This paper is one of two preliminary first findings reports that make use of early data from the third round of the Young Lives survey in 2009 to explore the extent to which inequalities including poverty, location (rural or urban), ethnicity or caste, and gender, are changing over time and how this may affect life chances for children.
The paper begins by considering how for Young Lives households, despite absolute poverty continuing to fall between 2006 and 2009, there was little change, or in some cases some increase, in levels of relative poverty. This demonstrates that even if a necessary part of reducing poverty, economic growth alone will not solve poverty and may exacerbate inequalities. We see throughout this briefing that disparities between urban and rural locations, poor and non-poor children, between different ethnic groups and regions, occur repeatedly across a series of indicators in well-being, health and education. This suggests that the same groups of children are repeatedly disadvantaged, which inevitably impacts on their life chances.
The paper then examines how increases in the numbers of children accessing education, services (water and sanitation) and healthcare are uneven across different groups, suggesting the importance of policy decisions. Inequalities in access compound to repeatedly disadvantage children who are from poor households, those who live in rural areas, children from minority groups and those whose caregiver has little or no education. While progressive gains have been made, challenges remain in reaching the most marginalised, especially given the potential reduction of fiscal space following the economic crisis – in Young Lives countries and beyond.
Young Lives data echoes global trends which show that the increasing coverage of education and healthcare services has not been matched by improvements in quality and accessibility for all, resulting in the same groups of children being repeatedly disadvantaged. The paper explores how intersecting inequalities or ‘double’ disadvantages reveal starker disparities. This may be a likely factor in the poverty cycle, compounding existing inequalities and threatening progress towards the Millennium Development Goals. For example, growth in enrolment rates are not being matched by increases in literacy. On the surface fewer differences appear between boys and girls within the Young Lives sample than might have been expected, the exception being around time use. Gender differences, such as around school dropout, emerge more clearly as the children become older and when the data is disaggregated. However, the bias is not always against girls and varies according to a number of socioeconomic and cultural factors. This demonstrates the importance of gender analysis within programme and project design.
The paper concludes by considering the policy implications of these first findings, including the need to protect existing social budget expenditure and ensuring services are adapted to the needs of the poorest and most marginalised children. Policies aimed at intervening in poverty cycles need to take into account how inequalities intersect to inform the expansion of services and social protection schemes and improvements in the accessibility, appropriateness and quality of education and healthcare are essential in order to provide a strong foundation for child development and learning and for children to access better-paid employment in the future.