The European Journal of Development Research

, Volume 25, Issue 4, pp 600–620 | Cite as

Know Your Place: Ethiopian Children’s Contributions to the Household Economy

  • Karin Heissler
  • Catherine Porter
Original Article


Analysis of quantitative and qualitative data of a pro-poor sample of Ethiopian children provides a more nuanced understanding of the role of children in the household economy. Children’s work is largely shaped by age and gender; however, our results reveal considerable flexibility within these same structures according to household composition, birth order and sibling composition. We find that exceptions (whereby girls or boys are undertaking work normally associated with the other sex or another household member) are affected by household composition, but driven by intergenerational interdependence. Further, these exceptions are not random; children’s work is affected less by poverty than by dynamic household circumstances. Given changes in the composition of poor households and absence of adequate social safety nets in a context of high risk and uncertainty, interdependence serves as a protective mechanism for poor households.


Ethiopia children’s work interdependence gender intra-household distribution household economy 


Une analyse de données quantitatives et qualitatives sur un échantillon d’enfants éthiopiens vivant dans la pauvreté permet une compréhension plus nuancée du rôle de ces derniers dans l’économie des ménages. Le travail des enfants est, cependant, largement fonction de l’âge et du sexe; nos résultats révèlent, en effet, une flexibilité considérable dans ces rôles en fonction de la composition du ménage, du rang de naissance et de la composition de la fratrie. Nous constatons que les exceptions (dans lesquelles les filles ou les garçons exercent un travail normalement réservé à l’autre sexe ou à un autre membre du ménage) sont influencées par la composition du ménage, mais qu’elles résultent principalement de l’interdépendance entre les générations. En outre, ces exceptions ne sont pas aléatoires; le travail des enfants dépend moins de la pauvreté que des circonstances dans lesquelles les ménages évoluent. Compte tenu des changements dans la composition des ménages pauvres et de l’absence de protection sociale adéquate, dans un contexte d’incertitude et de risque élevé, cette interdépendance constitue un mécanisme protecteur pour les ménages pauvres.


  1. Abebe, T. (2007) Changing livelihoods, changing childhoods: Patterns of children’s work in rural southern Ethiopia. Children’s Geographies 5 (1): 77–93.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Abebe, T. (2008) Trapped between disparate worlds? The livelihoods, socialisation and school contexts of rural children in Ethiopia. Childhoods Today 2 (1): 1–29.Google Scholar
  3. Abebe, T. and Kjørholt, A.T. (2009) Social actors and victims of exploitation: Working children in the cash economy of Ethiopia’s south. Childhood 16 (2): 175–194.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Admassie, A. (2003) Child labour and schooling in the context of a subsistence rural economy: Can they be compatible? International Journal of Educational Development 23 (2): 167–185.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Admassie, A. and Bedi, A.S. (2008) Attending school, reading, writing and child work in rural Ethiopia. In: J., Fanelli and L., Squire (eds.) Economic Reforms in Developing Countries: Reach, Range, Reason. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar, Chapter 6, pp. 185–225.Google Scholar
  6. Andvig, J.C. (2001) Family-Controlled Child Labor in Sub-Saharan Africa: A Survey of Research. Washington DC: World Bank. Social Protection Discussion Paper Series No. 0122.Google Scholar
  7. Bass, L.E. (2004) Child Labor in Sub-Saharan Africa. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers.Google Scholar
  8. Bevan, P. and Pankhurst, A. (2007) Power Structures and Agency in Rural Ethiopia: Development Lessons from Four Community Case Studies’, paper prepared for the Empowerment Team in the Poverty Reduction Group, Washington DC: World Bank.Google Scholar
  9. Boyden, J. (2009) Risk and capability in the context of adversity: Children’s contributions to household livelihoods in Ethiopia. Children, Youth and Environments 19 (2): 2.Google Scholar
  10. Camfield, L. and Tafere, Y. (2009) ‘Children With a Good Life Have to Have School Bags’: Diverse Understandings of Well-being Among Older Children in Ethiopian Communities, Working Paper 37, Oxford: Young Lives.Google Scholar
  11. Cockburn, J. (2002) Income Contributions of Child Work in Rural Ethiopia. University of Oxford. CSAE Working Papers 2002–12.Google Scholar
  12. Edmonds, E. (2006) Understanding sibling differences in child labor. Journal of Population Economics 19 (1): 795–821.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Ejrnaes, M. and Portner, C.C. (2004) Birth Order and the Intrahousehold Allocation of Time and Education. The Review of Economics and Statistics 86: 1008–1019.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Emerson, P.M. and Souza, A.P. (2008) Birth order, child labor, and school attendance in Brazil. World Development 36 (9): 1647–1664.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Erulkar, A.S., Mekbib, T.A., Simie, N. and Gulema, T. (2004) The Experience of Adolescence in Rural Amhara Region Ethiopia, New York: The Population Council.Google Scholar
  16. Fafchamps, M. and Wahba, J. (2006) Child labor, urban proximity, and household composition. Journal of Development Economics 79 (2): 374–397.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Guarcello, L., Lyon, S. and Rosati, F. (2006) The Twin Challenges of Child Labour and Youth Employment in Ethiopia. Geneva: UCW. UCW Working Paper 18.Google Scholar
  18. Heissler, K. (2012) Children’s migration for work in Bangladesh: The policy implications of intra-household relations. Development in Practice 22 (4): 498–509.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Hoddinott, J.D.O. and Gilligan, A. (2009) Seyoum Taffesse “The Impact of Ethiopia’s Productive Safety Net Program on Schooling and Child Labor” International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) Discussion Paper Series 05/2009.Google Scholar
  20. Katz, C. (2004) Growing up Global: Economic Restructuring and Children’s Everyday Lives. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar
  21. Liebel, M. (2004) A Will of Their Own: Cross-Cultural Perspectives on Working Children. London: Zed Books.Google Scholar
  22. Morrow, V. (2009) The Ethics of Social Research with Children and Families in Young Lives: Practical Experiences. Oxford: Young Lives. Working Paper 53.Google Scholar
  23. Nurye, A.A. (2007) ‘My Shop is My School: Children’s Perspectives on Work and School in a Multi-Ethnic Town in Southern Ethiopia’ paper presented at the 16th International Conference of Ethiopian Studies, Trondheim, Norway.Google Scholar
  24. Outes-Leon, I. and Dercon, S. (2008) Survey Attrition and Attrition Bias in Young Lives. Oxford: Young Lives. Young Lives Technical Note 5.Google Scholar
  25. Outes-Leon, I. and Sanchez, A. (2008) An Assessment of the Young Lives Sampling Approach in Ethiopia. Oxford: Young Lives. Young Lives Technical Note 1.Google Scholar
  26. Pankhurst, A. and Tiumelissan, A. (2012) Understanding Community Variation and Change in Ethiopia: Implications for Children. Oxford: Young Lives. Young Lives Working Paper 90.Google Scholar
  27. Poluha, E. (ed.) (2007) The World of Girls and Boys in Rural and Urban Ethiopia. Addis Ababa, Ethiopia: Forum for Social Studies.Google Scholar
  28. Powell, M.A., Taylor, N. and Smith, A. (2008) Rural Childhoods: Literature Review. Childwatch International Study Group on Rural Childhoods, Oslo: University of Oslo.Google Scholar
  29. Punch, S. (2001) Household division of labour: Generation, gender, age, birth order and sibling composition. Work, Employment and Society 15 (15): 803–823.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Punch, S. (2002) Youth transitions and interdependent adult–child relations in rural Bolivia. Journal of Rural Studies 18 (2): 123–133.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Rolleston, C. and James, Z. (2011) The role of schooling in skill development: Evidence from young lives in Ethiopia, India, Peru and Vietnam. Background paper prepared for the Education for All Global Monitoring Report 2012.Google Scholar
  32. Tafere, Y. and Abebe, W. (2008) Young Lives Ethiopia Qualitative Fieldwork 1 September–December 2007. Addis Ababa: Young Lives. Data Gathering Report.Google Scholar
  33. Tekola, B., Griffin, C. and Camfield, L. (2009) Using qualitative methods with poor children in urban Ethiopia: Opportunities & challenges. Social Indicators Research 90 (1): 73–87.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Woldehanna, T. (2009) Productive Safety Net Programme and Children’s Time Use Between Work and Schooling in Ethiopia, Working Paper 40, Oxford: Young Lives.Google Scholar
  35. Woldehanna, T., Tefere, B., Jones, N. and Bayrau, A. (2005) Child Labour, Gender Inequality and Rural/Urban Disparities: How Can Ethiopia’s National Development Strategies Be Revised to Address Negative Spill-over Impacts on Child Education and Wellbeing? Oxford: Young Lives. Working Paper 20.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© European Association of Development Research and Training Institutes 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Karin Heissler
    • 1
  • Catherine Porter
    • 2
  1. 1.UNICEF – Child Protection SectionNew York
  2. 2.Department of EconomicsUniversity of OxfordUK

Personalised recommendations