Working Paper: Child Development and Economic Development: Lessons and Future Challenges
This essay by Young Lives reviews current research into child development. It examines how the well-being of children is affected by rapid social and economic change; whether and in what ways children have benefited from economic growth; and how policy can use economic growth as a tool to promote the best interests of the child.
Authors: Jo Boyden and Stefan Dercon
The final years of the twentieth century and first decade of the twenty-first
century saw unparalleled global interest in the survival and development
of children. This interest reflects commitments made under the terms of the
UN Convention on the Rights of the Child to support and protect all young
people below the age of 18, as well as efforts in line with the Millennium
Development Goals to reduce child mortality, eradicate poverty and hunger,
and attain universal primary education and gender equity. It responds also
to growing disquiet about the fact that children and young people today
seemingly confront unprecedented levels of insecurity and risk (UNICEF
2011). The improvement of children’s life-chances is thus a legitimate goal of
development in itself.
At the same time, there is increasing awareness that childhood experience
is crucial to the adults that we become, and therefore it is increasingly
recognised that enhancing the position of children is intrinsically connected
with a broader process of developing economies and societies. Moreover,
there is mounting global consensus that economic growth is essential, but
not sufficient, for the realisation of this human potential. Thus, investing in
children is not only the right thing to do for their survival and quality of life: it
is also vital for creating and sustaining broad-based economic growth.
This review essay summarises current research into child development
that investigates what promotes and what threatens children’s growth and
security. It examines how the well-being of children affects and is affected
by wider societal (especially economic) development; whether and in what
ways children have benefited from economic growth; and which policy
directions can help to make economic growth deliver advantages for poor
children in developing countries. It uses evidence from Young Lives and a
wider literature across several disciplines to illustrate the core arguments.
Thus, while much of the discussion focuses on the Young Lives study
countries – Ethiopia, India (Andhra Pradesh), Peru, and Vietnam – our
conclusions are applicable more broadly across many other contexts.