbanizing country. The share of the urban population is expected to double by 2050. Rural-urban migration has become part of the experience of many young men and women, growing up. In this study of 4 000 young people aged 15-29 years, 16% of respondents at baseline had migrated within a two-year period. Thailand has been successful in reducing HIV incidence, but there are now concerns over reduced awareness of sexually transmitted infections in young people, increased sexual activity, and reductions in the age of sexual debut. Using a longitudinal dataset, the authors found that rural-urban migration was associated with higher likelihood of sexual debut.  It seems this is not solely due to non-residence with a parent, as this was not associated with sexual debut. The findings raise a number of interesting hypotheses about the implications for HIV prevention, and about the mechanisms that produce this association between migration and sexual debut. These include ideational changes, weakening of the social control mechanisms, a larger pool of potential partners in urban areas, or reverse causality. 

Asia
Thailand
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