Towards a Better Future? Hopes and Fears from Young Lives

Poverty and inequality
Gender, adolescence & youth
Book / chapter

Young Lives has been following 12,000 children in Ethiopia, India, Peru and Vietnam since 2002. This is the third book about the lives of 24 of those children. We have watched them as they started primary and then secondary school, and we have seen many of them grow into young adults. They have shared their hopes and their fears with us, their ideas about themselves, their families and their communities.

Growing up has meant more independence – and more responsibility. There is pressure to conform to wider social norms and expectations. Gender has become more significant as the children move into adolescence and beyond, and decisions about school, work, marriage and fertility are made within families and communities.

We believe that the views and experiences of the children in our study are key to understanding childhood poverty and in helping to identify effective policies and practices to tackle it. As the mother of Teje, who is 13 and from Ethiopia, said: “I want development for all human beings and I want everyone to have a comfortable life. I want this research to contribute to that.”

Does Medium of Instruction Affect Learning Outcomes?

Poverty and inequality
School systems (incl private schooling)
Private schools
Working paper

This study analyzes the potential link between medium of instruction and student performance at primary school level. Value added models pertaining to the effect of medium of instruction on student achievement are estimated using Young Lives longitudinal data of primary school children in Indian state of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. Using Math scores to proxy for student achievement we find that Telugu (mother tongue) medium students on an average perform significantly better as compared to English medium students after controlling for students ability, household characteristics and parental aspiration. This analysis suggests that introducing English medium of instruction at earlier grades during school life may negatively affect learning outcomes of students.

Learning Environments in Andhra Pradesh

Poverty and inequality
Working paper

There is a growing realisation that good-quality education can only be assured if both the academic and the social and emotional developmental needs of learners are met within schools. This study investigates the relationship, at primary school level, between a child's beliefs about their ability to perform academic tasks i.e. 'academic self-concept' and achievement in mathematics, as well as between academic self-concept and aspects of the observed classroom environment. Using Young Lives quantitative as well as qualitative data from Andhra Pradesh, India, the results show a significant and positive correlation between the academic self-concept and the progress in mathematics of students in primary schools. We find from the analysis of the learning environment that more time spent by teachers on discussion and interaction with the whole class is significantly associated with better academic self-concept in students. Disciplinary action taken by the teacher and the temporary absence of the teacher are seen to have a negative significant association with students' academic self-concept. On the other hand the preparation and use of teaching and learning material (TLM) by the teacher improves academic self-concept significantly. These results have important implications for educationists, school leaders, teachers, parents and policymakers, since they all need to work together to create learning environments that foster the self-concept of children and provide fertile ground to help it develop.



Children's Experience of Multidimensional Deprivation

Poverty and inequality
Journal Article

Using longitudinal data set from Young Lives, this paper aims to measure multidimensional childhood deprivation in the state of Andhra Pradesh, India. In this paper we employ Alkire and Foster (2011) counting approach to estimate multidimensional childhood deprivation. We use household and child related data of 975 children in two different age points (12 and 15 year) and seek to establish the fact that childhood deprivation is not confined only to monetary poor households. Our analysis is based on 15 indicators cutting across 4 major dimensions — education, health, housing quality and subjective well-being. Comparison has been made between households who have been consistently in the bottom most quartile (chronically poor) and top most quartile (least poor) of monthly per capita consumption expenditure (MPCE) in the two rounds of survey conducted in 2006 and 2009. Amongst the child related indicators, schooling, ability to read and write, thinness and nutrition have emerged in general as important contributors towards children's total deprivation. Overall child deprivation is higher for chronically poorhouseholds across all the indicators, as compared to those belonging to the least poor in our sample. However, 95% of children belonging to least poor households face one or more deprivation at age 12 and 15. The estimates have also been decomposed by rural and urban location as well as by gender. Rural children in chronically poor as well as least poor households experience higher deprivation which remains static across rounds. Boys at age 12 are more deprived than girls in the chronically poor households, though boys show substantial decrease in deprivation over time. An ordered probit model also confirms that rural children are significantly more likely to be deprived than urban children, though we do not find significant difference between boys and girls.

Keywords: multidimensional poverty, deprivation, childhood deprivation, counting measurement

The final published version of the article is available on the journal website.



Renu Singh and Sudipa Sarkar (2014) Children's experience of multidimensional deprivation: Relationship with household monetary poverty, Quarterly Review of Economics and Finance 56: 43-56. 

Child poverty in India and the limits to growth

I'm just back from visiting colleagues in Andhra Pradesh last week. I visited to attend the launch of the new Division for Child Studies, at the Centre for Economic and Social Studies, timed to coincide with World Children'€™s Day -€“ the anniversary of global commitments to children through the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The establishment of the Child Studies Division is an excellent sign to see, collaboration between UNICEF in Andhra Pradesh and CESS, and building on years of experience CESS have as a research partner within Young Lives. We need more centres like this -€“ able to bring together in one place what is known about policies for children, to provide hubs for networks of those concerned about improving policy for children.

Having visited and listened to much discussion over the past week, it gives rise to a couple of reflections.

First, making growth work for people.

In recent years India has achieved a growth rate that our own finance minister here in the UK would think beyond the dreams of avarice. But growth is not a self-evident good -€“ it is only good where it leads to better human development (either directly or indirectly). And though living standards for many are rising, it'€™s equally clear human development is a lagging indicator. The rates of malnutrition are stark evidence of this point and come up regularly in discussions about the policy challenges facing India (Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has referred to child malnutrition as India'€™s national shame. Not surprisingly, since India has worse stunting rates than many (poorer) Sub-Saharan African countries).

In 2010 DFID published a policy paper on The Neglected Crisis of Under-nutrition. Perhaps they would still choose the same title today -€“ though malnutrition has gained considerable international policy and research attention, although whether that attention is feeding through into action is an open question. For India it may be interesting to consider the case of Bangladesh, a poorer country but one which has made significant health gains in recent years. Analysing what drove the progress in Bangladesh, a recent Lancet editorial highlights equity as a core component to this success (highlighting community development, pro-women and pro-poor approaches).

Second, making systems more effective.

I had heard on a number of occasions that India has good social policy. And it is a trail blazer -€“ ICDS in 1975 and more recently MGNREGA in 2005, recent discussions on the Right to Education in 2009, and very recently legislation over the Right to Food. The key question seems to be not the policies on paper, but their reach and effective implementation. In particular, how to ensure within those schemes that they effectively reach the most marginalised. We have discussed challenges within the education system, noting the rise of private schooling in India, in part attributable to aspirations for education and concerns over the government schools. Incidentally what is particularly interesting to see in Young Lives analysis of sector-based differences is that although children in private schools score better than those in government schools on tests of maths and vocabulary skills, most of this is down to pupil background not a '€˜school effect'€™. What seems to be particularly important to children’s learning is whether teachers attend and what they do as part of their teaching. Increasingly therefore many of the inequality concerns are about differences within systems, not simply exclusion from them.

Of course discussing the policy challenge is one thing; finding effective strategies to address them is another. The examples above highlight how the enabling environment for children is likely to be fostered best by a combination of pro-equity development strategies (including broad based, pro-poor, growth) and by effective social policy able to deliver quality interventions for the poorest children.

Recognising the anniversary of the UNCRC, the motivation for that ought to be put the best interests of children at the heart of policy concerns. Caine Rolleston has written of education as the '€˜Achilles heel of the growth economies'€™. It'€™s a neat analogy, with implications for policy development which new research Divisions such as this one at CESS need to think about.

Growth rates may look impressive, but if they don'€™t result in sufficient human development gains, they create their own weakness. Persistent inequality and ineffective policies for children undermine children'€™s future chances to develop skills themselves place a limit on growth potentials.

Children's Day in India

Caroline Knowles

14 November is celebrated as Children's Day in India. The day coincides with the birthday of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru (November 14, 1889) the first Prime Minister of India. Children addressed him fondly as €˜Chacha Nehru€™ or Nehru Uncle, since he displayed a special affection and faith in children.

Undoubtedly, India has made considerable progress since independence in terms of exemplary economic growth.

Today, India has a child population of 380 million (Census 2011) which is larger than the entire population of North America (USA, Mexico and Canada) and every fifth child in the world is an Indian. The country has the largest youth population in the world and can boast of youngest workforce. Despite the green revolution, life expectancy doubling and literacy levels quadrupling since independence, 400 million or one-third of the world'€™s poorest people live in India and children continue to suffer from multi-dimensional poverty and extreme deprivation. Infant and child mortality rates remain far from satisfactory and 40 per cent (217 million) of the world'€™s malnourished children are found in India. The country has made tremendous progress in making elementary education universalized, however learning outcomes remain abysmally low and less than 20 per cent of children complete secondary education.

On Children'€™s Day, it is critical that we take a vow to ensure that we provide each child an opportunity to escape from gender and social discrimination, spatial disadvantage as well as chronic poverty. We might wish to renew our resolve to make the country a better place for children by remembering Pandit Nehru'€™s words:


"India has known the innocence and insouciance of childhood, the passion and abandon of youth, and the ripe wisdom of maturity that comes from long experience of pain and pleasure; and over and over again, she has renewed her childhood and youth and age."

Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, The Discovery of India

‘There’s no future here’: Youth migration, hope and inequality

On a clear day in Morocco you can look across the Strait of Gibraltar and catch sight of the Spanish coast in the distance. Many Moroccan youth look to Europe with hope -- they dream of migrating there for a better life, for opportunities to learn and to work, and to join friends and family who have gone before them.  For some educated young women, going to Europe represents greater personal freedoms; it is also an escape for youth, from the boredom of everyday life and from diminished prospects for getting ahead at home.

I spent a year researching the way migration from a small Moroccan city is structured and challenged along gender and generational lines. Yet these dreams of migration are not peculiar to Moroccan youth. This year'€™s International Youth Day theme highlights migration as a common response to inequality experienced by youth in low-income countries.

The focus on youth migration invites us to reflect on the ways in which some borders are porous, easing flows of music, taste, ideas and information through global media, tourism and technology. At the same time, some borders remain rigid, and young Moroccans wishing to leave their country come up against visa restrictions, financial barriers, gender hierarchies and restrictive border policies. Many of the young people I met in Morocco felt trapped.  '€œYou didn'€™t know you were coming to Alcatraz!'€, one young man told me when I first arrived, likening his city to a prison.  '€œWhy',€ I was asked so often, '€œwould you want to come here?'€

Looking to a better future: Moroccans praying on a patera bound for Spain

Looking to a better future: Moroccans praying on a patera bound for Spain[/caption] The drawing included here from a young person depicts the iconic image of a zodiac (or '€˜patera'€™, the boats used to clandestinely cross the sea to Spain).  I heard these referred to as las pateras de la muerte ('€˜death boats'€™), symbolizing the thousands of lives that have been lost in failed attempts to cross. On the other hand, the patera represents the individual will to overcome desperate conditions, including unemployment, poverty, and political oppression.  In the drawing, the aspiring migrants pray for their lives, the Spanish coast visible in the distance.

The Young Lives study has also been researching what migration means to young people, particularly within the context of childhood poverty and inequality. This work has been carried out with groups of children, under the age of 16, across four countries (Ethiopia, the state of Andhra Pradesh in India, Peru and Vietnam). Our findings highlight the importance of internal migration (within-country) for young people and the value of sibling and family networks for facilitating children'€™s migration.

Children in our study relocate for a variety of reasons, sometimes alongside their families and sometimes on their own. Some of the children in Andhra Pradesh relocate without their families to distant residential hostels so that they can access better quality schooling provided by the government. This creates specific challenges for families when the children are unable to perform certain household tasks (such as help in the fields or around the house) when they return home because they do not learn these skills in the hostel. In one of our study sites in Vietnam, several of the mothers migrate to work in the city, whilethe children stay behind and so experience long periods of maternal absence.  And in places like Peru and Ethiopia, the relocation of children from poorer to better-off households (often from rural to urban areas) is a long-standing tradition in response to family crisis, parental death, acute poverty, and the desire for child companionship.

Fifteen-year old Natalia, in Peru, is well-connected, and she wants to move to the city where her sister now lives. '€˜There, I won'€™t go to the fields anymore (laughs)'.€™ Her mother wants her to continue studying and to go to the city, and referring to their village says, '€˜Staying here, there'€™s nothing, there'€™s no future here.'€™

City dreams: for one rural 12-year-old girl in Peru, a good life would be shopping in Lima City dreams: for one rural 12-year-old girl in Peru, a good life would be shopping in Lima

In this picture (above), a 12-year-old girl from a village in Peru was asked to depict a girl, her age, for whom she imagined life was going well. In her drawing, she locates the girl not in her village but in Lima, the country'€™s capital city, standing at the doors of €˜Ripley€™, a major department store.There is no single definition of child or youth '€˜migration'€™, and young people who never leave their localities may also be affected by migration - through their aspirations, when migrants arrive to their neighbourhoods and schools, or when those close to them decide to leave.

Young people require resources, information and networks to move, whether it be to the next biggest town or abroad. But poorer young people tend to have less access to these things, and some groups face greater barriers to migration. This is another way in which disadvantage and inequality are perpetuated among youth.

I hope the theme of this year'€™s World Youth Day draws attention to the diversity of youth migration and to young people'€™s varied strategies for getting ahead through migration -€“ both within and across national borders. To better support youth in developing countries, we need to know when migration becomes a risk and for which groups of youth, where and at what costs?  But we also need to acknowledge the ways in which young people use mobility and migration to overcome their social exclusion and wider systems of inequality. Acknowledging young people'€™s roles as development actors and the difficult choices they face in daily life is a good start.

Related Young Lives readings:

Gina Crivello (2011) 'Becoming somebody': youth transitions through education and migration in Peru, Journal of Youth Studies 14.4: 395-411

Jo Boyden and Neil Howard (2013) Why does child trafficking policy need to be reformed? The moral economy of children's movement in Benin and Ethiopia, Children'€™s Geographies 11.3: 354-368