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.


The impact of child work on cognitive development: results from four Low to Middle Income countries

Children's work and time-use
Working paper

The authors study the relationship between child work and cognitive development in the four Young Lives countries. They address a key weakness in the literature by including children’s full time-use vector in the analysis, which leads to different findings from previous studies which do not distinguish between alternative counter-factual activities. They find child work is only detrimental if it crowds out school/study time rather than leisure. Furthermore, the marginal effects of substituting domestic chores or economic activities for school/study time are similar. Thus, policies to enhance child development should target a shift from all forms of work toward educational activities. 

Evolving Time Use of Children Growing Up in Ethiopia, India, Peru and Vietnam, 2006-2016

Children's work and time-use
Working paper

Using detailed and comparable time-use data of children in four low- and middle-income countries, this working paper documents the evolution of their time spent on education, paid and unpaid work as they age from 5 to 15 years. Despite gendered differences in which tasks they undertake, total allocation of time to work (paid, unpaid and household chores) is not significantly different between boys and girls, except in India. Rural boys and girls work longer hours and spend less time in education at all ages in all countries, and differences in time use increase as the children age, driven mainly by those who leave school early.

The authors compare the study cohort with an Older Cohort surveyed in 2009 at age 15 to document trends over time. Time spent on work has decreased quite strikingly in Peru and India, to a lesser extent in Ethiopia, and not at all in Vietnam. This has reduced inequality of time use to the advantage of rural girls in particular. Boys in rural Vietnam and Ethiopia are more likely to stop attending school by age 15, though in India the risk is higher for girls.

‘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. 


Tracing the links between girls’ unpaid care work and women’s economic empowerment

That women’s economic empowerment and gender equality go hand in hand is being highlighted as part of this year’s International Women’s Day. The theme ‘Women in the Changing World of Work’ draws attention to the disproportionate amount of time spent on unpaid care work as a chief deterrent to women’s economic empowerment.

UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka points out that:

Across the world, too many women and girls spend too many hours on household responsibilities – typically more than double the time spent by men and boys. They look after younger siblings, older family members, deal with illness in the family and manage the house.

One of the proposed solutions is to ‘Share unpaid care!’ with men, and to invest in technology, infrastructure and services to reduce the care burden on women.

Similarly, in ‘Sharing the Load’ briefing, the Gender and Development Network argue that unpaid care work is connected to virtually every aspect of women’s economic empowerment – impacting women’s time for paid work, education and leisure, and their economic decision-making power.

Girls are increasingly being brought into this important debate, as in Unicef’s report on Harnessing the Power of Data for Girls highlighting gender inequalities in children’s household chores - worldwide, girls aged 5-9 and 10-14 spend, respectively, 30 per cent and 50 per cent more of their time helping around the house than boys of the same age.

Beyond the rhetoric: understanding the links between child labour and education

Learning and curricula
Indian Right to Education Act

On World Day Against Child Labour, we are once again reminded of the innumerable children who are continuing to work in inhumane conditions in sweat shops, mines, factories and behind closed doors from where their voices are never heard.

Over the past decade the number of children in paid occupations has reduced in India from over 12 million in 2001 to over 4 million in 2011. After a prolonged wait, the Cabinet has recently banned all forms of child labour for those under the age of 14. This was mainly to align itself with the Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 which makes education a fundamental right for all children in the age group 6-14 years. While the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act of 1986 banned the employment of children up to the age of 14 in hazardous occupations, this proposed Amendment bill prohibits employment of children below 14 years in all occupations and processes, other than family enterprises and farm lands (after school hours and holidays). I ha€™ve commented on this amendment elsewhere.

Young Lives has some interesting insights to offer in terms of children, school and work in India (based on our research in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana). The research from its pro poor samples reveals that there is a decreasing enrolment in schools as children grow older. While 98 percent of the children were enrolled in schools at age eight, this decreased to 90 per cent at age 12, to 77 per cent by age 15 and to 48 percent by the time the children turned 19.

A critical finding from the research is that the majority of children (58%) continuing their education at the age of 15 were in reality combining school with paid and unpaid work. What is striking is the fact that the number of children combining unpaid work and schooling increased from a small 4 percent at the age of 12 to 45 percent at 15. Interestingly, the number of children combining paid work and schooling remained almost constant at 13 percent. Boys (56%) and the poorest third (60%) constituted a major proportion of children combining school with paid work.

We also found that children who participated in paid work at the age of 12, were 27 percent less likely to progress through secondary education, with girls being much more disadvantaged than boys and 41 percent less likely to pass Grade X.

Longitudinal analysis of time use data by boys and girls also reveals highly gendered roles emerging from a very young age. We find that girls constituted 60 percent of children combining school with unpaid work at age 14/15. Girls also spent significantly less time on studies as well as leisure at the age of 12 and 15. So girls are at a disadvantage not only in terms of the amount of time they spend in school but also in time spent studying after school, since they spend a large amount of time in caring and domestic chores from an early age.

The study also finds that more girls than boys had left school between the ages of 12 and 15, but hardly any gender difference is apparent in enrolment of boys (90%) and girls (89%) belonging to the least poor households. In other words, the better off you are, the more likely you are to keep your girl in school.

There are many reasons for why children have left school by the age of 15. It may be a sudden shock such as the death of a parent. Here we also see gendered patterns emerge. A third of the boys cite poor school quality and 18 percent cite paid work as key reasons for leaving school, while a quarter of the girls cite domestic chores as the key reason for leaving school.

Undoubtedly, India has made tremendous progress in increasing enrolment for children aged 6-14 years in the past few years due to efforts of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) as well the Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act. Approximately 2 million new entrants have joined elementary school.

But now efforts must be directed towards addressing both the ‘push’ and ‘pull’ factors that negatively impact retention and transition rates, particularly for girls. It is also time to work towards extending universal elementary education to at least the secondary if not senior secondary level of education. To reach this goal, the school system must provide relevant, flexible and quality instruction to meet needs of all children, including those who might have been absent from school due to household shocks, seasonal migration or harvesting.

In addition, mechanisms must be put in place to ensure that the poorest children are protected from being pushed into child labour or burdened with long hours of unpaid “family work” that can have a negative impact on their future, by providing social protection to their families. To achieve this, it is essential to adopt a holistic, multi-sectorial approach with effective partnerships between governmental agencies, non-governmental organisations, international bodies and community groups.

In short, we need to find better ways to support children whose daily reality is not choosing between work and school, but struggling to combine both work and school.

What do we know about how children use their time?

Caroline Knowles

Here'€™s an interesting question: how do children typically use the 24 hours in their day? It'€™s a rather basic question -€“ with some important implications.

(1) Where children spend their time tell us something about the space for interventions to reach them. There'€™s not much point in targeting nutrition programmes through schools if the poorest children are all in the fields.

(2) Time-use information might tell us something about what is likely to matter for children’s well-being since where they spend their time will also determine the friends they make, the activities they take part in, and the risks they may be exposed to.

(3) Time-use might be a more subtle indicator of how children'€™s outcomes are shaped by their roles and responsibilities. For example, by late adolescence gender roles are often well established, and while in early and middle childhood the gaps in boys'€™ and girls'€™ outcomes are small, the reason later gaps emerge may be because of different treatment at those earlier stages.

Recognising the importance of time-use, we asked children and their caregivers how the 24 hours in each day are spent. The exercise is a simple one -€“ the children are given tokens (e.g. pebbles) representing hours and asked them to allocate pebbles to how long tasks (forms of work, care, school etc.) take in an average day. For younger children (aged 5 and 8), we asked their parents a similar question.

I'€™ve just taken a little look at the data (collected at multiple age points and with reasonable consistency of questions), and since it struck me as telling, I thought I'€™d do a quick (#mustbeafriday) blog. To keep it simple, I only used data only from one place (collected in Andhra Pradesh*), and only one breakdown (girls and boys).

Children's time-use in AP_cropped

The sharp-eyed will notice that while there are 24 hours in a day, that isn’t true in the graph. The principle reason is I deducted time reported sleeping (because otherwise it would dominate). Typically both boys and girls sleep more when they are very young (just less than 10 hours at age 5) and less when they are in adolescence (a bit more than 8 hours by age 15). Of course recall I mentioned earlier that parents report time-use for 5-year-olds while young people themselves report it at 15 years and it may be that parents think children are sleeping more than they actually are...

Second, to construct the graph data is drawn from different years, for 5-year-olds and 12-year-olds it was collected in 2006 and for 8-year-olds and 15-year-olds in 2009. And perhaps things have changed in the meantime (for example, the chances of children being in school, or the amount of work needed in the household). The graphs show average figures for all boys and girls (the figures would look different if restricted to those in urban areas or rural areas or those out of school, but that’s for a different blog).

What'€™s the graph showing? There are two stand-out €˜'facts'€™.

First, girls do more work than boys.

The trends start to diverge at age 8 and widen through to age 15. By age 15 the difference is nearly one and a half hours per day. The key difference here is that girls are spending more time doing household chores and caring tasks than boy. It isn’t too hard to see how this both reflects and reinforces wider gender inequities in Indian society.

Second, Young Lives boys and girls are spending a large proportion of their time in school.

At age 5 about half of the Young Lives children were enrolled in pre-school (many children attend the public ICDS pre-school programme or indeed private kindergarten) and about 45 per cent in formal school. While at younger ages the time spent by Indian boys and girls in pre-school/school is fairly similar, by age 15 boys are spending on average about 40 minutes in school more than girls. And between 12 and 15 years girls were more likely to have left school than boys). Even at age 15 years, the time young people report being in school (on average) takes up much more time than work. Typically school takes up between one and a half times (for girls) and two and a half times (for boys) the amount of time they report for work (adding care, chores, paid and unpaid work together).

That school is such a dominant part of children'€™s time-use is a critical point. The twittersphere is buzzing away with discussions about the funding pledges to the Global Partnership for Education at the moment, and I see a telling hashtag #schoolingisntlearning that is making the point that enrolment doesn'€™t necessarily equate to learning. But let'€™s also turn the phrase on its head: schooling is about more than learning. School is also a place where children build friendships and develop a wider sense of themselves (their '€˜psychosocial well-being'€™ if you really must). Children are spending many hours inside school gates -€“ that€™s a lot of time to spend if schools are unpleasant, violent or indeed simply boring places. A theme to which we will return. 

Note: Andhra Pradesh was formally split into 2 states - Andhra Pradesh and Telangana - in June 2014.  

The Impact of Social Protection Schemes on Girls’ Roles and Responsibilities

Social protection
Children's work and time-use
Journal Article

The focus of this article is the effect on adolescent girls' roles and responsibilities of public works schemes or cash transfers, which are the main forms of social protection in developing countries. Increasing participation in social protection is intended to enhance the development of girls in participating households, but evidence on their school participation and workloads suggests that the reverse may be happening. The article probes what happens to girls' roles and responsibilities when households participate in social protection schemes in rural Ethiopia and Andhra Pradesh. It argues that effects are complex, and often context-specific; however, the assumption that "beneficiaries" benefit means that negative impacts are rarely acknowledged. The article combines a review of other papers addressing the effects of social protection on children's work with analysis of quantitative and qualitative data, recognising that this question cannot be answered with a methodology that considers girls' schooling or workloads in isolation.

Available on the journal publisher's website.

Growing Up in Ethiopia and Andhra Pradesh: How Is Increasing Participation in Social Protection Schemes Affecting Girls’ Roles and Responsibilities?

Social protection
Children's work and time-use
Working paper

The focus of this paper is the effect on adolescent girls' roles and responsibilities of public works schemes or cash transfers, which are the main forms of social protection in developing countries. Increasing participation in social protection is intended to enhance the development of girls in participating households, but evidence on their school participation and workloads suggests that the reverse may be happening. The paper probes what happens to girls? roles and responsibilities when households participate in social protection schemes in rural Ethiopia and Andhra Pradesh. It argues that effects are complex, and often context-specific, however, the assumption that "beneficiaries" benefit means that negative impacts are rarely acknowledged. Nonetheless, the most important question to ask is not "do schemes increase girls' work?" but "how do they change the nature of girls' work and its relation to other valued dimensions of their lives?" The paper combines review and analysis of quantitative and qualitative data, recognising that this question cannot be answered with a methodology that considers girls? schooling or workloads in isolation.

The Dynamics of Girls' Involvement in Agricultural Work in Andhra Pradesh, India

Children's work and time-use
Journal Article

Child labour in India has long been the focus of research, policy concern and intervention. This paper presents an analysis of children's involvement in agricultural work, particularly cottonseed production, drawing on evidence gathered for Young Lives in 2007 and 2008. In parts of rural Andhra Pradesh, children have been working in cotton fields for two or three months of the year. Evidence showed marked gender and age differentiation. In the early stages of cotton production in the mid- 1990s, there was reportedly a cultural as well as an economic basis for children's work in cottonseed pollination, when it was believed that pre-pubescent girls were preferred, as they were considered 'pure'. This has shifted, and children appear to work in cotton pollination for economic reasons, as well as practical ideas that they are better suited to the work because of their physical height and dexterity. The paper focuses on accounts from two girls involved in such work. They highlighted the importance of work in their everyday lives and its consequences for their schooling. Their situation had changed markedly when the study teams visited the site one year later, and the paper explores some of the reasons for the changes.

Keywords: child work, child labour, India

The final published version of the article is available on the journal website.