Preliminary findings: First call Listening to Young Lives Work in Ethiopia phone survey

Submitted by alula on Wed, 08/12/2020 - 09:26

Since the first case of COVID-19 in Ethiopia was confirmed on the 13th of March 2020, the number of cases has increased steadily. Despite the fact that the government is taking proactive measures to reduce the negative consequence of COVID-19 the pandemic is causing multiple and varying impacts across society.

COVID-19 in Ethiopia: trends, measures and socio-economic impacts

Submitted by alula on Wed, 08/12/2020 - 08:32

COVID-19 has affected the whole world even if not equally.  Ethiopia is experiencing the negative impacts of COVID-19 but cases so far are much lower than had been projected. However the measures being taken to prevent COVID-19 have significantly impacted the economic and social life of people in Ethiopia.

Listening to Young Lives at Work in Ethiopia

Poverty and inequality
Poverty and shocks
Country report

This brief report provides a first look into the data collected during the first of three calls in Young Lives at Work's Phone Survey in Ethiopia and presents some of the key findings.x

It incudes a snapshot of the recent situation in the country.  The findings found that the majority of the respondents were aware of the symptoms of COVID-19, but compliance with all recommended behaviours for protection was low. Income and employment losses due to the virus outbreak were relatively higher among the informal sector, in urban areas and among males. Moreover, education was entirely interrupted during the virus response and few children continue to learn remotely.

The Young Lives phone survey investigates the short/medium-term impact of COVID-19 on the health, well-being, employment and education trajectories of young people in our study. The Young Lives participants have been tracked since 2001 and are now aged 19 (Younger Cohort, YC) and 25 (Older Cohort, OC).

The second call has been piloted and the fieldwork will take place between August-October 2020.

Additional statistics and summary tables from the first phone survey can be found here.



COVID in Ethiopia: from a slow start to serious socio-economic impacts

Young man wearing mask in front of COVID poster

By August 6th Ethiopia had recorded 20,900 cases and 365 deaths, with a recent upsurge since mid-July, particularly in the last fortnight. A fifth of the cases (20%) but more than a quarter of the deaths (28%) occurred in the past seven days, suggesting that mortality is increasing and the number of critical cases has risen to 1% of the active cases. Ethiopia ranks 68th worldwide  and 8th in Africa with South Africa in the lead followed by the two other countries with more than 100 million: Egypt and Nigeria, which have much lower numbers tested overall and per million inhabitants than Ethiopia.

What explains the slow spread and recent increase?

A combination of factors may explain the comparatively slow spread during the first four months since the first case on 13 March.  These include climate (high altitude, wide temperature fluctuations, strong ultraviolet light, warm weather), demography (youthful population), serendipitous timing (later introduction, prior to the rainy season conducive to flus, after the tourist and diaspora holiday season with less visitors due to insecurity), health-seeking behaviour (limited health facilities where the virus could spread faster), transport and communications (screening at airport, limited cross border train and road transport, borders closed from March 23), global learning and early reaction (the later onset provided a chance for the government and people to know more about the pandemic and react appropriately). There may also be medical reasons explaining low fatality and high asymptomatic cases (different virus strain, vaccines such as BCG, resistance due to COVID-like earlier flu strains, genetics and immune systems).  Finally, the relatively small numbers of cases and slow increase may be partly due to limited testing. The capacity for testing has increases significantly (from over 1000 by the end of April, to over 5000 by the end of May to over 8000 by the end of July) and the number of centres has increased to 50 with at least one in each region). However, modellings such as those by Imperial College London suggest that the numbers infected are likely be many times greater than those tested. Moreover, tests per million persons are still only just over 4,000.  

The initial wave was associated with travelers from abroad, including foreigners and diaspora Ethiopians, followed by returnee migrant workers, with large numbers deported from the Middle East, with over 22,500 returnees from April to end July. A second wave involved transmission across borders, even after these were closed. However, containment of infections from external sources and contact tracing soon became impossible with community transmission increasing (from 10% after one month, 16% after 2 months, 62% after 3 months; two-thirds by end of June).  The rainy season associated with flus, and the political unrest at the beginning of July, when crowds were not wearing masks, are probably important factors explaining the recent increase.

What have been the measures taken and their impacts?

The government response to the pandemic has been fairly rapid and proactive. Though the first case was only detected in mid-March by the end of the month public and religious meetings were banned, education institutions and borders were closed and all flights cancelled. National elections were postponed and a State of Emergency was declared on 8th of April. There have been vigorous media campaigns (messages before every phone call), and social distancing and hygiene preventative measures imposed on all public and private transport. The requirement to wear masks in public and hand washing on entering buildings may be contributing to reducing the pace of the spread. There have been a number of social protection measures at the national level, notably prohibiting laying off workers and increasing rent, adaptations of the productive safety nets, and regional measure relating to food security, utility waivers and social insurance/sick leave, though some measures are piecemeal and regions have taken different approaches.  The latest measures include a decision to test 200,000 people in a two week campaign. However, since testing focuses on risk places and categories, and is not based on random sampling the extent of the community transmission cannot be accurately assessed.  

How has COVID affected the country and social groups differentially?

The pandemic has had a crippling effect on the economy, and recent phone surveys by the International Food Policy Institute and the World Bank show that more than half of households report loss of income during this period. A UN report suggests a potential drop in exports by 25-30%, of remittances by 10-15%, and a loss of 10-15% of jobs potentially leading to 3-4 million unemployed. 

Gender effects. Most cases reported so far were men (61%). However, a number of gender effects have been suggested including loss of jobs for women in the hospitality and tourism industry, in the informal economy notably in petty trade with the closure of markets, and for categories where women predominate, notably health extension and flower farm workers, and migrants to industrial parks.  There have also been suggestions of increases in time taken by women and girls to collect water and in unpaid care work, and though the evidence base is still rather thin, risks of increasing FGM/C and early marriage compounded by school closures and reduced monitoring,  interruption of SRH services, and potentially gender based violence.

Age effects.  Over half the cases are among young people (56%<30; 43% in the twenties), and most deaths are among the elderly (74%>50; 43%>60). However, increasingly young people are bearing the brunt and the stress of the pandemic, which has also resulted in psychological distress, which is greater among young adults. Children and youth have been most affected by the closure of educational institutions, compounded by the interruption of vital school feeding programmes, leading to expectations that learning outcomes will decline and school drop out increase, especially among poor households;  vulnerable categories of children notably street children, migrants and displaced face further risks.

Urban/rural and regional effects.  More than three-quarters (77%) of positive cases were found in Addis Ababa, with none of the other regions having more than 5%. However, this may be largely a function of the testing, with almost three-quarters (73%) of tests carried out in the capital. There are also significant urban/rural and gender divides in knowledge about COVID related in part to mobile and digital connectivity.

Vulnerable categories. The pandemic has potentially greater effects on the poor and vulnerable who rely on daily wages or charity, including migrants, IDPs, refugees, deportees and returnees given restriction on cross-regional movements, as well as persons living with HIV/AIDS, with disabilities, the homeless and destitute;  limited access to water and soap was noted as a constraint on protection by adolescent IDPs.

The “new vulnerable”. While COVID has increased the problems facing the poor and exacerbated inequalities, it has also created a new category of people who had relatively secure livelihoods that were disrupted by the pandemic effects, and who face challenges making ends meet. These included many self-employed and free-lancers whose work depended on global linkages in a wide range of service sectors.  

COVID and other risks

The focus on COVID may have taken attention away from other serious risks, notably of food insecurity especially due to locust swarms, other health risks, especially yellow fever and cholera. However, the recent political instability and insecurity in early July eclipsed COVID, and crowds not wearing masks may well have contributed to the recent upsurge in cases.  

Here to stay?

COVID in Ethiopia seems likely to become an increasing problem and a feature of life to which people are having to adapt. Whether the pandemic will get out of hand and overwhelm the health services remains to be seen, but the socio-economic impacts are likely to be lasting and far reaching.


This blog follows on from a blog on the COVID context in the four Young Lives countries: Ethiopia, India, Peru and Vietnam produced in Oxford. See

Headline reports from the First Call of Young Lives at Work’s Phone Call Survey in Ethiopia, India, Peru and Vietnam will be published next week. Young Lives At Work (YLAW) is funded by the UK's Department of International Development. For more on YLAW, please see our webpage here or follow us on Twitter @yloxford, LinkedIn or Facebook.

Photo credit: © Young Lives / Mulugeta Gebrekidan. The images throughout our publications are of children living in circumstances and communities similar to the children within our study sample.


Reinforcement or Compensation? Parental Responses to Children’s Revealed Human Capital Levels in Ethiopia

Poverty and shocks
Working paper
YL-WP183.pdf728.34 KB

There is an increasing body of literature that finds that parents invest in their children unequally, but the evidence is contradictory, and few studies provide convincing causal evidence of the effect of child ability on parental investment in a low-income country. This working paper examines how parents respond to the differing abilities of primary school-age Ethiopian siblings, using rainfall shocks during the critical developmental period between pregnancy and the first three years of a child’s life to isolate exogenous variation in child ability within the household, observed at a later stage than birth.

The results suggest that on average parents attempt to compensate disadvantaged children through increased cognitive investment. The results are significant, but small in magnitude: parents provide about 6.3 per cent of a standard deviation more in educational fees to the lower-ability child in the observed pair. Families with educated mothers, smaller household size, and higher wealth compensate with more cognitive resources for a lower-ability child. This suggests that improving resources available to households would benefit the least advantaged young people. 

Heterogeneity in the impact of drought on child human capital - evidence from Ethiopia

Poverty and inequality
Poverty and shocks
Human capital
Student paper

Children in the developing world are routinely exposed to drought shocks and other climatic hazards. Such shocks can have lasting effects in adulthood if they affect investments in child human capital. In this study, I investigate the impact of two recent episodes of drought in Ethiopia on two measures of cognitive outcomes: Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test (PPVT) scores and Mathematics Test scores. I use data from the Young Lives study on children followed at ages 8-10 and 12-14. Using both panel data and cross-sectional estimation techniques, I test for differences in drought impact by cognitive skill and by age. I also explore the channels of drought impact by estimating separate equations for the effect of drought on child anthropometry, enrolment and child’s time allocated to different activities. Finally, I test for heterogeneity in drought impacts by investigating variations in shock-coping mechanisms among different demographic groups.

The evidence suggests that drought affects cognitive skills differently – quantitative skills appear to be affected more adversely. However, these differences become less pronounced as children grow older. Broadly, cognitive skills are more likely to be affected adversely at adolescence than at the younger age of 8-10. Adjustments in time spent at school are a major channel affecting cognitive scores; however, evidence on the role of anthropometry and enrolment is much weaker. In terms of heterogeneity, for households specializing predominantly in agriculture, cognitive scores are less adversely affected during drought episodes. Cognitive outcomes are also disproportionately affected for male children, especially first-borns, who fare the worst. On the policy front, failing to take the vulnerability of specific demographic groups into account may translate to deepening poverty traps. Results also suggest that children’s aspirations have the potential to play a major role in buffering the impact of drought, however this needs further exploration.

“I started working because I was hungry”: The consequences of food insecurity for children's well-being in rural Ethiopia

Virginia Morrow
Poverty and shocks
Nutrition, health and well-being
Journal Article

Food insecurity, the state of being without reliable access to a sufficient quantity of safe, nutritious food, is a persistent problem in rural Ethiopia. However, little qualitative research has explored how food insecurity affects children over time, from their point of view.

What are the effects of economic ‘shocks’ such as illness, death, loss of livestock, drought and inflation on availability of food, and children's well-being? To what extent do social protection schemes (in this case, the Productive Safety Net Programme) mitigate the long-term effects of food insecurity for children?

The paper uses a life-course approach, drawing on analysis of four rounds of qualitative longitudinal research conducted in 2007, 2008, 2011 and 2014, with eight case study children, as part of Young Lives, an ongoing cohort study. Children's descriptions of the importance of food and a varied diet (dietary diversity) in everyday life were expressed in a range of qualitative methods, including interviews, group discussions and creative methods.

The paper suggests that while the overall picture of food security in Ethiopia has improved in the past decade, for the poorest rural families, food insecurity remains a major factor influencing decisions about a range of matters – children's time allocation, whether to continue in school, whether to migrate for work, and whether they marry.

The paper argues that experiences of food insecurity need to be understood holistically, in relation to other aspects of children's lives, at differing stages of the life-course during childhood.

The paper concludes that nutritional support beyond early childhood needs to be a focus of policy and programming.


Food insecurity; Children and young people; Rural Ethiopia; Qualitative longitudinal research

Download “I started working because I was hungry”: The consequences of food insecurity for children's well-being in rural Ethiopia  Morrow, Tafere, Chuta, Zharkevich, Social Science & Medicine, Volume 182, June 2017.

Thirsty for Work: The Impact of Early Life Rainfall Shocks on Employment Outcomes in Ethiopia

Poverty and shocks
Human capital
Student paper

Human capital formation plays an important role in economic growth and development. However, developing economies are regularly subjected to a variety of natural disasters that can have prolonged adverse effects on this process. This paper estimates the effects of rainfall shocks exposure during childhood on both educational attainment and employment outcomes in Ethiopia. Using a panel dataset from Ethiopia, the author explore two separate questions – how rainfall shocks impact human capital investment in childhood (measured by education) and how these same shocks affect eventual labour market outcomes. The author finds that positive rainfall shocks at different life stages all result in greater educational attainment.

Additionally, the author finds that increased human capital accumulation reduces the probability that an individual is involved in work in late adolescence, but has no discernible effect on the probability of selfemployment. This points towards a premium being placed on greater human capital in the labour market. The author also verified whether other factors associated with varied rainfall might be driving the results and find that the primary results remain robust. Finally, the author finds evidence of non-linear effects when controlling for heterogeneity in shock severity, indicating the need for additional research to be conducted. Based on a model of human capital accumulation, these results suggest that parents in Ethiopia prefer to reinforce the effect of a shock, implying that there is low substitutability between investments across periods. This points to the need to ensure that policies are designed so as to insulate vulnerable communities from the effects of shocks and leave the process of human capital formation unfettered.



Between Hope and a Hard Place: Boys and Young Men Negotiating Gender, Poverty and Social Worth in Ethiopia

Gina Crivello
Poverty and shocks
Human capital
Education transitions
Gender, adolescence & youth
Working paper

In recent years, there has been an increasing focus on adolescence as a key transition to adulthood. Young people are navigating puberty and making life choices around schooling, work, and intimate and family relationships. However, much of the attention has been on girls. This has led to a lack of gendered analysis and has also meant that adolescent boys have been largely left out of the picture.

This paper uses Young Lives research in Ethiopia, carried out over multiple years, to look at boys and young men’s lives, their aspirations, and the obstacles they face as they grow into adults. It examines the diverse strategies they employ to overcome these challenges, and compares their experiences with those of girls and young women of the same age.

  • Education is seen by both parents and children as a route out of poverty.  95 per cent of Young Lives boys and girls were enrolled in school at the age of 12. By age 19, there was a growing ambivalence regarding education, particularly for young men who increasingly oriented their aspirations towards the world of work.
  • Rural/urban contrasts Young people growing up in rural areas are often seen as having fewer life chances than those in towns. But the least optimistic young men were located in urban areas where they felt disconnected from development opportunities.
  • Livelihoods Many of the young men had left school and were trying to find work, both as a response to poverty and a vital source of respect in the community. But because they found so few opportunities for gainful employment, some of them were left feeling stuck and hopeless.
  • Marriage Girls see marriage as one way of improving their lives. But for young men, marriage was impossible until they had adequately paid work, and was therefore a way of entering into adulthood that they could not imagine in the near future.

The paper concludes by drawing out the policy implications of our findings. It calls for stronger gendered evidence on the relationship between gender inequality and childhood poverty, and an approach to gender justice that include boys and young men, as well as girls and young women, so that none are left trapped between hope and a hard place.

Childhood Shocks, Safety Nets and Cognitive Skills

Tassew Woldehanna
Poverty and shocks
Social protection
Working paper

A growing body of evidence emphasizes that shocks in early childhood can have irreversible effects on long-term child welfare and poverty. A number of studies have investigated the effects of shocks on child nutrition and health. However, evidence on the effects of shocks in early childhood on child cognition, particularly when measured after the early childhood window during preschool and beyond, is scarce. Given its history of recurring natural and economic shocks, Ethiopia presents a compelling context in which to seek a better understanding of this question. Using child-level panel data from rural areas of Ethiopia, this paper analyzes effects of both economic and non-economic shocks on child cognition skills measured after the early childhood age window.

The identification strategy for the study exploits the timing of shocks that occurred between the two periods in which cognitive scores of children were measured - between 2006, when the children in the study were between 4 and 6 years old, and 2009, when they were between 7.0 and 9.6 years old. Using difference-in-differences analysis and controlling for child, household, and village-level baseline characteristics, we find that exposure to these shocks significantly decreased child cognitive skills. Specifically, exposure to drought reduced child cognitive skills by 0.18 standard deviations, while food price inflation undercut cognitive skills by more than one standard deviations (0.98 due to cereals price inflation and 0.47 due to inflation in meat prices). Divorce contributes to a reduction in child cognitive abilities by another 0.39 standard deviations. On the other hand, the safety net program put in place in 2005 to protect households from the economic effects of such shocks mitigated the reduction in cognitive skills by 0.18 standard deviations. These results are in line with comparable studies from similar contexts and suggest that policies that aim at mitigating these shocks are crucial for child welfare and for future human capital development. The results also suggests that social safety nets, if well designed and implemented, can help check the long-lasting detrimental effects of shocks experienced during early childhood.

Keywords: Shock, safety nets, cognitive skill, children, difference-in-differences, Ethiopia