REPORT: How inequalities develop through childhood

[16 February 2015] - This paper contributes longitudinal research evidence on the impact of structural inequalities on children’s development within households and communities, the ways access to health, education and other key services may reduce or amplify inequalities, and the ways that children’s developmental trajectories diverge from early in life through to early adulthood.  

Our starting point is a series of key questions about how inequalities develop through the life-course:

  1. What are the main features of children’s physical, cognitive, psychosocial developmental trajectories, and how do these domains interact in shaping children’s ooutcomes and well-being?
  2. What are the most significant factors that shape these trajectories? By extension, what might support better child development, promote resilience or help children who have fallen behind?
  3. What role does the timing of events, influences and institutions play in shaping children’s outcomes?


A few initial examples highlight the ways Young Lives is contributing evidence on developing inequalities:

  • By the age of 8, almost all Young Lives children in Ethiopia from the poorest third of households had some level of difficulty in reading in their mother tongue (94%), compared with just under half of those children from the least poor third of households (45%).
  • By the age of 12, the stunting rate of the poorest third of children in the Peru sample was four times greater than the stunting rate of the least poor children (37% compared with 9%).
  • By the age of 15, the school enrolment rate of the least poor third of Young Lives children in Vietnam was 40% higher than that of the poorest third of children (89% compared with 62%).
  • By the age of 19, young women in the rural sample in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana were more than twice as likely to have had a child than young women in the urban sample (24% compared with 11%).


These examples draw attention to emerging differences between groups of children related to their ethnicity, poverty, gender, living conditions, schooling and other circumstances. Importantly, they also draw attention to overall levels of development that are lower than expected norms for whole populations. Research typically identifies differences at specific age points, notably via cross-sectional designs. The advantage of a longitudinal study is in revealing a complex, dynamic, multi-dimensional story spanning the life-course. Life-course perspectives contribute to understanding more about the history and timing of influences on children’s experiences, opportunities and outcomes, including which events and interventions have the greatest impact on children’s development and well-being, all of which is relevant to designing policies and planning interventions. 

The presents findings in three areas which are core to Young Lives research:

  • Tracing children’s developmental trajectories, examining physical, cognitive and psychosocial development, as well as the links between these domains.
  • Examining the changing household contexts in which children are growing up which shapes and filters children’s developmental trajectories.
  • Tracing how children transition through school and their engagement with wider social processes as they move through later childhood.
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