“The Challenges Made Me Stronger”: What Contributes to Young People’s Resilience in Ethiopia?

Working paper


This working paper explores the meanings and experiences of resilience, and its gender dimensions, among a cohort of Ethiopian children exposed to poverty and adversity across the early life course. It asks why some girls and some boys seem to fare well as they transition to adulthood, despite the challenges and obstacles they had faced, while others do less well.

Qualitative analysis revealed how children’s lives did not follow linear paths, and were easily derailed by unplanned events and shocks, including: climatic shocks, societal influences, school transitions and relations,  household changes; and  child health and social development. It also identifed significant resilience factors, including: supportive and facilitative relationships (especially elder siblings); enabling and protective systems and environments; government and NGO support; young people’s inner resources and pro-social skills; and second chances.  A combination of well-timed, mutually reinforcing factors within holistic support systems, rather than a single factor, appeared to make the most difference

This working paper and the accompanying policy brief are part of a set of eight working papers and eight policy briefs on gendered transitions into young adulthood in Ethiopia.


Tracing the consequences of child poverty - reflections from co-author Andrew Dawes on findings from 15 years of research

After several years in the making, ‘Tracing’, as we authors have come to call the volume, is published. What a journey it has been! Tracing draws on over 800 research papers, fact sheets, country reports and other outputs generated since the inception of the Young Lives study in 2001.

When asked by Jo Boyden to assist in this venture, I asked myself how on earth do we extract and synthesise Young Lives findings gathered over 16 years, to produce a concise account of the impact of poverty on children’s lives in four countries, that is at once scientifically rigorous, of interest to researchers in diverse fields, and perhaps most importantly, provides evidence that assists policy makers in their efforts to improve children’s lives?

Much of the answer lies in the deep knowledge of the project held by authors Jo Boyden and Paul Dornan who together with the Young Lives team, knew where to drill down to construct a powerful story of what matters in children’s lives both in relation to compounding disadvantage or supporting positive growth and development. 

Both the Young Lives International Advisory Board and the ‘Tracing’ Advisory Group, or TAG as we called it, challenged us to go beyond the ‘business as usual’ child poverty story and mine for nuggets that would shift the policy and intervention discourse. 

Taking this advice, we were able to demonstrate that while particular aspects of disadvantage are essential to address (e.g. under-nutrition; poor quality schooling), it is intersecting inequalities and disadvantages that are particularly powerful in undermining human development from before infancy through adolescence and youth. These include the poorest and rural children who are also members of marginalised groups (e.g. ethnic, caste or language), with less educated parents. Policies therefore need to pay particular attention to children who face these intersecting challenges.

A further example of the impact of intersecting disadvantage is evident from Latent Growth Modelling (LGM) an approach I discuss in an article here with Colin Tredoux. In Tracing, LGM traces the consequences of disadvantage in early and middle childhood and adolescence for the development of maths and language skills (vocabulary and reading comprehension). Modelling shows how children from poorer backgrounds with less educated caregivers either don't attend a preschool or attend one that is likely poor quality. That missed opportunity is associated with weaker quantitative and language skills by age five enduring through childhood.

A much-overlooked consequence of poverty is its potential impact on the psychological well-being of primary caregivers. LGM shows how the mental state of caregivers affected by poverty is related to child growth in the early years; those more negatively affected are likely to have children with stunted growth. That in turn compromises cognitive skills in both early and middle childhood. New challenges emerge in early adolescence for children who have to work to assist poor families - they have less time for schooling and studying. So a poor start compounded by other demands in later years contributes to poor skills development by adolescence. This in turn is likely to compromise education outcomes and ultimately the chance to enter further education, training and decent work. 

Patterns such as this are evident throughout the Young Lives data and are what we refer to as Developmental Cascades, a term drawn from the work of Ann Masten and Dante Cicchetti  As LGM shows, cascades occur both within and across stages of childhood development and build upon one another so that their effects accumulate to shape developmental outcomes over time.

For example, the study measured children’s height for their age at each Round. This enabled us to discover a very important nugget; evidence of both growth recovery and faltering during middle childhood. A proportion of children whose growth was stunted in early childhood showed normal growth in middle childhood, while some who had shown normal early growth, were stunted later. Thus early growth status is not necessarily fixed, indicating the potential for remedial intervention later in development. Particularly important is evidence that recovery is associated with cognitive gains in some children. 

Another example comes from the qualitative data analysed by Gina Crivello and Ginny Morrow. The TAG encouraged us to seek examples of children who were ‘bucking the trend’ of expected negative outcomes despite their disadvantages. What was it about these children and their circumstances that made the difference, and how could this information be used to provide more enabling environments for children placed at risk by poverty? Gina and Ginny’s work, discussed here, found that it was a combination of mutually reinforcing factors such as child characteristics and enabling environments in the family and beyond which together diverted children at risk into positive pathways. They also found that to maintain this positive Development Cascade, the children needed sustained support through young adulthood. 

In sum, Tracing has synthesized evidence from across the study and combined it with life course longitudinal analyses that permit examination of the cumulative influence of sources of risk, protection and opportunity from across childhood and through adolescence. This approach has allowed us to consider the implications of these findings for child-focused policy and programmes as low- and middle-income countries strive to overcome intergenerational poverty and inequality and meet the challenges of the Sustainable Development Goals. We will share Tracing’s findings with policy makers and practitioners in government and non-government settings to help inform debates on how best to secure children’s well-being, development and rights. 

Tracing the consequences of child poverty is available digitally https://bit.ly/2TUOQRY and in print https://bit.ly/2U8vjwz.  For news of Young Lives you can follow us on Twitter @yloxford, Facebook, and check our website www.younglives.org.


Tracing the consequences of child poverty; Evidence from the Young Lives study in Ethiopia, India, Peru and Vietnam

Submitted by remote on Wed, 03/27/2019 - 12:37

A new book from Young Lives draws on over 15 years of research to explore how poverty shapes children’s wellbeing and development and how data can inform social policy and practice approaches to improving outcomes for poorer children.

Using life course analysis from the Young Lives study of 12,000 children growing up in Ethiopia, India, Peru and Vietnam over the past 15 years, the book draws on evidence on two cohorts of children, from 1 to 15 and from 8 to 22.

Towards a Better Future? Hopes and Fears from Young Lives

Poverty and inequality
Gender, adolescence & youth
Book / chapter

Young Lives has been following 12,000 children in Ethiopia, India, Peru and Vietnam since 2002. This is the third book about the lives of 24 of those children. We have watched them as they started primary and then secondary school, and we have seen many of them grow into young adults. They have shared their hopes and their fears with us, their ideas about themselves, their families and their communities.

Growing up has meant more independence – and more responsibility. There is pressure to conform to wider social norms and expectations. Gender has become more significant as the children move into adolescence and beyond, and decisions about school, work, marriage and fertility are made within families and communities.

We believe that the views and experiences of the children in our study are key to understanding childhood poverty and in helping to identify effective policies and practices to tackle it. As the mother of Teje, who is 13 and from Ethiopia, said: “I want development for all human beings and I want everyone to have a comfortable life. I want this research to contribute to that.”

Intergenerational Relationships and the Life-Course

Social capital
Journal Article

Drawing on three rounds of survey and qualitative data of the Young Lives study in Ethiopia among children born in 1994 and their caregivers, this article investigates intergenerational relationships by means of the life course perspective. With the expansion of modern education and children’s exposure to different experiences outside the family, many of them contest parental values, norms, and expectations. Competing agents of socialization have contributed to increased intergenerational conflicts and negotiations. In the context of rapid social changes, intergenerational relationships are becoming dynamic and the life course perspective needs to adapt to understand the changing features of such relationships.

Full article available online.


Tafere, Yisak (2015) ‘Intergenerational Relationships and the Life Course: Children-Caregivers’ Relations in Ethiopia’, Journal of Intergenerational Relationships 13.4, 320-333

Intergenerational Relationships and the Life Course

Yisak Tafere
Working paper

Drawing on three rounds of survey and qualitative data collected by the Young Lives study in Ethiopia among children born in 1994-95 and their caregivers, this paper investigates intergenerational relationships by means of the life-course perspective. The life-course perspective establishes the importance of understanding intergenerational relationships within changing contexts of time and place.

The study shows that parent–child relations are taken for granted when children are young; but as they grow older, parental expectations and filial obligations become explicit. In the context of rapid social change, which sometimes carries risks for children, parents assume that they have an obligation to guide their children.

With the expansion of modern education and children’s exposure to different experiences outside the family, many of them contest parental values, norms and expectations. Schooling and other competing agents of ‘socialisation’ have contributed to increased intergenerational conflicts and negotiations. One important outcome of such changes is the transformation of relationships based on traditional processes of socialisation where norms and practices have been simply transmitted across generations, into ‘negotiated’ relationships where children’s agency become increasingly visible.

On the other hand, in the context of poverty and social change, children’s key transitions have become more unpredictable. For example, at one and the same age, children could be in school, or in paid work, or married, or having their own child. Such multiple pathways make it difficult for parents to transfer traditional age-based societal norms. The unpredictability and multiplicity of transitions are also major challenges for the life-course perspective as applied to intergenerational relationships. A life-course perspective needs to adapt to such changing circumstances, using the type of longitudinal evidence on which this paper is based.

Community Understandings of Children’s Transitions in Ethiopia

Yisak Tafere
Poverty and inequality
Working paper

The paper explores the views of caregivers and other adults on the nature and timing of transitions made by children aged 11 to 13 in five Ethiopian communities, spanning rural, peri-urban and urban locations. The three transitions selected are schooling, work and 'early' marriage for girls, which provides a gendered example of rites of passage that are engaged in alongside institutional transitions and affect their success or failure. Adult perspectives are the focus as these are assumed to be more strongly reflective of the community norms that shape children's transitions. The paper provides a summary of the legislative and programmatic background to key transitions (for example, UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the structure of the Ethiopian schooling system and secondary data on school attendance, grade retention, etc.) before exploring each in turn.

It concludes that the rejection of government policies on marriage and education represents a critique of these rather than an attachment to 'traditional practices' which have become increasingly fragile as people respond to material poverty and environmental challenges. Policymakers need to understand and in some cases challenge 'invisible norms', but also recognise the visible economic constraints and limited opportunity structures that increase the appeal of child work or early marriage. In these communities, children's transitions are rarely linear, singular, or focused solely on 'learning', but are instead multiple and often contradictory. While children from poor communities and households are said to be constrained by their lack of opportunities, in fact their likelihood of making successful transitions is reduced by having too many potentially contradictory opportunities, too soon.