Does an increase in household wealth decrease child labor in poorer households? Available literature in economics suggests that when poorer households need to make their ends meet, they tend not to dispense on child labor. And as households’ income increases, child labor declines in favor of schooling. However, if schools are few and far, and their infrastructure and teachers’ performance are deficient, there is less incentives for parents to send their children to school. Child labor would then appear as a sensible option, not only for increasing family’s current income but also for training children in skilled work. Thus, an appropriate question is: To what extent and under what conditions an increase in household wealth can either decrease or increase child labor in poor households?
The youth bulge is a common phenomenon in many developing countries, and in particular, in the least developed countries. It is often due to a stage of development where a country achieves success in reducing infant mortality but mothers still have a high fertility rate. The result is that a large share of the population is comprised of children and young adults, and today’s children are tomorrow’s young adults.
Figures 1 (a)-(b) provide some illustrative examples. Dividing the world into more and less developed groupings (by UN definitions) reveals a large difference in the age distribution of the population. The share of the population in the 15 to 29 age bracket is about 7 percentage points higher for the less developed world than the more developed regions. In Africa (both Sub-Saharan and North Africa), we see that about 40 percent of the population is under 15, and nearly 70 percent is under 30 (Figure 1(a)). In a decade, Africa’s share of the population between 15 and 29 years of age may reach 28 percent of its population. In some countries in “fragile situations” (by World Bank definitions), almost three-quarters of the population is under 30 (examples in Figure 1(b)), and a large share of 15-29 year olds will persist for decades to come (Figures 1(c) and (d)).
In analyzing returns to schooling and in evaluating educational policies, ‘soft skills’ – personality traits like conscientiousness, openness and diligence -- often get under-valued or neglected. This is in part because so much value is placed on standardized test scores in education systems. It’s also because soft skills that are valued in the labor market, in school, and in many other domains are considered too hard to quantify.
According to Nobel-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, creating jobs amidst today’s low-demand, high-debt environment is a tall order. It will require viable structural employment policies, unemployment insurance for laid off people, and -- in the case of the US – facing up to the inevitable shift out of the manufacturing sector into services. Stiglitz, who delivered a DEC Lecture at the World Bank on September 26 on ‘The State of the Global Economy: An Agenda for Job Creation’, warned that far more is broken than the banking and financial systems in high income countries. He argues that a lack of aggregate demand is a huge problem that can only be fixed through smart public as well as private investment in education, infrastructure, and innovative technologies to protect the environment. He also described the current phenomenon whereby productivity in manufacturing is exceeding the rate of growth in demand in the sector, which means jobs on factory floors are being shed. In other words, technical change can induce large distributive consequences and lead to long term unemployment. Listen to my interview with him about what can be done to cure our current ills.
Development is about big systemic changes, complex tradeoffs, political choices and how the fruits of growth are channeled for the greater good. It is also about broadening opportunities – a goal that if neglected can result in frustrated citizens and tumult as we have seen in the North Africa and Middle East.
These were some of the many messages I took away from the ABCDE conference just held in Paris.
The World Bank recently launched its ‘Education Strategy 2020’ which focuses on achieving ‘learning for all’ over the next decade. The strategy emphasizes looking beyond inputs (classrooms, teacher training, textbooks, computers) to outputs such as cognitive skills and skills for critical thinking (read Elizabeth Kings’ post on this). The strategy emphasizes this approach through the slogan ‘invest early, invest smartly, invest for all.’
'Development aid’ is always surrounded by questions. Some argue whether it shows results, and some worry about the way it is spent. And the imminent question is, where does it go? Well, it does have some impact. According to the latest UNESCO report ‘Financing Education in Sub-Saharan Africa’, development aid accounts for 50% of the government education budget in some countries of Africa. “Over the last decade public spending on education in Africa has increased by more than 6% each year”, says the report. However, much remains to be done to distribute it well between primary and higher education, as often requirements of the primary education system suffer. Thus, cutting aid is definitely not a smart move as explained by Liz Allcock and Jimmy Kainja in their post ‘Cutting UK aid to Malawi will hurt the poor, not the leaders’.
|Photo © Dominic Sansoni / World Bank|
The development community hasn’t exactly only just woken up to the fact that development is about achieving something. Projects have had logframes since time immemorial, showing how project activities and spending are expected to lead ultimately to development outcomes—things that matter to people, like health and learning. But the “results agenda” (an agenda that dates back to 2003 but which seems to be gaining momentum) has the scope to be transformative in at least four ways.
1) Work backwards, not forwards
First, it invites us to work backwards from these things that matter and think about alternative ways to achieving these outcomes. Take education. A lot of projects in the Bank and other development agencies have focused on building and rehabilitating schools, with the expectation that this will lead to higher school enrollments. And yet as my colleague Deon Filmer showed a while ago, proximity to a school has very little effect on the likelihood of a child enrolling in school. By contrast, as he and Norbert Schady showed in another paper, providing scholarships to poor children does increase enrollments.