Young Lives responses to COVID-19

Diego Sanchez-Ancochea,

The devastating pandemic that engulfs us has forced us all to adapt our research and policy priorities, and find new ways to address today´s challenges. Our Young Lives team has proactively responded to the many challenges caused by the COVID-19 shock. We have ambitious and exciting adaptions to our research programme for 2020.  By revising plans for our longitudinal study, we will be able to give rapid headline outcomes on the impact of COVID-19 on young people in our study countries to inform global and national policy responses, and provide longer term analysis on their transitions to adulthood.  But our recent work by no means finishes there. Here the main highlights of what the team is working on. 

YOUNG LIVES AT WORK – Round 6 of the household survey.

Our global team of Young Lives staff around the world have worked incredibly hard over recent months to prepare a sixth quantitative survey round, with new funding for the UK’s Department of International Development (DFID), to deliver our new programme  ‘Young Lives at Work’. However, the pandemic led to an urgent rethink as the team faced substantial challenges to deliver this plan and equally were determined to use the study’s unique position to directly impact further research and policy responses to COVID-19. 

The pandemic reached our four study countries comparatively later than in China and Europe, and like everywhere around the world the full consequences are as yet unknown.  Yet, governments have taken swift action; India, Peru and Vietnam have implemented complete lockdowns of their whole populations, which have hit their countries’ large informal sectors particularly hard. In Ethiopia, the government declared a State of Emergency on 8th April, closing all schools and banning public gatherings.

As the crisis unfolded, and the immediate need to protect the field teams and research participants became paramount, the Young Lives at Work team, led by Deputy Director Marta Favara, proposed postponing the in-person Round 6 survey for a whole calendar year until 2021 and developed a highly ambitious new proposal to conduct an innovative phone survey over the next few months to provide rapid new research and insights into COVID-19 impacts.  We are delighted that DFID has just given the go ahead for this work and grateful for their continuing support and flexibility of funding. 

Our new approach reflects the urgent need to capture the impact of this unprecedented social and economic crisis on people’s lives to generate new information to both share with other researchers and inform national and international policymaking to help minimize the negative short and long-term consequences of this profound shock.  Young Lives’ Country Directors Alula Pankhurst (Ethiopia), Renu Singh (India), Santiago Cueto (Peru) and Nguyen Thang (Vietnam) are leading this work at national level and will continue to engage with leading national policy makers and practitioners to ensure our research informs on specific policy responses and knowledge gaps. 

The Young LIves at Work team adjusting to new ways of working since COVID-19 

Introducing ‘Listening to Young Lives -  The COVID-19 Phone Survey 2020

The ‘COVID-19 Phone Survey will enable Young Lives to inform policy makers on the short-term effects of the pandemic in the first instance.  It consists of an adapted version of the Round 6 survey, with additional questions to directly assess the impact of COVID-19.  Beginning in June, it will comprise of three phone calls with each of our Young Lives respondents, across both our younger and older cohorts, and in all four study countries (reaching an estimated total of around 11,000 young people), and will illuminate urgent questions and challenges, including:

  1. How many people have been affected directly or indirectly by COVID-19 within our Young Lives sample?
  2. What behavior changes have occurred since the crisis began? How have they affected wellbeing? This includes the effectiveness of lockdowns and restrictions on movement and positive health responses. 
  3. What are the short-term effects of the crisis on the lives of young people, including their health, employment and earnings, time use and care responsibilities?
  4. To what extent has the pandemic had a differential effect by gender, economic sector, area of residence, and income levels, possibly exacerbating existing inequalities?
  5. What strategies and policies implemented have a positive impact in mitigating the immediate impact of the pandemic or promoting positive behaviors?

Investigating the medium-term and long-term effects of the crisis

Through the phone survey and data collected subsequently in our Round 6 survey now planned  in 2021, we will be able to analyse both the short and medium-term implications of the crisis on, for example, labour market dynamics, education choices and aspirations, fertility, mental health and wellbeing and exposure to violence.  The longitudinal nature of the survey and four country structure of the study means we will be able to conduct further unique analysis:

  • With the information we have on the life trajectories of two cohorts (and their families), who will be aged 19 and 25 at the time of this survey, we will be able to compare pre-and post COVID-19 outcomes for each cohort.
  • We can make an inter-cohort comparison, between the outcomes of 19 year olds from the Older Cohort in 2013 and the outcomes of the Younger Cohort in 2020. This means we can also control for the trajectories that each cohort was on before the crisis hit (between age 8, 12, 15, and 19). This inter-cohort analysis will provide an important identification strategy to distinguish further whether the changes in outcomes observed are due to life-trajectories or are the true effect of the pandemic. 
  • The four countries structure can inform us about the differential impact of COVID-19 across countries contexts to investigate the effectiveness of various government responses, and provide rapid insights for ongoing and future policy interventions. 

With Round 7 data collection planned for 2023/4, this later survey will allow us to examine the longer-term effects of the pandemic on the lives of those who were at the beginning of their working life when the crisis hit. As of now, the future is highly uncertain, but there will almost certainly be differential effects on young people depending on their situation at the time of the crisis. 


An integral part of the Young Lives project has always been our qualitative longitudinal work conducted with a smaller group of the main cohort in each country. This work, led by Gina Crivello, in collaboration with the Young Lives country teams, generates first-person narrative accounts with young people about their lived experiences of poverty at different ages and phases of their lives. The team are currently researching the way gender and poverty interact in transitions to adulthood, and influence diverging trajectories through education, work and first-time marriage. Although these qualitative data were collected between 2007 and 2019, prior to COVID-19, we have been able to refocus some of our analysis on related current concerns for youth in low – and middle – income countries, such as: experiences of shocks; economic precarity and informal labour; access to sexual and reproductive health and rights; and explaining vulnerability and ‘resilience’ among marginalized youth.

In a blog, published on 15th May, Gina Crivello considers the impact of COVID19 on young people and families in LMICs, who are setting the foundations of their adult lives, and sets out priorities to assist them both during and after the pandemic. 

We are currently fundraising for a new wave of the qualitative fieldwork in 2021, and corresponding research that will elevate youth voices on COVID-19 to consider both the implications of the immediate shock and the longer-term consequences for young people’s transitions into adulthood. 


With 91 percent of the world's learners currently out of school as a consequence of the COVID 19 pandemic, we have decided to adapt our education and gender research (funded by The Echidna Giving Foundation)  Our redesigned research will be based on interviews with school leaders from those schools that participated in the Young Lives school surveys in 2017 across India and Ethiopia. The research will focus on teaching and learning priorities and strategies used during and after school closures and the extent to which they are equally accessible and meaningful for all children. To maximise efficiency and effectiveness we have also agreed to collaborate with other key researchers conducting school leader surveys in other school sub-sectors in Young Lives countries and beyond and we will work together to analyse and disseminate findings through this set of different but connected studies.

Our existing research on school effectiveness and education has significant added value for our understanding of the potential implications of the lockdown on inequality and on learning outcomes. In a blog published on 2nd April, Lydia Marshall and Rhiannon Moore expanded on this issue and considered the effect of unequal access to technologies on teaching and learning. They highlighted that ‘as well as causing further challenges for schools and teachers to address when they are finally able to reopen, this disparity could affect the learning and life chances of many already disadvantaged young people'.  Their argument echoes some of the findings from one of our technical notes co-written by Santiago Cueto two years ago, which highlighted the strong relationship between socio-economic status and access to digital technologies in the four countries of the study. 

Rachel Outhred,  YL senior education researcher, has also co-authored a series of 3 blogs, with Alina Lipcan from the Education Outcomes Fund, which explore the innovative use of education technology (EdTech) to support education delivery during the COVID-19 crisis. 


In months ahead, the team will continue to gather and disseminate vital research evidence in response to the COVID-19 crisis alongside global academic and development communities. Young Lives’ longitudinal approach provides a unique long-term perspective to development problems,  enabling critical connections to be made between early experiences and later outcomes.  By placing the longer-term arc of people’s lives at the center of our thinking, Young Lives is uniquely positioned to provide rapid information on the short term impacts and measured analysis on the longer term outcomes of this current crisis.

Diego Sanchez-Ancochea is the Interim Director of Young Lives