Thursday, 19 July 2012

The Child Development Index 2012

So, the Child Development Index 2012: Progress, Challenges and Inequality is out. Launched in 2008 as a complement to the Human Development Index, the CDI is designed to capture progress in child well-being. The index combines measures of health, education and nutrition, for 141 countries, tracking across three periods: 1995-1999, 2000-2004, and 2005-2010.

What does the report say? Here’s the good news: over a decade or so, from the late 1990s, there has been substantial progress. By the late 2000s, the chances of a child going to school were one-third higher, while the chances of their dying before their fifth birthday were one-third lower. Child well-being improved in 90% of the countries where we had data (that’s 127 countries). Across each indicator, and especially in the poorest countries, there was a striking and welcome acceleration in progress in the most recent period.

And the bad news? Above all, it is that progress on nutrition has been feeble in comparison with the other two components. When we looked at wasting (the more responsive measure of under-nutrition), it actually showed a rise – of 1.5 million children, compared with the early 2000s. Increasingly then, under-nutrition looks like the biggest challenge to child well-being – or at the least, the worst performing component of the index.

So that’s the progress and the challenges, leaving one element of the subtitle – inequality. At the most basic level, for a given average per capita income, a distribution that favours the poorest households will be associated with less under-nutrition. Just a few weeks ago we published a report on social protection, A Chance to Grow, showing that – following a World Bank methodology – transfers costing just 1.5% of GDP in low- and middle-income countries would take tens of millions out of under-nutrition.

In the CDI we looked at different possible relationships. Using household survey data, we compared national average nutrition outcomes with the extent of inequality on the same outcomes between the strongest and weakest performing groups. The graph below shows the scatterplot for national underweight prevalence and the prevalence gap between household wealth quintiles – and it’s worth noting that there seemed to be a similar pattern for different nutrition outcomes (stunting and wasting as well as underweight prevalence) and different dimensions of inequality (urban-rural and maternal education level as well as household wealth).

 Needless to say, the report contains a great deal more information on how countries and regions perform, a comparison with the Human Development Index, and the continuing weaknesses in the underlying data (on which note – many thanks to Terry McKinley and Giovanni Cozzi from CDPR at SOAS for the number-crunching and comments).

I’ll return to some of this in later posts, but in the meantime you can find the full report here – comments most welcome. 

Alex Cobham
Save the Children