Policy Paper 2. Children and the Millennium Development Goals: Fragile Gains and Deep Inequalities.


The UN met in September 2010 to assess progress towards the Millennium Development Goals. This paper aimed to inform the debate around achievement of the MDG Goals using evidence and analysis from Young Lives. Young Lives first collected data in 2002 and is following two cohorts of children. The youngest cohort of Young Lives children were born just after the new millennium and are growing up with the promise of the MDGs.

We discuss descriptive and analytical evidence from the Young Lives sample, within the scope of the MDGs, to elaborate four core arguments:

  • First, between 2002 and 2006 we observe evidence that national economic growth was associated with some limited gains in household wealth in the Young Lives sample. Despite this growth, significant inequalities are common. We also observe substantial positive increases in school enrolment and coverage of basic services.
  • Second, in some areas, for example enrolment, change looks quite progressive, with increases apparently benefiting previously excluded groups most, but:
  • Gaps often remain large and systematic. Groups weak within societies often do much less well than the majority or more affluent and powerful elites.
  • Process indicators only tell part of the story. A child's enrolment does not prove they attend school regularly, receive a decent education, or one which equips them with useful skills for later life.
  • Third, if the MDGs are to be transformational for children they need to help break the transmission of poverty between generations. At the moment we see clear evidence that poverty and inequalities restrict poorer children's life chances. Strategies to support sustained improvements under the MDGs need both to increase overall outcomes, and to deliver most for the poorest and most marginalised children.
  • Fourth, averages are often used to measure change but can mask disparities between groups. Our evidence shows considerable differences . for instance in enrolment rates or access to services. It is important to expose such disparities to help understand how to improve outcomes for the poorest and most marginalised children.


Young Lives, Department of International Development at the University of Oxford, UK. 34 pp.

Policy Paper 2. Children and the Millennium Development Goals: Fragile Gains and Deep Inequalities.

Published 1 January 2010