Arciprete, Caterina (2017). 'Methodological and conceptual challenges in developing child and youth capabilities measures' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Cape Town 2017.


More than 350 million children live in extreme poverty worldwide (Newhouse et al. 2016) with children experiencing poverty in different ways depending on age, gender, having a disability or not, etc. (Biggeri et al. 2011). Furthermore, the number of poor children is higher than the number of poor adults implying that intra-household relations are more complex than it is usually assumed to be (Gordon et al. 2003; Roelen et al. 2010). Hence, a thorough assessment of children and youth well-being must depart from a deep understanding of the multidimensional space of child’s wellbeing, and its gendered and age-specific nature.

Although the capability approach is usually used to assess the well-being of adults, it is particularly well placed for understanding the determinants of the well-being of children and the youth (Biggeri et al., 2011). This approach places great emphasis on agency and self-determination, hence when it is applied to children two notions become highly important: the notion of evolving capabilities (Biggeri et al. 2011) and of external capabilities (Foster and Handy, 2008). The first refers to the process of expansion/reduction of opportunities that a child experiences throughout his childhood and adolescence; the latter refers to those capabilities available to the child due to his/her relationship with someone. In other words, the approach recognizes that children are not autonomous and that their capabilities are partially affected by the entitlements of their parents or caregivers to goods and services as well as by the capabilities of the community.

Despite the pioneering work on capability approach applied to children published in 2011 by Biggeri et al., the discussion on the measurement and selection of dimensions for child-specific indicators has remained a niche area for researchers. Hence, there is now plenty of scope and need for advancing knowledge in this field.

This panel aims to address the general question: "How do we advance the capability approach by proposing new measures to improve the understanding of children and youth lives? ”

The basic assumption behind the different papers is that despite the increasingly shared awareness of the intrinsic and instrumental importance of early childhood, childhood and of adolescence, the measures that are commonly in use do not capture the complexity and plurality of children and youth experiences.
Particularly, the measures in use often fail to account for contextual factors, such as the influence of the community where the child grows up on his/her development. Most studies accounts for the impact of parental characteristics on children, but do not look at the child within the context of the overall system of relationship that form his or her environment. Indeed, it is a set of factors (i.e. family, school, community, social norms, local policies, national policies, etc) (Bronfenbrenner, and Morris, 1998) that interact and determine a certain path of development. Further, despite some measures attempt to produce different profiles of child poverty depending on some identity characteristics (De Neuborg et al., 2012), still too little attention is devoted to include gender sensitive measures (such as time use) in child poverty assessment.
Further, most studies are likely to use child anthropometric measures as proxy for child growth despite the plurality of elements that interact to shape healthy growth functionings.
All in all, current measures for child poverty and child wellbeing do not capture the complexity of child’s experience, thus new ideas, new methodologies, new measures as well as refined interpreted frameworks are welcomed in order to secure the rights of all children.

This panel titled “Methodological and conceptual challenges in developing child and youth capabilities measures” consists in four papers tackling the aforementioned issues from different perspectives: the first paper proposes a new framework and a matrix of variables to assess early childhood growth based on the capability approach; the second paper draws on the theoretical model discussed in paper 1 and applies it on the Indian Demographic and Health Survey; the third paper analyzes time allocation as a type of capability using a multidimensional index that assesses the opportunities and functionings of the youth population as a proxy of their freedom in Chile; the fourth paper analyses what are the dynamic impacts of children’s' disadvantages in early periods on their capabilities later in life with a specific focus on contextual factors and on children living in poorer households.

All in all, these four papers, by discussing both theoretical and empirical issues, aim to bring new knowledge about child and youth capabilities’ measures and to contribute to develop better policies.

Main References

Biggeri, M. - Ballet, J.B. - Comim, F. (eds), (2011),Children and the Capability Approach, New York, Palgrave Macmillan.

Bronfenbrenner, U., & Morris, P. A. (1998). The ecology of developmental processes

de Neubourg, C., Chai, J., de Milliano, M., Plavgo, I. and Wei, Z. (2012). Step-by-step Guidelines to the Multiple Overlapping Deprivation Analysis (MODA), Innocenti Working Paper 2012-10, UNICEF Office of Research, Florenc

Foster, J.E. - Handy, C., 2008 External Capabilities, in K. Basu - R. Kanbur (eds), Arguments for a Better World: Essays in Honor of Amartya Sen, vol. I, Oxford, Oxford University Press, pp. 362-374.

Gordon, D., S. Nandy, C. Pantazis, S. Pemberton and P. Townsend. (2003) Child Poverty in the Developing World, Policy Press: Bristol

Newhouse, D., P. Suarez Becerra and M. Evans, Martin. 2016. “New estimates of extreme poverty for children. Policy Research working paper” WPS 7845. Washington, D.C.: World Bank Group.

Roelen, K., Gassmann, F. and de Neubourg, C. (2010). Child Poverty in Vietnam: Providing insights using
a country-specific and multidimensional model, Social Indicators Research, 98(1), 129–145.

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