Multiple shocks and downward mobility: learning from the life histories of rural Ugandans


This paper presents findings from on-going research in rural Uganda. Analysis builds on the qualitative and quantitative livelihoods research undertaken in 3 Districts in Uganda by the LADDER study. In addition to re-analysis of the LADDER dataset, the authors undertook in-depth life history interviews with the heads of nearly 25 households in 3 villages. They explored the trajectories into and out of poverty and found that the loss of assets and composite shocks have propelled a number of previously non-poor households into severe and long-term poverty. In addition, they found that those born into chronically poor households found few opportunities for accumulation and escape.

Well-being decline was associated with a web of meso-level constraints and shocks which commonly combined negatively with household level shocks and socio-cultural or socio-psychological factors. Chronically poor households seldom faced a single problem or constraint, and those who reduced the intensity of their poverty generally managed to do so as a result of several serendipitous events or factors combining. Shocks with a long-run impact include the fragmentation of families, following marital breakdown or the death of a parent. The repercussions of which were particularly strong for women and their children who could be affected long into adulthood. Ill health, physical weakness and disability were strongly associated with declines in well-being. 'Non-cooperation within the household', resulting in the theft and sale of stored crops or household assets, was associated with high (male) alcohol consumption and was in turn linked with high levels of domestic violence and reduced levels of well-being for the whole household. Inter-ethnic conflict resulting in internal displacement, the loss of productive and household assets and the death of household members caused life-long trauma and declines into chronic poverty for many households. The complete absence of effective interventions for 'vulnerable groups' has left widows, orphans, the abandoned elderly, the disabled and the long-term sick with no where to turn. Difficulties in accessing markets, particularly in remote rural areas, means that the chronically poor, even the 'non-vulnerable', can rarely accumulate through selling their labour. Education and health provision is commonly poor, even when access is possible. With no surplus to save, low levels of human, social or political capital and few productive assets, the chronically poor's ability to identify and capitalise on escape routes from poverty are profoundly limited. Day to day levels of well-being are extremely low and they have little hope for a brighter future. Targeted social protection measures are clearly necessary to provide long-term welfare to some and opportunities to invest and accumulate for others.


Multiple shocks and downward mobility:learning from the life histories of rural Ugandans presented at Staying Poor: Chronic Poverty and Development Policy, Institute for Development Policy and Management, University of Manchester, 7-9 April 2003. Chronic Poverty Research Centre (CPRC), Manchester, UK, 44 pp.

Multiple shocks and downward mobility: learning from the life histories of rural Ugandans

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