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Children nearly twice more likely to be poor than adults in Latin America

Oscar Calvo-González's picture
Also available in: Español | Portuguese

Childhood poverty in Latin America has declined steadily but remains much higher than poverty among adults. In 2014 poverty among children stood at 36 percent, almost twice the rate for adults (19 percent - see briefing note). The chart below shows that poverty has decreased for both adults and children, but a closer look at the data reveals that childhood poverty has been declining at a slower pace than among adults.
 


Why is poverty higher among children than among adults in the region? There are two possible reasons for this. One could be attributed to measurement: we measure childhood poverty by dividing the income of the household evenly across members of the household. Naturally, a household with more kids will have income shared by more people who are probably not working, which could help explain the disparity between poverty rates among children and among adults. One obvious limitation of this method to measure poverty is that we need to make a simplifying assumption about how consumption is distributed within a household. It is possible that adults sacrifice their own consumption to protect that of the children within the household, thus making the children less poor than the calculation suggests.
 
The second factor is that while fertility rates have declined in the region in the last three decades, they remain higher among poorer households. This is particularly the case among adolescent girls, who exhibit fertility rates among the poorest quintile that are typically twice as high as those for the second poorest quintile (see World Bank, "Teenage Pregnancy and Opportunities in Latin America and the Caribbean," 2012). In fact, since the 1990s teenagers have seen the smallest decline in fertility in the region, although this gap has begun to close in the last decade.
 
Nevertheless, what is certain is that childhood poverty is both the result of today's uneven access to opportunities as well as a barrier to tomorrow's shared prosperity.  Take the case of education. Not only is access to education lower among poorer children, but there are also significant gaps in learning outcomes between children of high and low socioeconomic groups – in part because poorer children are also more likely to suffer from malnutrition and more frequent illnesses. Since poor children are less likely to gain the skills needed for tomorrow's jobs, they will face a challenging battle to escape from poverty as adults. At a macro level, without positive interventions to improve the outcomes for children living in poverty, tomorrow's labor force will be less productive. As a result, today's childhood poverty has significant consequences for the future of the region.

Note: This blog is part of the 'lacfeaturegraph' series from the LAC Equity Lab team. To look at past posts, please visit here.

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