In many developing countries economic growth continues apace. National aspirations around sustained high levels of GDP increase do not seem to have been dented long term by a global economic crisis which looks set to depress growth rates in OECD countries for years to come. This paper uses exploratory analysis to consider how this economic growth is affecting the experiences of Young Lives children in Ethiopia, India (the state of Andhra Pradesh), Peru and Vietnam. We consider the situation of several different groups of children in order to build an understanding of changes within the samples (by decile, maternal education levels; indicators of ethnicity or caste) and location (urban/rural and by geographic area) to present empirical evidence on trends between 2002 and 2009.
The purpose of this paper is partly to look at the context of growth occurring in Young Lives countries and communities. It also seeks not only to look at changes between groups but also to begin to look at data derived at a community level, and so to consider the context in which children are growing up. Young Lives is a good data source to understand processes of change, by linking data on child outcomes with earlier circumstances. This paper accompanies a series of detailed country reports which analyse the first three rounds of data collected in each country, and two policy papers which consider child-level evidence of the impact of poverty and inequalities on children. We draw on the analysis from these reports, and elsewhere, to consider general patterns and trends observed in consumption growth, wealth and indicators of within-country inequality.
The analysis here demonstrates rapid change. At a national level Young Lives countries have experienced significant economic growth and, although it is clear that much ongoing vulnerability occurs, the proportion of populations living in absolute poverty has fallen. Inequality patterns differ between the countries, with Peru showing higher income inequality but with some reductions after 2000. India and Vietnam both saw inequality increase between 1990 and 2008. Only in Ethiopia did inequality appear to fall over this long period; even so, there are considerable concerns over urban inequality (see Woldehanna et al, 2011).
Consumption increases are often highest for those groups who were least poor in 2006, demonstrating growing gaps. Within this broad pattern of GDP increase, therefore, there is a question over the quality of growth and the extent to which increased GDP improves human development – in this case, specifically child well-being. Understanding issues of how economic change affects well-being requires a focus on both absolute consumption level and inequalities between groups or areas. In many countries poverty – in this case inferring basic living standards available to households – is the overwhelming consideration. If children lack the material resources to allow them to survive, this then necessarily must be the key policy focus. It is tempting, therefore, for policy in lower-income countries to focus on fast GDP growth and leave considerations of inequalities to richer countries, or to a later stage of economic development. Here, however, we argue that poverty and inequality are not either/or concerns – both are important in understanding how social forces shape children’s development (see also Pells 2011a, which examines how poverty and inequalities are affecting Young Lives children). The evidence presented suggests that, despite fast national economic change, the measured improvements for children have been slower and, despite typically rising consumption and wealth levels, gaps have often increased. This is a policy concern, given that larger gaps between groups are likely to make it harder to increase overall well-being.