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What Inequality Means for Children: Evidence from Young Lives

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This paper draws together research from across the Young Lives longitudinal study of child poverty to answer questions about how inequality shapes children’s development. Overall, it finds clear evidence that children from the poorest households are most vulnerable and quickly fall behind their peers, in terms of equality of opportunity as well as outcomes. It argues that since inequalities are multidimensional, so too must be the response: equitable growth policies, education and health services, underpinned by effective social protection, all have a role to play.

The Young Lives study is tracking two cohorts of 12,000 children growing-up in Ethiopia, the state of Andhra Pradesh (AP) India, Peru and Vietnam.Tracking children over 15 years enables analysis of how gender-based differences evolve over the life-course, highlighting trigger points that shape different opportunities for girls and boys. Key findings are that:

  • Inequalities in children’s development originate in multiple disadvantages, with compounding effects on children’s long-term outcomes

  • Inequalities undermine the development of human potential: children from disadvantaged families quickly fall behind

  • In Young Lives countries, gender differences become more significant as children get older, but boys are not always advantaged

  • Early malnutrition has serious, long-term consequences, but there is also evidence that some children may recover

  • Inequalities open up during middle and later childhood as well as during early childhood

  • Children’s subjective well-being is both a major indicator of inequality and also a channel for the transmission of poverty

  • Education is regarded by adults and children as transformative, but doesn’t always compensate for background disadvantage and may reinforce differences

  • Social protection programmes can reduce disadvantage, but impacts are often complex. Some impacts may be unintended and may not always benefit children.

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