The life course in action
The study findings don’t just capture information about a particular moment in a child’s life, they show the life course in action. It’s this ongoing relationship that allows us to understand how stunting and early learning are strongly related to poverty and rurality, and how the impact of disadvantage accumulates over time, and is overlaid from early adolescence by widening gender inequalities. It’s enabled researchers to establish links the negative effects of corporal punishment in schools on children’s later maths scores. And it’s shone a light on the complex relationship between poverty, shifting gender and social norms and harmful practices in Ethiopia: where child marriage and FGM are clearly on the decline but are seen by some families and some older girls as a way to protect daughters from socio-economic risks in a male dominated society here economic opportunities and social protection for girls are limited. . Conclusions like these have the potential to reframe policy debates. Sometimes they reconfirm that investments and interventions are on the right track, and that’s important too.
Longitudinal research offers an insight into long-term trends, away from specific interventions. For example, despite rapidly increasing school enrolment Young Lives has evidence that in some countries, the quality of education is actually in decline, particularly for the poorest children: a significant challenge for the achievement of the Education Goal. Community profiles tell a story of changing gender norms, economic opportunities, infrastructure and access to technologies. Future longitudinal research offer a way to understand how far the ambition of the SDGs has translated into real-life changes.
No data left behind
By opening up the data to all, the Young Lives study hopes that researchers, decision-makers and children’s organisations will have better tools to understand the toll that poverty and exclusion takes on children across the life course, and that the aspirations and resilience of children and the older generations who nurture them will inform a programme of sound and well-timed investments which ensure that the Sustainable Development Goals are met for every child.