Date of Award

Spring 5-11-2018

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Educational Policy Studies

First Advisor

Dr. Janice B. Fournillier

Second Advisor

Dr. Kevin Fortner

Third Advisor

Dr. Richard Lakes

Fourth Advisor

Dr. Erin Murphy-Graham


This research study examined the ways in which adolescent economic empowerment is constructed amongst adolescents, their households, and teachers in urban and rural Kenyan contexts. Adolescents and youth make up the world’s largest population, yet they are systematically un- and under-employed. The relationship between educational opportunities and wage-earning and economic opportunities is strong, yet often disconnected. Adolescent economic empowerment is defined as the building of skills, capabilities, and capital so young people can make their own choices in life through access to and control over resources and opportunities, in relation to the people, norms, and structures that shape their lives. Utilizing quantitative and qualitative data secondary data, this study examined the issue of adolescent economic empowerment amongst urban and rural, in-school and out-of-school, and girls and boys in a Kenyan context.

With regards to financial knowledge and skills, key findings include the dissociation by adolescents of financial calculations and the interpretation of those calculations regarding financial concepts such as profit and loss. While having savings resulted in higher adolescent savings scores, differentiating between savings in terms of liquid versus non-liquid assets is unclear. Opportunities to save are restricted for some by beliefs that adolescents should not earn money. At the same time, access and use of monetary and non-monetary resources were valued as enablers in the empowerment process. The application of knowledge, resources and skill regarding adolescents’ financial decision making leaves room for stronger connections between market demand and skills development for long-term financial viability; yet, this did not stop many from engaging in income-generating activities. Across the study, gender, geographic location, and schooling status often resulted in differences amongst respondents.

Recommendations include the need to consider economic empowerment knowledge, resources and skills as they interact with educational and schooling curricula and opportunities. There is also room for continued exploration into the spiral and cyclical patterns of empowerment as individuals grow. Better understanding of the knowledge, skills, access, and resources that adolescents need and value could provide insight into the type of structures and access needed to enhance their agency and decision-making, and might act as a lever to improved global development.