New data available for Young Lives: an International Study of Childhood Poverty

Article dated: 1 August 2018

Round 5 of the Young Lives study is now available. This study, core-funded by UK aid from the Department for International Development, is an innovative long-term project that has investigated the changing nature of childhood poverty in four developing countries – Ethiopia, India (in the states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana), Peru and Vietnam – since 2002.

The project seeks to inform the development of future policy and to target child welfare interventions more effectively, through an improved understanding of the causes and consequences of childhood poverty and an examination of how policies affect children's well-being.

This longitudinal study enables long-term comparisons by tracking the lives of 12,000 children over a 15-year period, surveyed once every three to four years:

  • Round 1 (2002) surveyed two groups of children in each country, aged 1 and 5
  • Round 2 (2006) returned to the same children who were then aged 5 and 12
  • Round 3 (2009) surveyed the same children again at 8 and 15
  • Round 4 (2013) surveyed these children when aged 12 and 19
  • Round 5 (2016) surveyed them again at 15 and 22

As a result, the younger children are being tracked from infancy to their mid-teens and the older children through into adulthood, when some will become parents themselves.

These data have proved extremely popular, with over 7750 downloads since 2006 by users spanning six continents. Professor Jere Behrman, University of Pennsylvania highlighted the importance of this longitudinal study which enables long-term comparisons:

‘The Young Lives data, with rich comparable longitudinal information across four developing countries on individual children, their families and the communities in which they live, is unique… The many strengths of the Young Lives data include a prospective design with longitudinal follow ups, extensive multi-dimensional data, rich community information that permit investigating causal relations, low attrition rates and the use of common instruments and research methods in Asia, Africa and Latin America.’

The Young Lives team highlighted the following key findings:

  • Aspirations for the future are high, with children and their families investing in school, often from a young age. Among the Older Cohort 12 year olds, between 75% (Ethiopia) and 92% (Peru) of children, aspired to undertake vocational training or to attend university (according to 2006 data).
  • The Young Lives children faced a high rate of stunting in infancy, affecting 41% of Young Lives infants in Ethiopia and 30% in India (according to 2001 data).
  • Over time there have been reductions in the rate of stunting, with the pattern varying across countries:
    • Progress in Peru is particularly impressive with child stunting (measured at 12 years) falling from 42% of the Older Cohort, to 21% of the Younger Cohort (this compares 2006 data with data from 2013).
    • Huge inter-generational changes. In Peru, when comparing the Older Cohort at age 22 with their parents, on average, the proportion of individuals that completed school has more than doubled (from 39% to 86%). The proportion enrolled in higher education has quadrupled (from 11% to 46%). Meanwhile, the 22-year-old Older Cohort young women were found to be five centimetres taller than their mothers. (2016 data).
  • Cross-country evidence of physical recovery. Some children who were recorded as stunted in early life, were not recorded as stunted later (they have physically recovered). Between 30-47% of children who were stunted at age 5, had recovered by age 8.
  • School enrolment is high or increasing. With regards to policy effects, an example from India is the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory to Education Act 2009 (which outlined the entitlement of children aged 6-14 to free and compulsory education) that resulted in extending the Younger Cohort's period of school enrolment. Overall, enrolment at 15 years rose between the cohorts by 13 percentage points from 78% to 91%, and for girls, by 16 percentage points, from 73% to 89%. (this compares 2009 and 2016 data).

For related findings and to data visualisations, visit