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Reconciling numbers and qualitative data in Young Lives, a 15-year study of children growing up in Ethiopia, Andhra Pradesh India, Peru & Vietnam Virginia Morrow ESRC Research Methods Festival Mixed Methods Panel St Catherine’s College, Oxford 10 th July 2014.

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Reconciling numbers and qualitative data in Young Lives, a 15-year study of children growing up in Ethiopia, Andhra Pradesh India, Peru & Vietnam

Virginia Morrow

ESRC Research Methods Festival Mixed Methods Panel

St Catherine’s College, Oxford

10th July 2014



  • 12,000 children in Ethiopia, India (Andhra Pradesh), Peru, Vietnam
  • Two age cohorts in each country:- 2,000 children born in 2000-01- 1,000 children born in 1994-95
  • Pro-poor sample: 20 sites in each country selected to reflect country diversity, rural-urban, livelihoods, ethnicity, gender
  • 4 major household survey rounds completed so far: in 2002; 2006/7; 2009; 2013 – final round 2017.
  • Qualitative research
  • School study
  • Comprehensive focus – nutrition, development, cognitive and psycho-social, education, social protection
  • Partnership of government and independent research institutes
  • Commissioned by UK Dept for International Development

Survey data include:

  • Household food and non-food consumption and expenditure
  • Economic changes and recent life history
  • Parental background
  • Livelihoods and assets
  • Socio-economic status
  • Children’s time use
  • Child health and well-being
  • Anthropometry
  • Education experiences
  • Caregiver perceptions
  • Cognitive development & vocabulary scores
  • (Survey data are available at UK Data Archive)

Qualitative research:

  • Longitudinal qualitative data are being collected from a sub-sample of both cohorts – 50 children in each country
  • 3 rounds of data have been collected (2007, 2008, 2011) with a further round ongoing 2014.
  • Methods include: child interviews, caregiver interviews, group discussions, group activities, data gathered using creative methods, teacher interviews, etc.
    • Focus on children’s daily lives – time-use, school, work, transitions, aspirations, experiences, well-being.

What kinds of childhood are imagined and created through the research?

  • A range of disciplines, so a range of understandings of childhood?
  • Economics: children as future human capital, childhood separate from adulthood
  • Sociology: children as (constrained) social actors, lived realities of children, relational understanding
  • Limitations: futurity, profitability, instrumental view of children vs. Small scale of ethnographic work – numbers matter.

Binary division between qual/quant


  • Magnitude
  • Distribution
  • Prevalence
  • Proportion
  • Objective ‘facts’
  • Conclusive
  • Generalisable
  • Outliers – ignore!
  • Value-base – implicit
  • Lack of conceptualisation
  • Human capital - future
  • Focus on individual
  • Simple policy solutions –
  • abolitionist approaches


  • Socio-economic context
  • Institutional/political processes
  • Practices behind decision-making
  • Quality
  • Subjective experiences
  • Exploratory
  • Particular
  • Outliers – interesting – follow up!
  • Values - explicit
  • Conceptualisation the starting point
  • Daily life, here and now
  • Focus on collective experiences
  • Policy suggestions complex, unintended consequences

Towards an integrated approach

  • Enables political economic analysis linking context to magnitude of phenomena
  • Reveals practices and process behind trends
  • How and why households respond
  • Enhanced understanding of factors behind statistics
  • Balanced explanations of people’s actions – interdependency of family members
  • A more nuanced view
  • Illustrative
  • QLR – understanding change over time in depth
  • Clarification of how questions are understood in context
  • Grounded, realistic (?) policy suggestions.

Example 1: child labour

  • Economics: child labour prevents human capital formation (via schooling); poverty/poor parents force children to work
  • Sociology: children’s responsibilities, interdependency, reciprocity
  • Quality of school
  • What is lost when children withdrawn from work?
  • survival, earning money, enhancing marriage prospects, having something to do, a source of pride, having fun with friends, and a way of learning skills for the future.


  • Economists emphasis on ‘non-cognitive’ skills (....self-discipline, perseverance, dependability, motivation, sociability, ability to work with others, ability to focus on tasks, self-regulation, self-esteem, time preference, health, mental health... ‘character’) cf:
  • Cultural psychology/social anthropology – all these characteristics are valued very differently across cultures, genders, social groups etc...... (eg. Pride, shyness, etc)
  • Start with the topic and question, not the discipline... (social policy approach)

Example 2: injuries among young people

  • From qualitative research, extent and effects of injuries
  • Prevalence in survey of injuries
  • Lack of evidence/data (epidemiological – hospital admissions)
  • Primary focus on sexual and reproductive health
  • Explore patterns, socio-demographic risk factors, and consequences of injuries
  • Mixed methods paper

Approach: integration

  • Iterative – initial analysis of both data sets separately
  • Key areas identified where young people reported injury (work/doing chores, recreation and sports, transport)
  • 2-way process where survey and qualitative analysis informed each other

To acquire understanding of socio-demographic risk factors and potential long-term health consequences



  • Survey: Work injuries: slightly more frequent in Ethiopia and AP India than Peru and Vietnam
  • Cuts, ‘falls’, animal-related, transport-related
  • In Ethiopia and AP India, gender – boys higher odds of work injuries than girls.
  • Poverty/rurality – in Ethiopia, Peru and Vietnam
  • Qualitative: consequences of injuries – social and economic, for individual and entire family.
  • Eg Ethiopia, Habtamu age 13 in 2009: cut his leg with an axe, chopping wood.


  • ‘First, my parents put chilli and alcohol on the sore... I was treated in this way for one month. However, I was seriously sick, and I was taken to the modern health centre. I had one medicine by injection and another medicine which was take in the form of fluid.... Then I was able to recover from the injury’.
  • Habtamu’s brother took on his work,
  • Habtamu’father paid for hospital treatment.
  • Implications: financial burden, and his brother’s time at school

Other examples & implications:

  • Recreation and sports injuries – lack of safe spaces, risky activities, playing football on roads, kite flying on roofs.
  • Transport injuries - motorbikes, bicycles – overcrowding, poor road quality, fear of falling, public transport.
  • Explaining injuries: the importance of spiritual forces
  • (Limitations, and further research needed)
  • Health care inaccessible, lay remedies
  • Adapt injury prevention approaches to differing environments/understandings


  • Combining methods and models of childhood will enable deeper understanding
  • Binary division too simplistic
  • Many examples of integrated approaches, and of combining or mixing methods
  • Need transparency about process of integration
  • Barriers: paradigm wars, publishing conventions
  • Workshops on combining qual/quant
  • Impact agenda?


Boyden J and M Bourdillon (eds) (2012) Childhood poverty, multidisciplinary approaches. Palgrave/Macmillan, London.

Boyden, J and M Bourdillon (eds) (2014) Growing up in Poverty: Findings from Young Lives, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Crivello, G., Morrow, V., Wilson, E. (2013) Young Lives Longitudinal Qualitative Research: a guide for researchers. Young Lives Technical Note 26, Young Lives, Oxford.

Heissler K & Porter C. (2013) Know your place: Ethiopian children’s contributions to the household economy. European Journal of Development Research, 25, 4, 600-620.

Morrow, V., Barnett, I, and Vujcich, D. (2014) Understanding the causes and consequences of injuries to adolescents growing up in poverty in Ethiopia, Andhra Pradesh (India), Vietnam and Peru: a mixed method study, Health Policy and Planning, 29, 1, 67-75.

Morrow , V., and Crivello, G. (in preparation, 2015) What is the value of qualitative longitudinal research with children and young people for international development? For (eds) R. Thomson & J. MacLeod, ‘New Frontiers in Qualitative Longitudinal Research’, Special issue of IntJnl Social Research Methodology

Orkin, K. (2011) See first, think later, then test: How children’s perspectives can improve economic research. European Journal of Development Research, 23, 5, 774-791.



  • methods and research papers
  • datasets (UK data archive)
  • publications
  • child profiles and photos
  • e-newsletter