08 July 2013

Young Lives 2013 (pre-match analysis)

Good morning from Oxford. As you'll already know from reading AidThoughts, the inaugural Young Lives Conference is happening today and tomorrow, and Matt and I will be furiously blogging (like this guy) and tweeting all the good bits at #younglives. You can see the programme and papers here.

First a bit of background: Young Lives is a project at Oxford University which is following thousands of children from Ethiopia, India, Peru, and Vietnam, talking to them and their households every 3 years for 15 years as they grow up, with quantitative and qualitative components. RCTs aside, this kind of longitudinal survey is pretty rare in developing countries to begin with, but in addition to all the standard demographic and socio-economic information, this survey also measures malnutrition, learning outcomes (language and maths), and asks the children directly about their experiences, hopes, and aspirations. (I just tried to see if I could download the actual questionnaire to see what the wording of the questions was, but apparently you need to be part of an academic institution to use the UK data archive where they are kept, which is a bit annoying).

The conference seems to be all economists, which I'm obviously not really going to complain about but it might have been interesting to see some of the fruits of the qualitative work. There are some really big names in the economics of education; Paul Glewwe, Lant Pritchett, Karthik Muralidharan, Jere Behrman, Stefan Dercon, and also some guy called Abhijeet Singh.

Now a bit of a quibble: the conference is organised around the theme of inequalities in children's outcomes. I remain unconvinced about the whole inequality narrative which is being pushed at the moment. You don't have to agree with Mankiw (I don't) to recognise that talking about inequality turns off a lot of people on the right. I still think the last UK Labour government made a great tactical move by tackling inequality and doing redistribution by defining child poverty by a measure of inequality. You can argue with caring about inequality, it's much harder to argue with caring about child poverty. But the focus here is not income inequality but inequality in outcomes. But in a sense isn't it still true that "we are all poor here?" Should we focus on the differences in health outcomes between the children who are only a bit malnourished and the ones who are totally stunted for life, or just despairing about how badly off they all are?

Finally, on my last count there were close to 60 papers being presented here, so we're going to struggle to even scrape the surface here, so do take a look yourself. I think the plan is also to stream the plenaries online. And just as a warning, if Matt is off his best blogging game today, you should cut him some slack, it might have something to do with all the rigorous qualitative research he was doing yesterday into the positive impact of post-war caribbean migration on contemporary British culture (the Cowley Road carnival in the baking heat yesterday might have been the best thing that has happened in Oxford in 1000 years, well worth missing Wimbledon for. So no pressure Young Lives but this conference better be good).

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