Listening to Young Lives at Work Covid-19 Phone Survey: First Call shows widening inequality

With the virtual fieldwork just completed on our second Covid-19 phone survey, we reflect on seven key findings from the first call that point to widening inequality. 

Young Lives at Work adapted to the coronavirus situation, to implement a Covid-19 phone survey about the pandemic's short and medium term impacts. You can read more about Young Lives' response to the pandemic here and here. In June, we wrote about the design of the first call and what we were hoping to find out.  After virtual training in four countries, seven weeks of on-line fieldwork, almost 40,000 phone calls, data cleaning, coding, merging and preliminary analysis, the headline reports of our first Covid-19 Phone survey were released in August and the data are available here.   In this blog we share our approach to the first call and key findings. 

We interviewed a total of 9,541 individuals in the Older and Younger Cohorts, reaching almost 91% of those who we were aiming to reach (attrition report here).  We discovered seven common findings, as well as key differences between the four countries, Ethiopia, India, Peru and Vietnam (below). The crisis is impacting the poorest most severely and widening inequalities, with poorer people less able to protect themselves, get information, work from home or stay in education.

Seven Findings from the Young Lives at Work Covid-19 Phone Survey


1. Poverty and a lack of information has impacted people’s ability to take precautionary measures against Covid-19 infection, especially in Ethiopia

2. The economic effects of lockdown policies have been more significant than the health impacts to date - although many households in Peru and India are likely to have been exposed to Covid-19.

3. Across all countries, except Vietnam, many young people are going hungry. Although government support is well targeted, it is not sufficient in Peru and Ethiopia.

4. Remote working has been the exception, not the rule. Job losses or suspension without pay are widespread, even in Vietnam, the least affected country.

5.Education of 19-year-olds, in all countries, has been severely disrupted while access to online learning has been highly unequa

6.Caring responsibilities increased for 25-year-olds with the burden still tending to fall on young women most of all.

7.  Levels of anxiety about the current situation are high, especially in India​

Poverty and a lack of information impact people’s ability to take precautionary measures against Covid-19 infection

According to the WHO, the most common symptoms associated with COVID-19 are a dry cough, fever and tiredness. Public information in each country has emphasized a list of symptoms which overlap with this but there are some differences (e.g. in Peru difficulty breathing is highlighted on the official government website). Most respondents were able to identify at least two of the symptoms, and those with internet access were most likely to be informed. 

We asked respondents about the five behaviours which are widely recommended as a means of preventing infection: social distancing, washing hands more frequently, avoiding handshakes or physical greetings, avoiding groups and wearing protective gear when outside. Only slightly more than half (56%) of the Ethiopia sample adhered to all five, rising to 69% in Vietnam, 72% in India and 84% in Peru. Those with internet access or residing in urban areas showed a higher degree of compliance with these measures, and overall, females tended to comply more than males. In Peru, social distancing is the behavior with the least adherence, especially among vulnerable households.

We also assessed the resources available in households to comply with the World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations on self-isolation, through an adapted version of the Home Environment for Protection Index (HEP) developed by Brown et al., 2020. The HEP measures the ability to receive reliable information on virus protection and the presence of available space and facilities suitable for implementing social distancing within the household.  

Young Lives Households: Home Environment for Protection


Information/ communication device

2 or less people per room

Household toilet

Household piped water

HEP score all indices

























Notes: Proportion of households. Adapted from Brown et al, 2020. Detail on the Young Lives HEP index can be found here.

Peru and Vietnam have relatively high averages for the protective index, but in Ethiopia, under a third have access to a piped water source, and the number of people sharing a room also makes it difficult to implement self-isolation when someone is believed to be infected with Covid-19. We find that young people who are the most vulnerable, are living in households with lower protection. Households in the higher HEP group (who are wealthier, on average) are also more likely to follow all behaviours, relative to those in the lower HEP group. 

A cause for concern is the number of those employing ineffective (though benign) preventative measures. A large number reported eating garlic or ginger to protect themselves against the virus, as well as drinking lemon, or adding hot pepper to food to prevent infection.

So far, the health impact of the crisis has been higher in Peru and India than in Ethiopia and Vietnam. In both Peru and India, approximately 6% believed someone in their household had been infected. In contrast, this figure was fewer than 1% in Ethiopia, and almost zero in Vietnam. Whilst our sample are not representative of the national populations, the rates do reflect the situation in each country. Of those who were believed to be infected in Peru and India, only around one-in-three were tested for the virus in both countries.

Many young people are going hungry in all countries except Vietnam: although government support is well targeted it is not sufficient in Peru and Ethiopia. 

The crisis has impacted food security in Vietnam notably less than in the other countries. One in six Young Lives households in Peru, India and Ethiopia reported running out of food at some point since the beginning of the crisis. This percentage was even larger among households that faced food shortages (food insecurity) in our last visit in 2016 (about twice as high in India). In Vietnam, the overall proportion was much lower, at 4%.

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Source: Young Lives COVID-19 phone survey. We defined food insecure households as those reporting “sometimes do not eat enough” or “frequently do not eat enough” and food secure households those reporting “eating enough but not always what they would like” or “eat enough of what we want”.

Government assistance has reached our respondents to very different degrees. About 92% of the households in India received at least one form of support from the government during the lockdown, although in many cases the support consists of a small basket of food or face masks.  This compares to around half of those in Peru, falling to just6% in Ethiopia. In all countries it was relatively well targeted, reaching proportionately more of those households that reported food insecurity in a previous visit. However, in Peru the proportion of the most vulnerable households that received a direct cash transfer was far from universal. This could signal either a targeting problem, a delay in payments, or both. Moreover, the size of the transfer appears insufficient (as its value corresponds to about 82% of a minimum wage per family for the entire period).  

Job losses or suspension without pay are widespread even in Vietnam, the least affected country, and remote working is the exception rather than the rule

Many of our 25-year-old respondents lost their jobs. This was particularly severe for respondents who had been informal workers with no written contract in our last visit. In Peru and India, 7 out of 10 respondents had reduced or lost their source of income due to lockdown, 6 in 10 in Vietnam, and 4 in 10 in Ethiopia.  A concentration of income losses among those in the informal sector is an indication of this group’s additional vulnerability to the economic consequences associated with the pandemic. However, it is important to state that everyone, even those who were formal workers prior to the crisis, was severely affected.

The proportion of those who lost income or employment was also relatively higher in urban areas compared to rural areas and a higher proportion of males experienced these losses in both locations. 

Remote working has been possible only for a lucky minority of 25-year-old workers living in urban areas. The highest proportion (28%) in India were able to work from home during the outbreak, falling to 20% in Vietnam, 18% in Ethiopia and 17% in Peru. The percentage is much higher within households who are better equipped for protective measures against Coronavirus (High-HEP). Presumably, this is due to the availability of better infrastructure (e.g. access to internet, computer ownership) and the nature of the work activities performed. 

Education of 19-year olds in all countries has been severely disrupted and access to online learning has been highly unequal

With schools and universities closed very early on in the outbreak in all countries, the interruption to education was striking. Inequalities in those whose studies were interrupted are clear both across countries, gender and wealth. Access to study from home was slightly higher for females than males in all countries, and wealth and parental education almost doubled the chances of being able to study at home. In Vietnam, the vast majority of our 19-year-old cohort (almost 90%) accessed remote learning, falling to 70% in Peru, and 38% in India. In contrast, only 28% in Ethiopia continued to learn remotely, this fall to 14% if their parents had no education. 

This echoes the findings of another Young Lives study that interviewed headteachers in Ethiopia and India, see here for more information

Caring responsibilities increased for 25-year olds and the burden still tends to fall on young women

Although slightly more 19 year-old women have been able to continue their studies online, wide disparities are clear when looking at caring. In all countries except Peru, more than double the number of young women, relative to young men, have had to take on extra caring responsibilities during the lockdown.  The disparity is particularly striking in India and Ethiopia.

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Source: Young Lives COVID-19 phone survey.

Levels of anxiety about the current situation are high, especially in India

How is all of this impacting on young people’s stress levels? We asked respondents whether the statement "I am nervous when I think about current circumstances" applies to them. We found that stress levels are worryingly high – in India more than 90% of all the young people indicated it applied or strongly applied to them. In Vietnam and Ethiopia 65% agreed with these statements. Peru had surprisingly the lowest anxiety levels, with just under 50% feeling nervous. In the second call we have asked more detailed questions about mental health based on validated scales.

What happens next? 

The data are available open access here.  Due to the nature of the confidentiality agreement that Young Lives has with the families, the datasets are anonymized, and information on geographical location is limited. 

The second call fieldwork has now been completed. We will release headline findings in November. This second phone call has gone into more depth about young people’s labour market experiences, to understanding the medium-term impacts of the pandemic on their work life, their home life and their education. More specifically, it contains information on the household socio-economic status, food security, labour, education, time use, health (including mental health) - the main themes of the YL survey that can be implemented over the phone.

This is a longer version of our blog first published in The Conversation in August, here.  Follow us on Twitter @yloxford for news on Young LIves at Work. 


Preliminary findings: First call Listening to Young Lives Work in Ethiopia phone survey

Submitted by alula on Wed, 08/12/2020 - 09:26

Since the first case of COVID-19 in Ethiopia was confirmed on the 13th of March 2020, the number of cases has increased steadily. Despite the fact that the government is taking proactive measures to reduce the negative consequence of COVID-19 the pandemic is causing multiple and varying impacts across society.

COVID-19 in Ethiopia: trends, measures and socio-economic impacts

Submitted by alula on Wed, 08/12/2020 - 08:32

COVID-19 has affected the whole world even if not equally.  Ethiopia is experiencing the negative impacts of COVID-19 but cases so far are much lower than had been projected. However the measures being taken to prevent COVID-19 have significantly impacted the economic and social life of people in Ethiopia.

Listening to Young Lives at Work in Ethiopia

Poverty and inequality
Poverty and shocks
Country report

This brief report provides a first look into the data collected during the first of three calls in Young Lives at Work's Phone Survey in Ethiopia and presents some of the key findings.x

It incudes a snapshot of the recent situation in the country.  The findings found that the majority of the respondents were aware of the symptoms of COVID-19, but compliance with all recommended behaviours for protection was low. Income and employment losses due to the virus outbreak were relatively higher among the informal sector, in urban areas and among males. Moreover, education was entirely interrupted during the virus response and few children continue to learn remotely.

The Young Lives phone survey investigates the short/medium-term impact of COVID-19 on the health, well-being, employment and education trajectories of young people in our study. The Young Lives participants have been tracked since 2001 and are now aged 19 (Younger Cohort, YC) and 25 (Older Cohort, OC).

The second call has been piloted and the fieldwork will take place between August-October 2020.

Additional statistics and summary tables from the first phone survey can be found here.



COVID in Ethiopia: from a slow start to serious socio-economic impacts

Young man wearing mask in front of COVID poster

By August 6th Ethiopia had recorded 20,900 cases and 365 deaths, with a recent upsurge since mid-July, particularly in the last fortnight. A fifth of the cases (20%) but more than a quarter of the deaths (28%) occurred in the past seven days, suggesting that mortality is increasing and the number of critical cases has risen to 1% of the active cases. Ethiopia ranks 68th worldwide  and 8th in Africa with South Africa in the lead followed by the two other countries with more than 100 million: Egypt and Nigeria, which have much lower numbers tested overall and per million inhabitants than Ethiopia.

What explains the slow spread and recent increase?

A combination of factors may explain the comparatively slow spread during the first four months since the first case on 13 March.  These include climate (high altitude, wide temperature fluctuations, strong ultraviolet light, warm weather), demography (youthful population), serendipitous timing (later introduction, prior to the rainy season conducive to flus, after the tourist and diaspora holiday season with less visitors due to insecurity), health-seeking behaviour (limited health facilities where the virus could spread faster), transport and communications (screening at airport, limited cross border train and road transport, borders closed from March 23), global learning and early reaction (the later onset provided a chance for the government and people to know more about the pandemic and react appropriately). There may also be medical reasons explaining low fatality and high asymptomatic cases (different virus strain, vaccines such as BCG, resistance due to COVID-like earlier flu strains, genetics and immune systems).  Finally, the relatively small numbers of cases and slow increase may be partly due to limited testing. The capacity for testing has increases significantly (from over 1000 by the end of April, to over 5000 by the end of May to over 8000 by the end of July) and the number of centres has increased to 50 with at least one in each region). However, modellings such as those by Imperial College London suggest that the numbers infected are likely be many times greater than those tested. Moreover, tests per million persons are still only just over 4,000.  

The initial wave was associated with travelers from abroad, including foreigners and diaspora Ethiopians, followed by returnee migrant workers, with large numbers deported from the Middle East, with over 22,500 returnees from April to end July. A second wave involved transmission across borders, even after these were closed. However, containment of infections from external sources and contact tracing soon became impossible with community transmission increasing (from 10% after one month, 16% after 2 months, 62% after 3 months; two-thirds by end of June).  The rainy season associated with flus, and the political unrest at the beginning of July, when crowds were not wearing masks, are probably important factors explaining the recent increase.

What have been the measures taken and their impacts?

The government response to the pandemic has been fairly rapid and proactive. Though the first case was only detected in mid-March by the end of the month public and religious meetings were banned, education institutions and borders were closed and all flights cancelled. National elections were postponed and a State of Emergency was declared on 8th of April. There have been vigorous media campaigns (messages before every phone call), and social distancing and hygiene preventative measures imposed on all public and private transport. The requirement to wear masks in public and hand washing on entering buildings may be contributing to reducing the pace of the spread. There have been a number of social protection measures at the national level, notably prohibiting laying off workers and increasing rent, adaptations of the productive safety nets, and regional measure relating to food security, utility waivers and social insurance/sick leave, though some measures are piecemeal and regions have taken different approaches.  The latest measures include a decision to test 200,000 people in a two week campaign. However, since testing focuses on risk places and categories, and is not based on random sampling the extent of the community transmission cannot be accurately assessed.  

How has COVID affected the country and social groups differentially?

The pandemic has had a crippling effect on the economy, and recent phone surveys by the International Food Policy Institute and the World Bank show that more than half of households report loss of income during this period. A UN report suggests a potential drop in exports by 25-30%, of remittances by 10-15%, and a loss of 10-15% of jobs potentially leading to 3-4 million unemployed. 

Gender effects. Most cases reported so far were men (61%). However, a number of gender effects have been suggested including loss of jobs for women in the hospitality and tourism industry, in the informal economy notably in petty trade with the closure of markets, and for categories where women predominate, notably health extension and flower farm workers, and migrants to industrial parks.  There have also been suggestions of increases in time taken by women and girls to collect water and in unpaid care work, and though the evidence base is still rather thin, risks of increasing FGM/C and early marriage compounded by school closures and reduced monitoring,  interruption of SRH services, and potentially gender based violence.

Age effects.  Over half the cases are among young people (56%<30; 43% in the twenties), and most deaths are among the elderly (74%>50; 43%>60). However, increasingly young people are bearing the brunt and the stress of the pandemic, which has also resulted in psychological distress, which is greater among young adults. Children and youth have been most affected by the closure of educational institutions, compounded by the interruption of vital school feeding programmes, leading to expectations that learning outcomes will decline and school drop out increase, especially among poor households;  vulnerable categories of children notably street children, migrants and displaced face further risks.

Urban/rural and regional effects.  More than three-quarters (77%) of positive cases were found in Addis Ababa, with none of the other regions having more than 5%. However, this may be largely a function of the testing, with almost three-quarters (73%) of tests carried out in the capital. There are also significant urban/rural and gender divides in knowledge about COVID related in part to mobile and digital connectivity.

Vulnerable categories. The pandemic has potentially greater effects on the poor and vulnerable who rely on daily wages or charity, including migrants, IDPs, refugees, deportees and returnees given restriction on cross-regional movements, as well as persons living with HIV/AIDS, with disabilities, the homeless and destitute;  limited access to water and soap was noted as a constraint on protection by adolescent IDPs.

The “new vulnerable”. While COVID has increased the problems facing the poor and exacerbated inequalities, it has also created a new category of people who had relatively secure livelihoods that were disrupted by the pandemic effects, and who face challenges making ends meet. These included many self-employed and free-lancers whose work depended on global linkages in a wide range of service sectors.  

COVID and other risks

The focus on COVID may have taken attention away from other serious risks, notably of food insecurity especially due to locust swarms, other health risks, especially yellow fever and cholera. However, the recent political instability and insecurity in early July eclipsed COVID, and crowds not wearing masks may well have contributed to the recent upsurge in cases.  

Here to stay?

COVID in Ethiopia seems likely to become an increasing problem and a feature of life to which people are having to adapt. Whether the pandemic will get out of hand and overwhelm the health services remains to be seen, but the socio-economic impacts are likely to be lasting and far reaching.


This blog follows on from a blog on the COVID context in the four Young Lives countries: Ethiopia, India, Peru and Vietnam produced in Oxford. See

Headline reports from the First Call of Young Lives at Work’s Phone Call Survey in Ethiopia, India, Peru and Vietnam will be published next week. Young Lives At Work (YLAW) is funded by the UK's Department of International Development. For more on YLAW, please see our webpage here or follow us on Twitter @yloxford, LinkedIn or Facebook.

Photo credit: © Young Lives / Mulugeta Gebrekidan. The images throughout our publications are of children living in circumstances and communities similar to the children within our study sample.


COVID-19: a snapshot of the pandemic in Young Lives study countries



Whilst the path of COVID-19 remains impossible to predict, and measures to combat it vary country by country, it is, without doubt, having substantial economic and social impacts everywhere and revealing multiple inequalities.  Next week, Young Lives publishes headline findings from our first Phone Survey Call into COVID-19’s impact on young people in Ethiopia, India, Peru and Vietnam. To set the scene, our Country Directors share a snapshot of the pandemic’s trajectory and impact in their countries and the measures their governments have taken so far.


The extent of COVID-19 cases


In Ethiopia, the first COVID-19 case was reported on the 13th of March, after which the virus spread relatively slowly until July. Ethiopia now ranks 8th out of 57 African countries and by August 4th, 19877 cases and 343 deaths had been recorded.  A recent upsurge in cases is most probably linked to the rainy season (often associated with flu viruses) and exacerbated by recent political unrest. 


The first COVID-19 case in India was reported on January 30th. Since then the epidemic has grown exponentially and by August 4th India ranked third in the world, with 1.9 million confirmed cases and 39,820 associated deaths. The number of confirmed cases and deaths per million people is still low at 934 and 22, respectively, but given India’s 1.4 billion population and rampant poverty, this is widely expected to increase.


Peru is among the countries hardest hit by COVID-19 globally. As of August 4th there were 439,890 cases and 20,007 deaths. placing Peru 7th in the world with 594 deaths per million people. The death rate may be even higher, given the number of total deaths, from any cause, reported in the country compared to a similar period one year before. 


In early July 2020, Vietnam had only 355 cases, and zero deaths. Placing the country 156th in the world in terms of infections. After approximately 100 days without any new cases caused by community transmission, one new case was reported on July 25th in Da Nang, the country’s third largest city, shortly followed by many other infections related to the area.  By 4th August 2020, there were 672 reported cases and 8 fatalities.

Government measures and emerging impacts




The Ethiopian government’s response was fairly rapid and proactive. Public and religious meetings were banned, education institutions and borders closed and flights cancelled. A State of Emergency was declared on April 8th. Vigorous media campaigns were conducted, including the latest to test 200,000 people in 2 weeks,and social distancing measures were imposed including mandatory facemasks in public and hand washing.  Official messages on preventative measures play before every telephone call. National social protection measures were introduced to make it illegal to lay off workers and increase rents; regional measures addressed food security, utility waivers, social insurance and sick leave; however, some measures continue to be piecemeal and regional approaches differ.

Despite the measures taken, the pandemic has had a crippling effect on the economy, and recent phone surveys show that more than half of households report loss of income during this period.  

COVID-19, is affecting people disproportionately according to their gender, age, location, occupation, health, wealth and vulnerability.  There is a greater concentration of cases in the capital, Addis Ababa, (77%) and amongst men (61%). Yet, women are seriously affected too, losing paid work, increasing unpaid care work and suffering from increasing risk of gender based violence. Deaths are highest amongst the elderly (74%>50; 43%>60) but over half the cases are among young people (56%<30; 43% 21-30). Children and youth have been affected by the closure of educational institutions and the interruption of school feeding.  




India went into nationwide lockdown at the end of March. After 3 extensions it became the longest lockdown ever imposed by a country. Only essential services were allowed and educational institutions, flights, trains, metros, hospitality services and large gatherings of any kind were prohibited. Steps were taken to boost health infrastructure and a campaign on the importance of social distancing and personal hygiene launched. 

Despite the Government of India advising employers not to lay off or reduce employees’ wages, the workforce shrank by 122 million in April 2020. With factories and workplaces shut, millions of migrant workers faced losing their livelihoods. The IMF have forecast that the Indian economy will shrink by 4.5% in 2020-21

The Government initiated a number of measures to ease the plight of migrants and alleviate economic loss. Unlock 1.0 came into effect on June 8, 2020 when various restrictions were relaxed. 

COVID-19 is having multi-faceted impacts on the health and wellbeing of individuals as well as for the economy in general.  Children and youth have been affected by the shutdown of educational institutions and despite schemes promoting online classes, a huge digital divide excludes vulnerable students with limited or no internet facilities. While State educational institutes move to upgrade infrastructure and teachers’ skills, this remains an uphill task. India also faces a shortage of healthcare personnel and existing hospitals are poorly equipped with inadequate infrastructure




Peru’s government took early measures against COVID-19, including a country-wide quarantine on March 17 and a curfew which is still in place. The lockdown, which continues today for some regions and businesses (e.g. no international travel is allowed, all education institutions are closed and any type of social gathering or performance is prohibited), is expected to lower Peru’s GDP by around 12%, (which would be the largest impact in Latin America).

Government measures included various unconditional cash transfers, and people in need were allowed to withdraw part of their retirement funds. Businesses have been offered loans (drawing heavily on national reserves) but despite this, a large number are expected to declare bankruptcy and poverty is expected to increase from 2019 levels (of 20.2% of the population)

Efforts have been made to expand health facilities with intensive care units specifically oriented to COVID-19 patients. But, most of these have already reached full capacity; the need for more beds, oxygen and health professionals is reported in the news daily. 

For preschool, primary and secondary education, the government quickly implemented the Aprendo en Casa(Learning at Home) program, providing educational content via TV, radio and digital devices. While TV and radio have extensive reach, internet availability is more limited (urban access (62%) much greater than in rural areas (18%)) and this is expected to widen the large gaps in learning levels between urban and rural students after the emergency. University classes are being held through virtual devices but high levels of students are unable to enroll due to the need to work or because of health issues. 

The fear of getting sick, the worries about not being able to work or study, and the pressures from being isolated are expected to generate mental health problems in many families.




The Government of Vietnam responded swiftly to the crisis, benefitting from experience with previous outbreaks, such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), in 2003. The Prime Minister immediately prioritized health over economic concerns. Strict containment measures included school closures, banning large gatherings, closing down non-essential businesses, closing borders, imposing a mandatory quarantine period of 14 days for all arrivals from abroad and extensive contact tracing of reported cases. From April 1st, a fifteen day nationwide lockdown was implemented. Only essential businesses were allowed to open, provided that workers followed strict health guidelines, while people were ordered to stay at home and only go out in case of emergencies. 

In what is considered a “whole-society fight”, unique to Vietnam, these measures were rapidly implemented by the military, public security services, mass organizations and the general public. Details on symptoms, protective measures, and testing sites were communicated through traditional and social media, via mobile phones and specialized apps, and have resulted in wide public support and associated good implementation of social distancing measures countrywide.

Despite this, the pandemic has had significant economic and social impacts. According to the General Statistical Office, GDP for the first six months of 2020 grew by only 1.81 % compared to the same period last year (below the average rate of 5.44 % this decade). The pandemic has affected the employment of 30.8 million people aged 15 and older and incomes declined by over 5% in the second quarter of 2020 compared to the same period of 2019. In response, the Government has employed numerous measures to support the economy, including a relief package worth USD 2.6 billion for the poor and vulnerable people.

According to the Ministry of Health, the fresh outbreak of the virus is more contagious. New restrictive measures limiting travel to and from Da Nang were quickly implemented, followed by testing and tracing travellers coming from Da Nang to other provinces

Looking ahead


Alula Pankhurst – Country Director, Ethiopia

‘ COVID-19 seems likely to become an increasing problem and a feature of life, even as it takes attention away from other serious health risks and food insecurity. Whether the pandemic will get out of hand and overwhelm the health services remains to be seen, but the socio-economic impacts will be lasting and far reaching.'

Renu Singh – Country Director, India

‘While the Indian government has been trying its best to address the challenges related to the health and socio-economic well-being of its citizens, it is clear that the war against COVID-19 is far from over. It is time to invest in infrastructure and create systems that are accessible to all.’ 

Santiago Cueto – Country Director, Peru

'The COVID-19 crisis has revealed multiple inequalities linked to wealth, residence, and on-line access giving rise to dramatic impacts on the opportunities and lives of millions. In 2021 Peru will hold presidential elections. Candidates will be expected to propose improvements in the access to and quality of health, education, social protection and mental well-being services.'

Nguyen Thang, Country Director, Vietnam

‘As this wave is still evolving from day to day, with a rise in confirmed cases in other cities and provinces, further restrictive measures continue to be deployed. “The whole society fight” unfolds again.’ 


Headline reports from the First Call of Young Lives at Work’s Phone Call Survey in Ethiopia, India, Peru and Vietnam will be published next week. Young Lives At Work (YLAW) is funded by the UK's Department of International Development. For more on YLAW, please see our webpage here or follow us on Twitter @yloxford, LinkedIn or Facebook.

Photo credit: © Young Lives / Mulugeta Gebrekidan. The images throughout our publications are of children living in circumstances and communities similar to the children within our study sample.

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



Reinforcement or Compensation? Parental Responses to Children’s Revealed Human Capital Levels in Ethiopia

Poverty and shocks
Working paper
YL-WP183.pdf728.34 KB

There is an increasing body of literature that finds that parents invest in their children unequally, but the evidence is contradictory, and few studies provide convincing causal evidence of the effect of child ability on parental investment in a low-income country. This working paper examines how parents respond to the differing abilities of primary school-age Ethiopian siblings, using rainfall shocks during the critical developmental period between pregnancy and the first three years of a child’s life to isolate exogenous variation in child ability within the household, observed at a later stage than birth.

The results suggest that on average parents attempt to compensate disadvantaged children through increased cognitive investment. The results are significant, but small in magnitude: parents provide about 6.3 per cent of a standard deviation more in educational fees to the lower-ability child in the observed pair. Families with educated mothers, smaller household size, and higher wealth compensate with more cognitive resources for a lower-ability child. This suggests that improving resources available to households would benefit the least advantaged young people. 

Heterogeneity in the impact of drought on child human capital - evidence from Ethiopia

Poverty and inequality
Poverty and shocks
Human capital
Student paper

Children in the developing world are routinely exposed to drought shocks and other climatic hazards. Such shocks can have lasting effects in adulthood if they affect investments in child human capital. In this study, I investigate the impact of two recent episodes of drought in Ethiopia on two measures of cognitive outcomes: Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test (PPVT) scores and Mathematics Test scores. I use data from the Young Lives study on children followed at ages 8-10 and 12-14. Using both panel data and cross-sectional estimation techniques, I test for differences in drought impact by cognitive skill and by age. I also explore the channels of drought impact by estimating separate equations for the effect of drought on child anthropometry, enrolment and child’s time allocated to different activities. Finally, I test for heterogeneity in drought impacts by investigating variations in shock-coping mechanisms among different demographic groups.

The evidence suggests that drought affects cognitive skills differently – quantitative skills appear to be affected more adversely. However, these differences become less pronounced as children grow older. Broadly, cognitive skills are more likely to be affected adversely at adolescence than at the younger age of 8-10. Adjustments in time spent at school are a major channel affecting cognitive scores; however, evidence on the role of anthropometry and enrolment is much weaker. In terms of heterogeneity, for households specializing predominantly in agriculture, cognitive scores are less adversely affected during drought episodes. Cognitive outcomes are also disproportionately affected for male children, especially first-borns, who fare the worst. On the policy front, failing to take the vulnerability of specific demographic groups into account may translate to deepening poverty traps. Results also suggest that children’s aspirations have the potential to play a major role in buffering the impact of drought, however this needs further exploration.

“I started working because I was hungry”: The consequences of food insecurity for children's well-being in rural Ethiopia

Virginia Morrow
Poverty and shocks
Nutrition, health and well-being
Journal Article

Food insecurity, the state of being without reliable access to a sufficient quantity of safe, nutritious food, is a persistent problem in rural Ethiopia. However, little qualitative research has explored how food insecurity affects children over time, from their point of view.

What are the effects of economic ‘shocks’ such as illness, death, loss of livestock, drought and inflation on availability of food, and children's well-being? To what extent do social protection schemes (in this case, the Productive Safety Net Programme) mitigate the long-term effects of food insecurity for children?

The paper uses a life-course approach, drawing on analysis of four rounds of qualitative longitudinal research conducted in 2007, 2008, 2011 and 2014, with eight case study children, as part of Young Lives, an ongoing cohort study. Children's descriptions of the importance of food and a varied diet (dietary diversity) in everyday life were expressed in a range of qualitative methods, including interviews, group discussions and creative methods.

The paper suggests that while the overall picture of food security in Ethiopia has improved in the past decade, for the poorest rural families, food insecurity remains a major factor influencing decisions about a range of matters – children's time allocation, whether to continue in school, whether to migrate for work, and whether they marry.

The paper argues that experiences of food insecurity need to be understood holistically, in relation to other aspects of children's lives, at differing stages of the life-course during childhood.

The paper concludes that nutritional support beyond early childhood needs to be a focus of policy and programming.


Food insecurity; Children and young people; Rural Ethiopia; Qualitative longitudinal research

Download “I started working because I was hungry”: The consequences of food insecurity for children's well-being in rural Ethiopia  Morrow, Tafere, Chuta, Zharkevich, Social Science & Medicine, Volume 182, June 2017.