Sofya Krutikova and Paul Glewwe highlight the unique features of the Young Lives study datasets, commenting on a series of articles published in a special edition of the Economic Development and Cultural Change journal. These articles all use and showcase the Young Lives data as a powerful tool for advancing the state of knowledge on child poverty in developing countries.
A combination of specific features makes the Young Lives data uniquely suitable for studying a wide range of questions linked to understanding the development of children living in the developing world and for filling knowledge gaps. These features include:
1) Cross-national samples covering a diverse range of low- and middle-income country environments that collect comparable data, to the extent possible, including comparable measures of children’s human capital.
2) Large samples that represent the geographic, socioeconomic, and cultural diversity of each country.
3) Following children from a very young age through crucial developmental stages including early childhood, adolescence, and (for the older cohort) early adulthood—with extensive tracking effort and low attrition rates.
4) Collecting rich data on both the environment in which the children are growing up and measures of their human capital across a wide range of domains; measures capturing the environment include extensive parent, household, school, and community characteristics (such as maternal psychosocial well-being and detailed household consumption expenditure data), while human capital measures include direct assessments of different domains of health as well as cognitive and noncognitive skills.
The articles included in this special edition are:
Jere R. Behrman et al. contribute evidence on the intergenerational transmission of poverty. More specifically, they apply a combined estimation-simulation approach to the Young Lives data from all four countries to explore the impacts of changes in parental schooling and per capita consumption on the distribution of human capital for the children’s generation. Their analysis takes advantage of several valuable features of the Young Lives data, including comparability of data across multiple countries, availability of reliable measures of children’s human capital, and detailed data on households’ consumption expenditures. They find that despite the widespread perception that improving conditions of currently poor parents may reduce the probability of their children living in poverty through enhancing their human capital, results across the four Young Lives countries suggest instead that improving the schooling and per capita consumption of currently poor, less educated parents is unlikely to have large impacts on reducing poverty and inequality in the next generation. Note that this was previously published as a Young Lives working paper, available here.
Aparajita Dasgupta examines the effectiveness of a specific intervention, the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS), in ameliorating adverse effects of poverty on children in early childhood. She finds that while the NREGS does not reverse past reductions in child health, it does serve as a buffer to the impact of recent droughts on children’s health outcomes. Her analysis also takes advantage of several features of the Young Lives data, in particular the geographically dispersed sample, which generates a large amount of variation in exposure to the shocks that she examines, and the availability of measures of child human capital at several different points in time. Dasgupta finds substantial heterogeneity in the effects of the NREGS; in particular its impacts are largest for households that are most vulnerable to climatic instability. Note that this was previously published as a Young Lives working paper, available here.
Yuvraj Pathak and Karen Macours turn their attention to knowledge gaps with respect to the dynamics of child development, focusing on critical periods for intervention. They examine the long-run impact of women’s representation in elected bodies on children’s learning and nutritional outcomes and compare impacts on children exposed in utero and very early in life with those on children exposed after age 5. Multiple rounds of data with repeated measures of child human capital allow them to demonstrate both short- and long-term effects of the reservation (of women’s positions on elected bodies) on different domains of human capital of the same children. The identifying assumption hinges on random allocation of some communities to the reservation in 1995 and some in 2001. This identification strategy is made possible by the geographic dispersion of the Young Lives India sample across 20 sentinel sites and over 80 communities. Pathak and Macours’s results show striking variation in impacts of this policy by age of exposure: children who were exposed to the reservation in utero have significantly better outcomes on test scores by age 8 than those who were exposed after age 5. Note that this was previously published as a Young Lives working paper, available here.
Paul Glewwe, Sofya Krutikova, and Caine Rolleston examine the role of schools in explaining gaps in student learning between advantaged and disadvantaged children, where advantage and disadvantage are defined in terms of household wealth, maternal education, cognitive skills at age 5, nutritional status, gender, and ethnic minority status. They focus on two Young Lives countries, Peru and Vietnam, and find that schools in Vietnam do not exacerbate gaps in child learning but that schools in Peru appear to increase gaps when disadvantage is defined in terms of ethnic group and cognitive skills at age 5. The particular features of the Young Lives study used in this article include data on the schools attended, well-designed assessments of students’ skills, and multiple rounds of data. Note that this was previously published as a Young Lives working paper, available here.
Citation Sofya Krutikova and Paul Glewwe, "Introduction to Symposium on Using the Young Lives Data to Study Child Poverty in Developing Countries," Economic Development and Cultural Change 65, no. 4 (July 2017): 653-656. https://doi.org/10.1086/692352