Tracing the consequences of child poverty - reflections from co-author Andrew Dawes on findings from 15 years of research
After several years in the making, ‘Tracing’, as we authors have come to call the volume, is published. What a journey it has been! Tracing draws on over 800 research papers, fact sheets, country reports and other outputs generated since the inception of the Young Lives study in 2001.
When asked by Jo Boyden to assist in this venture, I asked myself how on earth do we extract and synthesise Young Lives findings gathered over 16 years, to produce a concise account of the impact of poverty on children’s lives in four countries, that is at once scientifically rigorous, of interest to researchers in diverse fields, and perhaps most importantly, provides evidence that assists policy makers in their efforts to improve children’s lives?
Much of the answer lies in the deep knowledge of the project held by authors Jo Boyden and Paul Dornan who together with the Young Lives team, knew where to drill down to construct a powerful story of what matters in children’s lives both in relation to compounding disadvantage or supporting positive growth and development.
Both the Young Lives International Advisory Board and the ‘Tracing’ Advisory Group, or TAG as we called it, challenged us to go beyond the ‘business as usual’ child poverty story and mine for nuggets that would shift the policy and intervention discourse.
Taking this advice, we were able to demonstrate that while particular aspects of disadvantage are essential to address (e.g. under-nutrition; poor quality schooling), it is intersecting inequalities and disadvantages that are particularly powerful in undermining human development from before infancy through adolescence and youth. These include the poorest and rural children who are also members of marginalised groups (e.g. ethnic, caste or language), with less educated parents. Policies therefore need to pay particular attention to children who face these intersecting challenges.
A further example of the impact of intersecting disadvantage is evident from Latent Growth Modelling (LGM) an approach I discuss in an article here with Colin Tredoux. In Tracing, LGM traces the consequences of disadvantage in early and middle childhood and adolescence for the development of maths and language skills (vocabulary and reading comprehension). Modelling shows how children from poorer backgrounds with less educated caregivers either don't attend a preschool or attend one that is likely poor quality. That missed opportunity is associated with weaker quantitative and language skills by age five enduring through childhood.
A much-overlooked consequence of poverty is its potential impact on the psychological well-being of primary caregivers. LGM shows how the mental state of caregivers affected by poverty is related to child growth in the early years; those more negatively affected are likely to have children with stunted growth. That in turn compromises cognitive skills in both early and middle childhood. New challenges emerge in early adolescence for children who have to work to assist poor families - they have less time for schooling and studying. So a poor start compounded by other demands in later years contributes to poor skills development by adolescence. This in turn is likely to compromise education outcomes and ultimately the chance to enter further education, training and decent work.
Patterns such as this are evident throughout the Young Lives data and are what we refer to as Developmental Cascades, a term drawn from the work of Ann Masten and Dante Cicchetti As LGM shows, cascades occur both within and across stages of childhood development and build upon one another so that their effects accumulate to shape developmental outcomes over time.
For example, the study measured children’s height for their age at each Round. This enabled us to discover a very important nugget; evidence of both growth recovery and faltering during middle childhood. A proportion of children whose growth was stunted in early childhood showed normal growth in middle childhood, while some who had shown normal early growth, were stunted later. Thus early growth status is not necessarily fixed, indicating the potential for remedial intervention later in development. Particularly important is evidence that recovery is associated with cognitive gains in some children.
Another example comes from the qualitative data analysed by Gina Crivello and Ginny Morrow. The TAG encouraged us to seek examples of children who were ‘bucking the trend’ of expected negative outcomes despite their disadvantages. What was it about these children and their circumstances that made the difference, and how could this information be used to provide more enabling environments for children placed at risk by poverty? Gina and Ginny’s work, discussed here, found that it was a combination of mutually reinforcing factors such as child characteristics and enabling environments in the family and beyond which together diverted children at risk into positive pathways. They also found that to maintain this positive Development Cascade, the children needed sustained support through young adulthood.
In sum, Tracing has synthesized evidence from across the study and combined it with life course longitudinal analyses that permit examination of the cumulative influence of sources of risk, protection and opportunity from across childhood and through adolescence. This approach has allowed us to consider the implications of these findings for child-focused policy and programmes as low- and middle-income countries strive to overcome intergenerational poverty and inequality and meet the challenges of the Sustainable Development Goals. We will share Tracing’s findings with policy makers and practitioners in government and non-government settings to help inform debates on how best to secure children’s well-being, development and rights.
Tracing the consequences of child poverty is available digitally https://bit.ly/2TUOQRY and in print https://bit.ly/2U8vjwz. For news of Young Lives you can follow us on Twitter @yloxford, Facebook, and check our website www.younglives.org.
State Analysis on Child Marriage and Teenage Pregnancy - Based on NFHS 4 (2015-16)
In India, child marriage has been declining slowly over time, but the number of girls and boys getting married before their respective legal ages (girls aged less than 18 and boys below 21 years) remains large with 12.1 million child marriages reported by Census, 2011. Causes of child marriage are complex and varied based on various customs and traditions across various contexts and is deeply rooted in existing socio-cultural norms. Besides this, economic and regional factors play a significant role in determining prevalence of child marriage. While Census 2011 allows us to investigate incidence of child marriage, National Family Health Survey data can only highlight prevalence rates of child marriage. Though we acknowledge that child marriage persists amongst both boys and girls, this report draws upon NFHS-4 data (2015-16) to analyse prevalence of child marriage and teenage pregnancy only amongst girls in the age group 15-19 in the state of West Bengal. This report also examines some factors related to child marriage and teenage pregnancy in the state of West Bengal as well as its districts.
Marital and Fertility Decision-Making Report: The Lived Experiences of Adolescents and Young Married Couples in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, India
This report presents findings from a qualitative study exploring married adolescent girls and young couples’ experiences of fertility decision-making in the context of early marital life, in two southern Indian states (Andhra Pradesh and Telanaga). The research was carried out as part of Young Lives, a longitudinal study of childhood poverty that traced the life trajectories of 3,000 children and their households located in these states, over a 15-year period. By age 18, around 30 per cent of girls in the Young Lives study had married, and 23 per cent of these married girls had also become mothers.
Young Lives School Survey 2016-17: Value-added Analysis in India
Student outcomes are often used as indicators of the ‘quality’ or ‘effectiveness’ of schools and teachers, and indeed as indicators of the quality of education systems more broadly. Student test scores, in combination with relevant contextual data, provide policymakers and educational researchers with a certain amount of information on what is happening in schools or classes where students are performing more or less well, at least in terms of ‘levels’ of performance. However, they are limited because non-school factors play an important role in determining levels of performance, and also because such cross-sectional data do not provide information on how much progress has been made. Measures of school ‘value-added’ attempt to address some of the difficulties in assessing school quality based on levels of performance alone. These measures are based on student progress, and aim to isolate and measure the contribution which schools make to improving student learning outcomes. This report uses a value-added framework to examine school effectiveness in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, using data from the Young Lives 2016-17 school survey.
Why do some adolescents discontinue education?
As the world gears up to reach Goal 4 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) (for all children to complete primary and secondary education by 2030), we are confronted with the challenge of retaining young people in schools particularly as they move into middle and late adolescence. Recent reports highlight that 1 in 11 primary school aged children, 1 in 6 lower secondary school age adolescents, and 1 in 3 upper secondary school age adolescents are not in school (UIS, GEM Report 2016). Of those adolescents not in school, more than half live in southern Asia (100.8 million) and sub-Saharan Africa (93.3 million), and the current completion rate of upper secondary education in low-income countries is a meagre 14%.
In our chapter ‘Push Out, Pull Out, or Opting Out? Reasons cited by adolescents for discontinuing education in four low- and middle-income countries' in the recently published Handbook of Development Research and its Impact on Global Policies, Protap and I tease out key reasons cited by children in Ethiopia, India, Peru and Vietnam for leaving schools across adolescence, drawing upon data from Young Lives. This chapter was the topic of a panel discussion at this year’s Society for Research on Adolescence Meeting that took place last week, focusing on the importance of investing in adolescent development and ways of building their capacity, engagement, and participation.
By recognising that school leaving is not an event, but a culmination of an interplay of various factors related to home, school and individual choices, we adopt a life course perspective in analysing reasons stated by adolescents for discontinuing education during adolescence. We broadly categorised the reasons into push factors, pull factors, and opted-out factors:
- Pull factors are related to factors outside school such as social and economic disadvantage that affect regular attendance in school. Such factors include paid work and other responsibilities that would adversely affect school attendance and continuity.
- Push factors refer to school related factors which ultimately result in dropout.
- Opted out factors include certain individual behaviours (such as truancy), personal characteristics, and attitude (disinterest toward schooling, motivation, etc.).
The highest number of adolescents discontinuing education by 19 years of age was observed in Vietnam (54%), followed by India (51%), Peru (49 %), and Ethiopia (41%). These percentages of course mask specific patterns of why children drop out in early, middle, and late adolescence across the four countries, with reasons for leaving school complex. We know that adolescents’ agency and educational trajectories are often highly constrained; by poverty, gendered roles and expectations, and increasing household responsibilities based on location and family circumstance.
Whereas girls were 29% less likely to drop out than boys by age 19 in both Ethiopia and Vietnam, the relationship was reversed in India, where girls were 150% more likely to leave education compared to boys. Besides household dynamics and shocks, boys in particular were found to discontinue schooling mainly due to increased engagement in paid work, while girls spend long hours in domestic chores at the cost of attending school. Unsurprisingly, children from top wealth tercile households across all four study countries are less likely to discontinue education (by 40% in Ethiopia, 69% in India, 62% in Peru, and 63% in Vietnam). Maternal education and maternal aspirations also emerge as strongly associated with children continuing education in Vietnam, Ethiopia and India. For example, mothers who aspired for their children to enter university were 25% (Ethiopia), 73% (India), and 72% (Vietnam) less likely to drop out of school as compared to children whose mothers had lower educational aspirations.
Findings revealed that pull factors emerge as the greatest contributor toward children discontinuing education as they enter middle and late adolescence. Child marriage, paid work, looking for work as well as domestic chores accounted for 77.3% of the total pull factors reported in four countries.
Push Factors and Opted Out
The second most important category is related to the push factors, which account for 22.5% of the total reasons reported, followed by the opt-out factor, which accounted for 19.7% of the total reasons cited for leaving school. The most important push factor reported by adolescents was “fees too expensive,” which accounted for 38.6% of all push factors, followed by “banned from school because children failed to achieve necessary grade” (i.e. expulsion) (24.3%). Bullying and distance of school from home were the other reasons cited for discontinuing education.
Interestingly, ‘truancy’ emerged as the most cited reason for opting out of school and constituted 59.5% of opted-out reasons. ‘Disinterest in studies’ was another reason cited by children and this may well be related to pressures to earn as well as in-school factors.
How can we support those adolescents who want to continue in their education?
Undoubtedly, adolescent educational trajectories are moulded by the social and cultural context in which they occur, despite commonalities such as puberty and socio-cognitive development. However, our pro-poor sample reveals that both adolescent boys and girls faced myriad challenges and pressures; for instance, girls experienced restriction on their mobility post-puberty while boys across all four study countries faced familial, societal, and peer pressures to earn money. Given that out-of-school factors or pull factors emerged as the greatest contributor toward children discontinuing education as they entered middle and late adolescence, it is important that the most disadvantaged families are reached by adequate social protection 'safety nets'.
Capacity building of teachers and school personnel to identify children “at risk” of dropping out in order to provide them with the necessary academic and psychosocial support is crucial to countering push-out factors. One of the key deterrents to continuation of education is the long distance related to travel to school and expense related particularly to secondary education that the poorest families can ill afford. This needs to be given the highest priority by policymakers, and ensuring provision of free, publicly funded, quality primary and secondary education must become a global reality in the coming years.
While opting out was the least cited reason for leaving school, it is important that we recognise that disengagement with schooling may be the result of ‘irrelevant’ curricula, lack of faith in schooling, poor role models, as well as expectations from significant others. We need to consider a multidimensional effort by state, communities, and families to address structural, household, and individual barriers that impede the smooth transition of adolescents through secondary schooling. On the one hand, accessible second-chance schemes must evolve to ensure that education systems provide adolescents with easy and flexible options to pursue their education. On the other hand, communities need to provide adolescents with support services, so providing those “at risk” with timely support and intervention while empowering families to support their children, particularly girls, to complete their education by challenging discriminatory gender norms and expectations as children enter middle and late adolescence. This would mark concrete steps toward meeting SDG4, realising the potential of adolescents, representing some 17.3% of the world’s population.
‘I Will Achieve Everything On My Own’: The Association Between Early Psychosocial Skills and Educational Progression Through Adolescence in India
Psychosocial skills are an important element of the confidence and motivation to progress in academic life. This working paper utilises a factorial logistics model to highlight the association between psychosocial skills at age 12 and educational progression through adolescence (to age 19), analysing Young Lives quantitative survey data of Older Cohort children and longitudinal qualitative data collected between 2007 and 2014 in undivided Andhra Pradesh, India.
Quantitative data analysis shows that psychosocial skills such as subjective well-being and self-efficacy at 12 years old are significantly positively associated with retention in education at 19 years old. These findings are supported by qualitative data. Findings reveal that household wealth, children’s paid work at age 12, as well as caregivers’ education and occupational aspirations for their children play a significant role in shaping the self-efficacy and subjective well-being of children. Gender, birth order and caste also play a significant role in framing the association between psychosocial skills at 12 years old and educational outcomes at 19 years old. Given these findings, it would be useful for programme interventions aiming to retain children throughout secondary schooling to focus on building parental aspirations, particularly for girls and socially and economically disadvantaged households. Other areas that require policy attention are around providing social protection to disadvantaged households and developing teachers’ skills in order to encourage and build the psychosocial competencies of children.