The Young Lives study (YL) is a unique international longitudinal, two-cohort study, the process initiated in 2001 to understand the dynamics of child poverty and its impacts on children’s lives, opportunities, and future prospects through quantitative surveys, qualitative research, and policy engagement. The first round of filed survey started in 2002, and it follows the lives of 12,000 children in Ethiopia, India, Peru, and Vietnam through regular rounds of surveys in two cohorts seven years apart. The YL study was commissioned by DFID (the UK Department for International Development) to understand the drivers and impacts of child poverty in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) and to generate evidence to design better programs and policies. There was colossal optimism at the turn of the century about the Millennium Declaration and the international community committed to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), many of which related to children and childhood – ending poverty, expanding enrolment in primary education, improving access to clean water, and reducing child mortality. In this context, the YL project was initiated in the backdrop of MDGs by 2015 and how the children are growing up in four different countries, which are culturally different and have different political governance. With the world rapidly changing since 2000 and adopting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015, the study’s findings are more important than ever. The study’s research provides valuable insights into understanding children’s development in various poverty contexts and is useful for the proposed data revolution and achieving the SDGs.
The YL research is multidisciplinary, combining expertise from fields such as economics, sociology, and psychology, and involves a range of methods, including household surveys, in-depth interviews, qualitative surveys,and child-focused research. The YL Project’s approach is unique in that it follows the same children over time, allowing researchers to track changes in their lives as they grow up. This longitudinal approach is particularly important when studying children growing up in poverty, as it allows researchers to understand better how poverty affects their development over time. By collecting data on a range of topics, including health, education, social protection, labour markets, and gender relations, the study can identify patterns and trends in child poverty and inform policy interventions that can help address the challenges that children face. The focus of the survey on a diverse group of children from different socio-economic and cultural backgrounds, combined with its mixed-methods approach, allows for a comprehensive understanding of child poverty. The Young Lives Project’s approach is unique in that it follows the same children over time, wherever they are, allowing researchers to track changes in their lives as they grow up.
One of the strengths of the Young Lives study is its focus on policy engagement, working with policymakers at local, national, and international levels to ensure that the research findings are relevant and can inform policy decisions. The study also collaborates with civil society organizations to raise awareness of child poverty and advocate for policies that improve children’s lives. Since it is a two-cohort study with a gap of seven years between cohorts, it has the advantage of highlighting the existing policies and their impact on children and refining the policies. The research conducted by the YL Project has emphasized the necessity of policies and programs that target the fundamental causes of poverty. These policies should enhance access to healthcare, clean water, and sanitation and align with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These initiatives must prioritize addressing the root causes of poverty to achieve sustainable and long-lasting improvements in the living conditions of disadvantaged communities.
In addition to its research findings, the YL Project has also contributed to capacity building in its operating countries. The project has trained local researchers and provided them with the skills and expertise to conduct high-quality research. This has helped build research capacity in developing countries and led to the development of a network of researchers working to improve the lives of children in their communities. The project has also had an impact on policy and practice. Its research findings have been used to inform policy decisions at the national and international levels and have been cited in a number of reports and publications. For example, the project’s research on early childhood development was cited in the UNICEF State of the World’s Children report and has influenced policy decisions in a number of countries. The YL Project’s research has also been used to inform the work of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and other development partners. Its findings have been used to design and implement programs to improve children’s lives in developing countries, such as programs to improve access to education and healthcare.
The sampling method used in the YL study was carefully designed to ensure that the sample size was enough for robust statistical analysis while also being systematic, clearly defined, and justified. This approach has influenced the nature of the study, which is focused on providing an in-depth analysis of the relationships between different pieces of information rather than serving as a tool to collect national statistical results. The sampling method employed was intended to capture the diversity of children’s experiences across different socio-economic and cultural backgrounds; by taking a systematic and rigorous approach to sample, the Young Lives study has been able to generate rich, detailed data that provide valuable insights into child poverty and its impacts on children’s lives. The causes and consequences of childhood poverty required a sample that included a significant proportion of poor children and other children for comparison.
The Young Lives study conducted in India selected a sample consisting of two cohorts of children: a Younger Cohort of 2,000 children aged between 6 and 18 months (called 1 year old) and an Older Cohort of 1,000 children aged between 7.5 and 8.5 years (called 8-year-old). The Study selected seven sentinel sites from the states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. These sites were chosen to represent these two states’ diverse socioeconomic and geographic conditions. In Andhra Pradesh, the selected districts were West Godavari, Srikakulam, Kadapa, and Anantapuram, and in Telangana, Karimnagar, Mahbubnagar, and Hyderabad. The sample was distributed across 20 sentinel sites (mandals) in 100 villages in the undivided state of Andhra Pradesh, administratively divided into 23 districts and 1,125 mandals at that time.
The study selected one poor and one non-poor district from each of the three distinct agro-climatic regions: Coastal Andhra, Rayalaseema, and Telangana. However, more weightage is given to poor districts in each region. The districts were classified as poor and non-poor based on their relative level of development, which was determined by a basket of indicators related to economic, human, and infrastructure development. A total of three poor districts and three non-poor districts were selected. The Hyderabad district, the state capital of the then united Andhra Pradesh, was purposively selected because of its muti-lingual and cultural difference. Thus, all seven districts were selected. Next, the study selected sentinel sites (mandals) in each of the selected districts. The 19 mandals were distributed across the rural areas of the selected districts. One rural mandal with a predominant Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe (SC/ST) population was selected. The ranking methodology for mandals was similar to that used for districts, although some indicators were different due to the lack of Mandal-level data. Finally, the study selected villages where the sample units, i.e., children, would be located. Location-based census codes ensured the villageswere spread uniformly across the Mandal. Four villages were selected in each Mandal to ensure that the population of one-year-old children was sufficient.
In some cases, one or two additional villages had been selected as the required number of children was not found in the sample villages selected initially. In urban areas, municipal wards were taken as communities, and sample wards were identified using similar principles. In Hyderabad city, three slums were selected for the survey, taking care to select slums in different parts of the city and different religious compositions. The names of the sample units, i.e., mandals, villages, and selected children, were not made public to maintainthe anonymity of the individuals and follow the research protocols.
The data collection includes information on the children’s health, nutrition, education, cognitive and socio-emotional development, and household and community characteristics. Data were collected from the selected sentinel sites using various methods, including household surveys, school surveys, and cognitive tests, to study the impact of different factors on child development and well-being. The choice of sentinel sites allowed researchers to capture a range of experiences and outcomes for children in India and draw comparisons across different population subgroups. Additionally, cohort-sequential analysis allows for the examination of the effects of events or policy changes that have impacted one cohort but not the other and can be seen in Figure 1
Note: letters in red colours indicates the ongoing 7thround
Young Lives India Sample distribution by location, and gender during the first round of survey in 2002
Note: R=Rural, U=Urban, Male=Male, F=Female and T=Total
Young Lives and their Objectives
Round One (2002): This round of data collection establishes the baseline characteristics of the cohorts of children and their families. It provides comprehensive information on the socioeconomic status, health, education, and other key indicators. This information is crucial for understanding the study’s starting point and tracking changes over time. It also helps researchers to identify the key factors that affect child development and well-being in the early years.
Round Two (2006): The second round of data collection allows for tracking changes that have occurred over a three-year period. This round is important because it helps researchers to identify early patterns of change and to understand the factors that may be driving these changes. It also provides valuable insights into how policies and programs affect children’s lives and well-being.
Round Three (2009): The third round of data collection is important because it provides information on the longer-term effects of policies and programs on the development and well-being of children. By tracking changes over a longer period, researchers are able to identify the cumulative impact of different policies and programs over time. This round also provides insights into the ways in which children’s lives and well-being are affected by changing economic and social conditions.
Round Four (2013): The fourth round of data collection is important because it provides information on the transition from adolescence to adulthood. Moreover, age-specific questions have been added and enable us to check the changes that have happened over a span of seven years. It allows for an assessment of the longer-term outcomes of policies and programs on young people’s education, health, and well-being as they transition into adulthood. This round also provides valuable insights into the ways in which different factors, such as gender and ethnicity, affect the outcomes of young people.
Round Five (2016): In the fifth round, the children were approximately 15 years old (Younger Cohort) and 22 years old (Older Cohort). In addition to collecting data on children’s education, livelihood, and asset framework, the fifth round focused on economic changes, shocks, important public programs, mobility, employment, feelings, and attitudes. This data collection aimed to provide a comprehensive understanding of economic dynamics and the impact of various factors on the participants’ lives.
Young Lives has conducted five rounds of survey data and four rounds of nested qualitative case studies, resulting in a valuable longitudinal dataset.
Phone Survey During Covid-19
Young Lives has conducted five in-person surveys in the past, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, had to adopt a revised approach for the shortenedsixth round in 2020. A shortened version of the Round 6 questionnaire, including questions related to the impact of COVID-19, has been adopted in 5 phone calls during 2020-2021.This approach ensured the health and safety of respondents and staff while also providing important data on the COVID-19 crisis. Young Lives recognized that their preparedness for Round 6 allowed them to inform policymakers in a timely manner.
Round 7 (2023): The Round 7 fieldwork is scheduled to commence on August 1st, 2023, and continue until January 2024. The tracking survey was completed in November-December 2022, and the training of trainers (ToT) was conducted in May 2023. In addition to gathering information on health, social relationships, economic circumstances, and overall well-being, the current survey will have a more focused approach, delving into topics such as willingness to pay, executive functions, social risk and time preferences, mental health, ACASI (Audio Computer-Assisted Self-Interviewing), computer and internet use, cortisol levels, and anthropometrics. This survey aims to explore these areas in detail to enhance our understanding.
Minimization of Attrition
Attrition is a common challenge in longitudinal studies. To address this issue, the Young Lives India study employs several strategies to minimize attrition and corroborate the representativeness of the sample design intact. One of the strategies used by the study is to conduct tracking surveys between main surveys and update the contact list of respondents and their blood relatives. The team offers reciprocity for the time they spent on the survey and continues using the same field supervisor team.This helped in getting acquainted with the respondents. Sharing childhood photos of the respondents and presenting the results at the village, Mandal, and district levels instills confidence in the work that YL is doing. The study team also incentivizes participants with small gifts as a token of appreciation for their participation. A consultation guide has been provided on important issues such as education, mental health, women, and child-related issue. Face-to-face interviews have been more effective in updating the contact list of the participants. However, during the pandemic, phone surveys have been conducted. This approach helps to accommodate the changing circumstances of participants, such as migration, marriages, and changes in employment, which can affect their availability for in-person interviews, ultimately leading to the minimization of attrition.
Attrition between Round 1 to Phone call 5
Round 1 (2002)
Interviewed in Phone call 5
Attrition % from Round 1 toPhone call 5