Vulnerabilities and Resilience of Young People: Evidence from Young Lives India

Young Lives India Blog

Vulnerabilities and Resilience of Young People: Evidence from Young Lives India

17th November 2022

by Renu Singh and Protap Mukherjee

Young Lives Five Telephonic Surveys summarise the impact of COVID-19 pandemic on health seeking behaviour, COVID-19 tests and vaccinations, loss of livelihood, education, employment and mental health of young people in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. The first telephonic survey was undertaken during first lockdown (Jun-July 2020) and the last telephonic survey was conducted during Oct-Dec, 2021 with a total sample of 2,719 young people. Some of the important findings from five rounds of telephonic surveys are given below:

What was the Impact of COVID-19 Pandemic? Findings From Five Rounds of Telephone Survey

Covid-10 related behaviour: While washing hands more often than before was reported by almost every respondent (96%), however only 2.4% of the YL sample were found to be ‘working from home’ in July 2020 which further reduced to 1.5% by Nov 2020.

One young person pointed out that:

Corona virus is like any other virus … we have to be careful about it. We have to wear masks and use sanitizers.

Covid-19 Tests and Vaccinations: Access to COVID-19 tests was reported by almost every respondent (99%) and 8% of them undertook testing suspecting COVID infection with more than half testing positive (59%).

By Oct-Dec 2021, more than three out of every five young person (65%) were vaccinated (at least one dose). Among those who were not vaccinated, the major reason reported was ‘worrying about side-effects’.

Education:  The Enrolment rate reduced from 69% in Dec 2019 (pre-covid) to 55% in Oct-Dec 2021 with significantly higher rate of dropping out amongst girls. Half of the respondents perceived the quality of education to have dipped during the pandemic compared to the quality of education perceived pre-pandemic time.

Loss of Livelihood and Coping Strategies: During the first wave of the pandemic, 40% of households reported ‘loss of livelihood’. To cope up with livelihood loss, 63% of the respondents relied on savings, followed by receiving assistance from friends/families (23%). It is important to note that in June-July 2020, 15% of the respondents commented that their households ran out of food during the pandemic. The good news is that this percentage reduced to 1% by Oct-Dec 2021. According to one of the family members:

‘we didn’t have money to spend and eat. We took loans…. we have taken money on interest.’…. we had to struggle for daily food …we are accustomed to working in daily wage work…. due to that we had to consume food only once in a day.’

Nearly 35% of the 26-27 years old lost their livelihood during the lockdown in 2020 and by Aug-Oct 2020, 26-years old women were 65% less likely to be in regular salaried jobs compared to men of the same age.

Mental Health: During Aug-Oct 2020, 15% and 12% of the respondents aged 26 were found to demonstrating symptoms of anxiety and depression respectively which remained almost the same (13% anxiety and 12% depression) by Oct-Dec 2021.

Call to Action

  • Enhance inter-sectoral convergence of schemes using a life-course approach in order to provide seamless services for the most disadvantaged populations.
  • Improve supply chain management, transport infrastructure and climate change need to be addressed urgently through new techniques and technology for ensuring ‘Zero Hunger’.
  • Support Female labour force participation by providing care services to women and build agency to take decisions related to marriage, fertility, career etc.
  • Address the Digital Divide and provide mental health support. By ensuring services and digital access and mental health services are provided to the most disadvantaged families.
  • Increase spending on research to find out ‘what works’ and develop evidence-based policies.


Why do some adolescents discontinue education?

As the world gears up to reach Goal 4 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) (for all children to complete primary and secondary education by 2030), we are confronted with the challenge of retaining young people in schools particularly as they move into middle and late adolescence. Recent reports highlight that 1 in 11 primary school aged children, 1 in 6 lower secondary school age adolescents, and 1 in 3 upper secondary school age adolescents are not in school (UIS, GEM Report 2016). Of those adolescents not in school, more than half live in southern Asia (100.8 million) and sub-Saharan Africa (93.3 million), and the current completion rate of upper secondary education in low-income countries is a meagre 14%.

In our chapter ‘Push Out, Pull Out, or Opting Out? Reasons cited by adolescents for discontinuing education in four low- and middle-income countries' in the recently published Handbook of Development Research and its Impact on Global Policies, Protap and I tease out key reasons cited by children in Ethiopia, India, Peru and Vietnam for leaving schools across adolescence, drawing upon data from Young Lives. This chapter was the topic of a panel discussion at this year’s Society for Research on Adolescence Meeting that took place last week, focusing on the importance of investing in adolescent development and ways of building their capacity, engagement, and participation.

By recognising that school leaving is not an event, but a culmination of an interplay of various factors related to home, school and individual choices, we adopt a life course perspective in analysing reasons stated by adolescents for discontinuing education during adolescence. We broadly categorised the reasons into push factors, pull factors, and opted-out factors:

  • Pull factors are related to factors outside school such as social and economic disadvantage that affect regular attendance in school. Such factors include paid work and other responsibilities that would adversely affect school attendance and continuity.
  • Push factors refer to school related factors which ultimately result in dropout.
  • Opted out factors include certain individual behaviours (such as truancy), personal characteristics, and attitude (disinterest toward schooling, motivation, etc.).


Pull Factors

The highest number of adolescents discontinuing education by 19 years of age was observed in Vietnam (54%), followed by India (51%), Peru (49 %), and Ethiopia (41%). These percentages of course mask specific patterns of why children drop out in early, middle, and late adolescence across the four countries, with reasons for leaving school complex. We know that adolescents’ agency and educational trajectories are often highly constrained; by poverty, gendered roles and expectations, and increasing household responsibilities based on location and family circumstance.

Whereas girls were 29% less likely to drop out than boys by age 19 in both Ethiopia and Vietnam, the relationship was reversed in India, where girls were 150% more likely to leave education compared to boys. Besides household dynamics and shocks, boys in particular were found to discontinue schooling mainly due to increased engagement in paid work, while girls spend long hours in domestic chores at the cost of attending school. Unsurprisingly, children from top wealth tercile households across all four study countries are less likely to discontinue education (by 40% in Ethiopia, 69% in India, 62% in Peru, and 63% in Vietnam). Maternal education and maternal aspirations also emerge as strongly associated with children continuing education in Vietnam, Ethiopia and India. For example, mothers who aspired for their children to enter university were 25% (Ethiopia), 73% (India), and 72% (Vietnam) less likely to drop out of school as compared to children whose mothers had lower educational aspirations.

Findings revealed that pull factors emerge as the greatest contributor toward children discontinuing education as they enter middle and late adolescence. Child marriage, paid work, looking for work as well as domestic chores accounted for 77.3% of the total pull factors reported in four countries.


Push Factors and Opted Out

The second most important category is related to the push factors, which account for 22.5% of the total reasons reported, followed by the opt-out factor, which accounted for 19.7% of the total reasons cited for leaving school. The most important push factor reported by adolescents was “fees too expensive,” which accounted for 38.6% of all push factors, followed by “banned from school because children failed to achieve necessary grade” (i.e. expulsion) (24.3%). Bullying and distance of school from home were the other reasons cited for discontinuing education.

Interestingly, ‘truancy’ emerged as the most cited reason for opting out of school and constituted 59.5% of opted-out reasons. ‘Disinterest in studies’ was another reason cited by children and this may well be related to pressures to earn as well as in-school factors.


How can we support those adolescents who want to continue in their education?

Undoubtedly, adolescent educational trajectories are moulded by the social and cultural context in which they occur, despite commonalities such as puberty and socio-cognitive development. However, our pro-poor sample reveals that both adolescent boys and girls faced myriad challenges and pressures; for instance, girls experienced restriction on their mobility post-puberty while  boys across all four study countries faced familial, societal, and peer pressures to earn money. Given that out-of-school factors or pull factors emerged as the greatest contributor toward children discontinuing education as they entered middle and late adolescence, it is important that the most disadvantaged families are reached by adequate social protection 'safety nets'.

Capacity building of teachers and school personnel to identify children “at risk” of dropping out in order to provide them with the necessary academic and psychosocial support is crucial to countering push-out factors. One of the key deterrents to continuation of education is the long distance related to travel to school and expense related particularly to secondary education that the poorest families can ill afford. This needs to be given the highest priority by policymakers, and ensuring provision of free, publicly funded, quality primary and secondary education must become a global reality in the coming years.

While opting out was the least cited reason for leaving school, it is important that we recognise that disengagement with schooling may be the result of ‘irrelevant’ curricula, lack of faith in schooling, poor role models, as well as expectations from significant others. We need to consider a multidimensional effort by state, communities, and families to address structural, household, and individual barriers that impede the smooth transition of adolescents through secondary schooling. On the one hand, accessible second-chance schemes must evolve to ensure that education systems provide adolescents with easy and flexible options to pursue their education. On the other hand, communities need to provide adolescents with support services, so providing those “at risk” with timely support and intervention while empowering families to support their children, particularly girls, to complete their education by challenging discriminatory gender norms and expectations as children enter middle and late adolescence. This would mark concrete steps toward meeting SDG4, realising the potential of adolescents, representing some 17.3% of the world’s population.


For related updates on the Society’s Adolescence meeting, follow #SRA18 and #YLAdolescence on Twitter @yloxford.


Push Out, Pull Out or Opting Out? Reasons Cited by Adolescents for Discontinuing Education in Four Low- and Middle-Income Countries

Education transitions
Gender, adolescence & youth
Adolescence and youth
Book / chapter

This chapter titled ‘Push Out, Pull Out or Opting Out? Reasons Cited by Adolescents for Discontinuing Education in Four Low and Middle Income Countries’, in Chapter 12 in the Handbook of Adolescent Development Research and Its Impact on Global Policies, edited by Jennifer E. Lansford and Prerna Banati, Oxford University Press (March 2018) and is available here

Authors Renu and Protap draw on Bronfenbrenner’s (1999) ecological framework in this mixed-method paper, recognizing school discontinuation not as an event but as a culmination of an interplay of various factors over time. Adopting a life course perspective and analyzing reasons given by adolescents for “not being in school” across the four low- and middle-income Young Lives study countries, three broad categories of reasons for early school leaving emerge. These are push factors, pull factors, and opted-out factors. Findings revealed that pull factors emerge as the greatest contributor toward children discontinuing education as they enter middle and late adolescence. Besides household dynamics and shocks, boys in particular discontinue schooling due to paid work, while girls spend long hours in domestic chores at the cost of attending school. While in-school factors, particularly quality, cannot be ignored, it is important to provide social protection nets to the poorest families in order to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 4.


‘I Will Achieve Everything On My Own’: The Association Between Early Psychosocial Skills and Educational Progression Through Adolescence in India

Education transitions
Gender, adolescence & youth
Adolescence and youth
Working paper

Psychosocial skills are an important element of the confidence and motivation to progress in academic life. This working paper utilises a factorial logistics model to highlight the association between psychosocial skills at age 12 and educational progression through adolescence (to age 19), analysing Young Lives quantitative survey data of Older Cohort children and longitudinal qualitative data collected between 2007 and 2014 in undivided Andhra Pradesh, India.

Quantitative data analysis shows that psychosocial skills such as subjective well-being and self-efficacy at 12 years old are significantly positively associated with retention in education at 19 years old. These findings are supported by qualitative data. Findings reveal that household wealth, children’s paid work at age 12, as well as caregivers’ education and occupational aspirations for their children play a significant role in shaping the self-efficacy and subjective well-being of children. Gender, birth order and caste also play a significant role in framing the association between psychosocial skills at 12 years old and educational outcomes at 19 years old. Given these findings, it would be useful for programme interventions aiming to retain children throughout secondary schooling to focus on building parental aspirations, particularly for girls and socially and economically disadvantaged households. Other areas that require policy attention are around providing social protection to disadvantaged households and developing teachers’ skills in order to encourage and build the psychosocial competencies of children.

‘Whatever she may study, she can’t escape from washing dishes’: gender inequity in secondary education – evidence from a longitudinal study in India

Education transitions
Children's work and time-use
Journal Article

Using unique panel data from Young Lives study conducted in undivided Andhra Pradesh, India, this mixed-method paper analyses gender differentials in completion of secondary education.

Results show biased secondary school completion rates in favor of boys. Probit regression results highlight certain variables such as mothers’ education, wealth, high self-efficacy, early reading skills, lower birth order, and not engaging in more than two hours of domestic work and paid work at age 12, as positively associated with educational outcomes for girls. Decomposition analysis highlights that engaging in domestic chores at age 12 is the most contributory factor (36%) for the persisting gender gap.

The other unexplained contributory factors may well be existing discriminatory social norms and son preference, which is captured by the qualitative case studies.

The findings suggest that unless we are able to address persisting gender norms, universalizing secondary education with gender equity, will remain a distant dream.


gender secondary schooling, mixed methods, discrimination, India.


Download  ‘Whatever she may study, she can’t escape from washing dishes’: gender inequity in secondary education – evidence from a longitudinal study in India, Renu Singh, Protap Mukherjee. 


Secondary education is fundamental to achieving gender equity

India has made tremendous progress in reaching the goal of universalisation of primary education since the passing of the Right to Education Act in 2010.  Education was made a fundamental right for all children aged 6 to 14.  However there are still huge gaps when we look at secondary education.

While the Gross Enrolment Ratio in secondary education rose by 25 % to over 76 %  between 2000 and 2014, the Net Enrolment Ratio remained a low 45.6 %. This means that more than half of all adolescents aged 15-16 are not enrolled in secondary education.

This has immense bearing on long term outcomes for children, since secondary education is considered a necessary stepping stone towards a better and brighter future. For girls in particular, not continuing in education often results in them being pushed into child and early marriage, since girls continue to be considered ‘paraya dhan’ (belonging to somebody else) and son-preference prevails across socio-economic strata across the country. There has been a lot of concern over the fact that despite the Indian economy growing at a healthy average of about 7% between 2004 to 2011, there is a decline in female participation in the country’s labour force from over 35% to 25%, according to the ILO.

It is no surprise given these facts, that India ranks 130th out of 155 countries in the 2015 Global Gender Inequality Index.

Young Lives longitudinal data from Andhra Pradesh and Telangana found that boys were 1.8 times more likely to complete secondary education than girls, even after controlling for variables related to individual characteristics. Girls left education due to various reasons including familial, societal and school related issues and by 19 approximately 37% of the girls were already married.

This compares to less than 2% of the boys.

Furthermore, the girls at the highest risk of getting married early were from the poorest tercile and those living in rural locations. My colleagues Patricia Espinoza and Abhijeet Singh conducted a regression analysis and found that school enrolment at the age of 15 had the most statistically significant impact on reducing the probability of child marriage of girls by over 32%.  Lower parental and child aspirations for education at the age of 12 and 15, were also linked to early marriage.