employed people, it would mean low rates of return in their respective lines
of production. With determined individual effort, or with a bit of luck, a few
people may still be able to break out of poverty, but so long as the market size
continues to act as the binding constraint, there will be an overall limit on
how many can break out.
It might be tempting to argue that the limitation of market size need not
be taken to be invariant to individual efforts to move out of poverty. Since
the overall economy is the sum of individual actors in the economy, it might
be argued that if everyone tried to raise the scale of production and improve
productivity at the same time, then the market size itself would expand. But
there is a problem here, identiď¬ed more than half a century ago by the likes of
Rosentein-Rodan and Ragnar Nurkse and analysed more rigorously in recent
times by the likes of Murphy, Shleifer, and Vishny (1989) and others. Because
of externalities, individuals would try to expand production only if they were
conď¬dent that others would do so but not otherwise, and since the market
mechanism by itself does not offer this assurance, everyone might end up not
expanding enough. The problem is one of coordination failure that keeps the
overall market small.
This is a case of poverty trap at the macro level. Several other sources of
poverty trap at the macro (national) and meso (sub-regional or community)
levels have been identiď¬ed by recent research (Azariadis and Stachurski, 2005;
Bowles, Durlauf, and Hoff, 2006). We now know that for a variety of reasons
constraints to expansion can be created above the level of individuals that
may not be easily broken by individual effort alone. These reasons include
not just market failure but also institutional failures of various kinds.
Higher-level poverty traps can be a major cause of chronic poverty at the
individual level, whether or not individual poverty itself takes the form of a
Understanding Chronic Poverty
trap (i.e. regardless of whether the trajectory of expected income takes route
A or route B in Figure 11.3). We have argued before that in order to explain
chronic poverty it is not essential to invoke the notion of poverty trap at
the individual level, but we wish to emphasize now that poverty traps at
higher levels may have a very big role to play in explaining chronic poverty
at individual level. Empirically, this is more likely to be true for countries that
are experiencing very sluggish growth and have pervasive chronic poverty at
the same time.
In such cases, the main solution to chronic poverty can only be found
by stimulating overall growth of the economy, by somehow neutralizing the
forces that have been responsible for creating poverty traps at the macro and
meso levels. As faster growth helps expand the market and pushes up the
envelope of opportunities, those suffering from chronic poverty would ď¬nd it
easier to earn a higher rate of return on their endowments. In the process, they
might be able to push up the trajectory of expected income rapidly enough to
take it beyond the poverty line during their lifetime.
Matters are very different, however, if structural mismatch happens to be
the binding constraint. Growth is still relevant here, but what matters in
this case is not so much the rate of growth as the â˜pattern of growthâ™, by
which we mean the combination of certain characteristics of the growth
process, such as the sectoral pattern of growth, geographical distribution of
growth, factor bias in the choice of technology, and so on, which together
determine how the expanded opportunities offered by growth would affect
different individuals and social groups. While the rate of growth has to do
with expansion of opportunities as a whole, the pattern of growth has to
do with the distribution of those opportunities. Obviously, when the main
reason for chronic poverty lies in the mismatch between endowments and
opportunities, what matters more is the distribution of opportunities rather
than expansion of opportunities in general. In this case, chronic poverty will
be dented only by a pattern of growth that alters the structure of opportunities
in a way that reduces the problem of mismatch, i.e. brings the structure of
opportunities in line with the structure of endowments of the chronically
Clearly, solving the problem of chronic poverty that stems from structural
mismatch is a much more difď¬cult proposition than dealing with chronic
poverty that arises from the macro-level market constraint. For a start, it
requires detailed knowledge of the nature of structural mismatch, which may
be different for different groups of the chronically poor. More importantly,
it requires a policy regime that is consciously designed to guide the growth
process in a way that aligns the structure of opportunities more in conformity
with the structure of endowments of the chronically poor. This is no simple
task, but if pro-poor growth is to mean anything, this is what it must mean.
S. R. Osmani
Actually, dealing with the problem of structural mismatch is even more
demanding than what the preceding analysis suggests. There are two ends of
the mismatchâ”opportunity is at one end and endowment is at the other. The
pattern of growth operates at the end of opportunities, but there may be situa-
tions where acting on opportunities alone would not sufď¬ce; actions might be
needed at the endowment end as well. Indeed, acting at the endowment end
may sometimes be the more cost-effective and durable method of tackling the
problem of chronic poverty that stems from structural mismatch. Such actions
would include targeted interventions of various kinds, such as redistribution
of assets, special programmes for enhancing the human capital of speciď¬c
groups of people, removing various kinds of entry barriers that certain groups
of people might face while trying to access markets and government services,
and so on. In general, the removal of structural mismatch would call for a
two-pronged strategy of engendering an appropriate pattern of growth on
the one hand and adopting the right kind of targeted interventions on the
11.4. Concluding Observations
This chapter has tried to offer a new perspective on the phenomenon of
chronic poverty based on the notion of a mismatch between the structure of
endowments possessed by the poor and the structure of opportunities open to
them. This perspective has been examined by taking as the point of departure
the current focus on poverty traps as the predominant analytical framework
for understanding chronic poverty. While acknowledging the value of insights
offered by the poverty trap approach, the chapter has argued the case for
going beyond it, at least in two ways. First, it has been noted that chronic
poverty can exist with or without a trap, and more importantly that for policy
purposes it does not really matter whether a chronically poor person is caught
in a trap or not. Second, in searching for causes of chronic poverty, the focus
should be broadened from the level or magnitude of endowments, on which
the poverty trap literature mainly concentrates, to include the structure or
composition of endowments as well, to which the new perspective draws
In the latter context, two broad types of causal forces have been identiď¬ed,
described as the macro constraint and the structural constraint. The macro
constraint refers to the possibility that limitations of a small market may
keep many people chronically poor by forcing down the rates of return on
their endowments. The structural constraint refers to the problem created by
a mismatch between the structure of endowments and the structure of oppor-
tunities. We have argued that the structural mismatch can be an important
Understanding Chronic Poverty
reason for the existence of chronic poverty, because the effect of a mismatch
is to force down the rates of return on endowments.
The relative importance of the two types of constraints may vary in different
contexts. When the macro constraint is binding, rapid rate of growth may
help reduce chronic poverty quite satisfactorily. However, if the structural
constraint is binding, then rapid growth by itself wonâ™t be of much help.
What would matter more is the pattern of growthâ”in particular, whether
the pattern of growth is such that it aligns the structure of opportunities for
the poor more in conformity with their structure of endowments. In order to
achieve this alignment better, the pursuit of an appropriate pattern of growth
will have to be supplemented by targeted interventions so as to alter the
structure of endowments.
Azariadis, C., and Stachurski, J. (2005), â˜Poverty Trapsâ™, in P. Aghion and S. Durlauf
(eds.), Handbook of Economic Growth, Amsterdam: North Holland.
Barrett, C. B. (2003), â˜Rural Poverty Dynamics: Development Policy Implicationsâ™, paper
presented at the 25th International Conference of Agricultural Economists, Durban.
and Swallow, B. M. (2003), â˜Fractal Poverty Trapsâ™, mimeo, Department of Applied
Economics and Management, Cornell University.
Behrman, J. R., Birdsall, N., and SzĂ©kely, M. (2000), â˜Economic Reform and Wage
Differentials in Latin Americaâ™, Research Working Paper No. 435, Washington: Inter-
American Development Bank.
Bowles, S., Durlauf, S., and Hoff, K. (2006), Poverty Traps, Princeton: Princeton University
Carter, M. R., and Barrett, C. B. (2005), â˜The Economics of Poverty Traps and Persistent
Poverty: An Asset-Based Approachâ™, mimeo, University of Wisconsin and Cornell
DAW/UN (1999), 1999 World Survey on the Role of Women in Development: Globaliza-
tion, Gender and Work, New York: United Nations, Division for the Advancement of
Women, Department of Economic and Social Affairs.
(2001), â˜The Situation of Rural Women within the Context of Globalizationâ™, report
of the Expert Group Meeting held in Ulaabbaatar, Mongolia, 4â“8 June, New York:
United Nations, Division for the Advancement of Women, Department of Economic
and Social Affairs.
Hossain, M. (1984), Credit for the Rural Poor: The Experience of Grameen Bank in
Bangladesh, Research Monograph No. 4, Dhaka: Bangladesh Institute of Development
Murphy, K. M., Shleifer, A., and Vishny, R. W. (1989), â˜Industrialization and the Big
Pushâ™, Journal of Political Economy, 97: 1003â“26.
Osmani, S. R. (1989), â˜Limits to the Alleviation of Poverty through Non-Farm Creditâ™,
Bangladesh Development Studies, 17(4): 1â“18.
S. R. Osmani
Osmani, S. R. (2006), â˜Exploring the Employment Nexus: The Analytics of Pro-Poor
Growthâ™, in R. Islam (ed.), Fighting Poverty: The Development-Employment Link, Boulder,
Colo.: Lynne Rienner.
Wood, A. (1997), â˜Openness and Wage Inequality in Developing Countries: The
Latin American Challenge to East Asian Wisdomâ™, World Bank Economic Review, 11(1):
World Bank (2001), Engendering Development: Through Gender Equality in Rights, Resources
and Voice, Washington: World Bank.
Investments, Bequests, and
Intergenerational Transfers and the
Escape from Poverty
Agnes R. Quisumbing
While intergenerationally transmitted poverty is the most enduring form of
poverty (Hulme, Moore, and Shepherd, 2001), we know much more about
factors governing the transfer of wealth, than the transmission of poverty.
This chapter focuses more narrowly on factors that impede the transfer of
human and physical capital (assets), forms of wealth for which we have
more empirical evidence. Section 12.2 uses a conceptual framework of wealth
transfers to highlight barriers the poor may face in transferring wealth to
the next generation. Section 12.3 illustrates various aspects of the conceptual
framework using empirical evidence from developing countries, focusing on:
(1) the role of credit constraints in preventing optimal investments in human
capital and asset transfers; (2) the role of gender differences in schooling and
assets in perpetuating unequal lifetime incomes; and (3) the role of the mar-
riage market and assortative matching in perpetuating asset inequality across
families and across generations. Section 12.4 examines the scope for public
policy in relieving constraints to the poor in accumulation and transferring
wealth to the next generation.
12.2. A Conceptual Framework for Understanding
Intergenerational Transfers and the Intergenerational
Transmission of Poverty1
Most intergenerational transfers take place within the family. 2 Families, often
but not always parents, take decisions about the resources to be provided to
their children to enable them to grow, learn, socialize, and eventually become
adult members of society. 3 Most of the decisions taken while children are
young are related to investment in human capital. As children marry and form
their own households, decisions are taken regarding transfers of assets that
enable them to form a new productive and social unit. Finally, as parents age
and die, children make decisions regarding old age support and the transfer
of remaining assets to children.
A basic analytical framework for understanding intergenerational transfers
to children has four building blocks:
1. Parents care about the well-being of their children, though parental
concern may vary across children.
2. Parents take into account the extent to which investments will make
both their children and themselves better off in the future when choos-
ing to invest in their children.
3. Parentsâ™ ability to undertake investments in their children is constrained
by the resourcesâ”money and timeâ”available to them, the prices they
face, and their ability to trade off present versus future resources.
4. Parents may disagree about these decisions, hence the ability of an
individual parent to determine household decisions will also affect these
These building blocks can be summarized as â˜preferencesâ™, â˜returnsâ™, â˜con-
straintsâ™, and â˜bargainingâ™. 4
This conceptual framework is very similar to that in Hoddinott and Quisumbing (2003).
For a more extensive discussion of intergenerational transfers, see Behrman (1997).
The term â˜familyâ™ designates a group of individuals related by marriage and consanguin-
ity, which is different from the term â˜householdâ™, which is a group of individuals living
together and sharing the same food budget or cooked meals.
Moore (2001) has argued that poverty can also be transmitted through â˜publicâ™ spheres
of community, market, and state. Since this chapter aims to provide both a conceptual
framework and empirical evidence, its focus is on the family, since the bulk of empirical
evidence deals with familial transfers.
Note that while we describe this framework in terms of parental decisions, not all children
live with their parents. This framework applies equally to cases where children live with other
relatives or foster carers or where the extended family is the decision maker regarding transfers
Investments, Bequeaths, and Public Policy
The mirror image of this framework shows how â˜stumbling blocksâ™ can
prevent the intergenerational transfer of wealth:
1. Parents may care about the welfare of their children, but unequal prefer-
ences may lead to their favouring some children over others.
2. Parents may perceive that â˜returnsâ™ to investing in children are low,
owing to high child mortality, few opportunities in the labour market, or
that returns to investing in some children may be lower than in others.
3. Parents may have limited resources, ď¬nd the costs of investing in chil-
dren too high, and are constrained by their ability to trade off present for
future resources, which may be critical when they face adverse shocks.
4. Parents may exercise their bargaining power in ways that may not be
conducive to the transfer of wealth to their children, or to some of their
Most economic analyses of intergenerational transfers encompass elements
(1) to (3), and this framework, called a general parental consensus model by
Behrman (1997), places few restrictions on the allocation of human resource
investments and transfers to and among children. Two special cases of this
model, the wealth model (Becker and Tomes, 1976, 1979; Becker, 1991)
and the separable earnings-transfers (SET) model of Behrman, Pollak, and
Taubman (1982), make stronger assumptions. Both models take the total
resources that parents allocate to children as given, assume that parents
make human capital investment decisions for children, and ď¬nd that under
imperfect capital markets, parents are not necessarily able to equalize the
market rate of return on investments to the market rate of interest on ď¬nancial
More recent analyses of intergenerational transfers have taken into account
the possibility that parents may not have equal preferences to transfer
resources to children. Inspired by collective models of household behaviour
(see Haddad, Hoddinott, and Alderman, 1997, for a review), these studies have
examined the differential impact of parental resources on the allocation of
resources within the household. Behrman (1997) and Strauss and Thomas
(1995, 1998) review this growing evidence. Bargaining between parents, as
suggested by (4) above, will therefore affect the eventual allocation of transfers
among members of the household.
We assume that parents are altruistic; that is, they care about the well-being of
their children both now and in the future. But while parents care about their
children, it does not necessarily follow that parents care equally about all
their children, or that all children are treated equally. Accordingly, parental
preferences may affect investments in children through two pathways. One
pathway reď¬‚ects the extent to which parents have equal concern for the well-
being of their children; the second reď¬‚ects the child outcomes that are of
concern to parents.
Parents with â˜equal concernâ™ for all children are parents who value a given
improvement in the well-being of any child equally. But not all parentsâ™
preferences can be described as equal concern. For example, in parts of South
Asia where boys are valued more highly than girls (Miller, 1981; Sen, 1990)
parents exhibit unequal concern since they value an improvement in a boyâ™s
well-being more highly than an equal improvement in a girlâ™s well-being. A
childâ™s birth order also comes into play, interacting with the childâ™s gender as
well as family size, which is intimately linked with the stage of the parentsâ™
life cycle. First-born or low birth-order children may have parents who are less
experienced with child rearing, but later-born children have to share parental
resources with more siblings. Indeed, siblings may compete for scarce parental
resources, with male siblings often favoured; Garg and Morduch (1998) and
Morduch (2000) present evidence of this in rural Ghana. Children may thus
end up doing better if their siblings are sisters, since in many societies, they
have a smaller claim on parental resources, or, as in the case of Taiwan,
older sisters may contribute to school fees for younger children (Parish and
Willis, 1993). 5
The outcomes that parents value also inď¬‚uence the form of investments
made in children. In the wealth model of transfers (Becker and Tomes, 1976;
Becker, 1991), human resource investments in children are both socially
efď¬cient (Pareto optimal) and privately efď¬cient (wealth maximizing). That
is, altruistic parents will invest in the human capital of each child until
the expected rate of return on each such human capital investment equals
the market rate of interest. Each child need not receive the same wealth-
maximizing level of human capital, owing to differences in childrenâ™s ability
to beneď¬t from these investments. These differences might reď¬‚ect innate
child characteristicsâ”for example, some children may be more â˜educableâ™
(in the sense of being able to do well academically) than othersâ”or may
reď¬‚ect societal norms and constraintsâ”for example, where there is gender
discrimination in the labour market. Optimal distribution amongst offspring
is then obtained via transfers of money and other assets to offset earnings
However, this model results in efď¬cient human levels of human resource
investments only if parents devote enough resources to their children that
there are positive transfers to at least one of them (Behrman, Pollak, and
Taubman, 1995), which may be unlikely in a poor developing country. Credit
Parents may also exhibit greater concern for children with closer genetic links, as the
literature on orphans and child fostering suggests (e.g. Case, Lin, and McLanahan, 2000).
Investments, Bequeaths, and Public Policy
constraints may also prevent parents from investing optimally in their chil-
drenâ™s human capital. Behrman, Pollak, and Taubman (1982, 1995) suggest
that when parents cannot fully compensate for unequal investments, their
investments in children will reď¬‚ect a trade-off between equitable outcomes
and the maximization of expected incomes of all children.
The discussion in the previous section described â˜returnsâ™ in terms of future
earnings either in the labour market or working on oneâ™s own account in
agriculture or in a non-agricultural enterprise. Where individualsâ™ character-
istics such as health and education matter in terms of the type of partner
a child marriesâ”the idea that there is â˜assortative matchingâ™â”there may be
additional returns in the sense that children will enter into a â˜betterâ™ marriage.
This conveys beneď¬ts not only to the child, but also to the parents where
such marriages represent an alliance of families, not individuals. Parents may
transfer wealth strategically to their children at the time of marriage to ensure
a better match.
In making these investments, parents might also be considering their own
future well-being. As they age, they will increasingly require assistance from
their adult children. The knowledge that such assistance may be needed partly
motivates their choice to have children and make investments in them, the
â˜old age securityâ™ motive for fertility (Leibenstein, 1957, 1975). Such a motive
reď¬‚ects two forms of market imperfections: in capital markets (Cigno, 1991)
and in the market for services such as care for the elderly and companionship
Intergenerational transfers provide children with the ď¬nancial means of
caring for their elderly parents but also make children more independent of
their parents. To ensure that they are not abandoned in their old age, parents
may invest in the socialization of their children to ensure that such transfers
do take place (Cigno, 1991). 6 If potential returns in terms of transfers and care
giving are less from daughters in societies where girls â˜marry outâ™, parents may
be less inclined to invest in daughters, even if they may care equally for the
welfare of daughters and sons.
Children may also provide an insurance function. In the absence of well-
developed formal private sector insurance markets and governmental safety
nets, insurance arrangements with family members may dominate because
information is likely to be better for family members than for others. 7 For
such insurance to be effective, different family members need to be subjected
to risks of different shocks that are not too highly positively correlated (Stark
Alternatively, parents may make future transfers to children, such as bequests, contingent
on the provision of attention, assistance, and companionship.
For a developed-country example, see Altonji, Hayashi, and Kotlikoff (1992).
and Levhari, 1982). Geographical distances tend to lessen the extent of pos-
itive correlations among many of these shocks. For this reason, migration
of family members and exogamous marriages both have the potential to
increase insurance possibilities. For example, Rosenzweig and Stark (1989)
provide evidence of the role of marriage in consumption smoothing in India
while de La BriĂ¨re et al. (2002) ď¬nd that female migrants to the United States
increase remittances in response to loss of work due to illness of their parents
in the Dominican Republic.
Time and budget constraints are obvious factors that may limit the ability of
parents to transfer resources to their children. Budget constraints reď¬‚ect both
decisions made by the household as well as exogenous factors. Decisions to
work rather than undertake child care, to engage in wage work or agriculture
or some form of own-business activityâ”and decisions regarding the amount
of time spent in these activitiesâ”will inď¬‚uence household income. These
decisions will be affected by household characteristics including education
and assets such as land and capital goods. At the same time, returns to time
spent in different types of work and the price of goods purchased by the
household are typically beyond the control of the household. Wages in the
labour market, prices for agricultural commodities, even the exchange rate,
will affect household incomes. Budget constraints will also depend on the
number, age, and other characteristics of other family members.
Because some transfers to children are â˜lumpyâ™, e.g. assets, credit constraints
may have a particularly important role in parental strategies to invest in
children. For example, parents will typically have to save to purchase assets
that can be transferred to children, if they want to transfer more than the
stock of assets they themselves inherited. Even in the case of schooling, a
less lumpy investment, credit constraints matter. Becker and Tomes (1986)
show that, in the presence of credit constraints, parents may not be able to
equate the expected rate of return on each such human capital investment
to the market rate of interest. The actual amount invested in each child will
then be a function of parental income. If parental incomes are derived from
past human capital investments and assets, and if childrenâ™s lifetime incomes
are derived from returns to their attained human capital, the presence of
credit constraints provides a pathway by which parental assets can inď¬‚uence
childrenâ™s lifetime incomes and poverty status.
The above framework implicitly assumes that parents or other decision makers
are in agreement regarding investments made in children and that they
Investments, Bequeaths, and Public Policy
are willing to pool their resources in order to undertake these investments.
Alderman et al. (1995) and Haddad, Hoddinott, and Alderman (1997) describe
this as a â˜unitary modelâ™ because it assumes that parents act â˜as oneâ™. However,
it is possible that parents disagree on the nature and the allocation of these
investments across children. Where this is true, the ability of individual par-
ents to impose their preferencesâ”their bargaining powerâ”also plays a role.
Bargaining power is affected by four sets of determinants: (1) control over
resources, such as assets; (2) inď¬‚uences that can be used to inď¬‚uence the
bargaining process; (3) mobilization of interpersonal networks; and (4) basic
attitudinal attributes. Economic analysis of bargaining power has tended to
focus on economic resources exogenous to labour supply as a major determi-
nant of bargaining power. The threat of withdrawing both oneself and oneâ™s
assets from the household grants the owner of those assets some power over
household resources. These threats are credible if supported by community
norms or divorce laws; see, for example, Thomas, Contreras, and Frankenberg
(2002) for Indonesia.
Factors that can inď¬‚uence the bargaining process include legal rights, skills
and knowledge, the capacity to acquire information, education, and bar-
gaining skills. Some of these inď¬‚uences are external to the individual (for
example, legal rights), but many of them are highly correlated with human
capital or education. In some instances, domestic violence can be used to
extract resources from spouses or their families, as in the case of dowry-related
violence in India (Rao, 1997; Bloch and Rao, 2002). Individuals can also
mobilize personal networks to improve their bargaining power. Membership
in organizations, access to kin and other social networks, and â˜social capitalâ™
may positively inď¬‚uence a personâ™s power to affect household decisions. Last,
basic attitudinal attributes that affect bargaining power include self-esteem,
self-conď¬dence, and emotional satisfaction. 8
A variety of proxies for bargaining power have been used in the economics
literature, including: (1) shares of income earned by women (Hoddinott and
Haddad, 1995); (2) unearned income (Schultz, 1990; Thomas, 1990); (3) cur-
rent assets (Doss, 1999); (4) inherited assets (Quisumbing, 1994); (5) assets
at marriage (Thomas, Contreras, and Frankenberg, 2002); and (6) the public
provision of resources to speciď¬c household members (Lundberg, Pollak, and
Wales, 1997). All of these measures capture some dimension of bargaining
strength, but only the relatively uncommon natural experiments related to
public provision of resources are likely to be entirely exogenous to individual
While the economic literature has not dealt extensively with this issue, part of the
success of group-based credit programmes such as the Grameen Bank has been attributed to
its group-based empowerment approach. Many NGOs have explicit empowerment objectives
that go beyond economic means to include legal awareness, political participation, and use
of contraception (Schuler, Hashemi, and Riley, 1997).
and household decisions. 9 Regardless of the speciď¬c measure used, most of
these studies indicate that resources controlled by men and women signiď¬-
cantly affect the allocation of resources to children.
For example, Thomas (1994) ď¬nds that in Brazil, Ghana, and the United
States, maternal education has a larger impact on the health of girls than on
boys, with the reverse holding true for paternal education. He suggests that
because girls (boys) substitute for activities performed by mothers (fathers),
women (men) have an incentive to invest in girls (boys). By contrast, Haddad
and Hoddinott (1994) ď¬nd that in rural CĂ´te dâ™Ivoire, increases in the share
of household income accruing to adult women improve height given age
for pre-school boys relative to girls. They argue that if women desire an
equitable distribution of health amongst all children, and given that boys
at very young ages are relatively less biologically robust, they will favour
boys relative to girls. Second, elderly Ivorian women typically co-reside with
at least one of their male offspring. Hence, the need for assistance in old
age encourages women to skew relatively more resources under their control
towards male offspring. Quisumbing and Maluccio (2003) ď¬nd that while
womenâ™s assets at marriage are reď¬‚ected in higher expenditure shares for
education in Bangladesh and South Africa, these allocations do not beneď¬t
boys and girls equally. 10 In Bangladesh, fathersâ™ schooling has a negative effect
on girlsâ™ schooling for both 6â“10-year-olds and 11â“15-year-olds; but fathersâ™
and mothersâ™ assets do not have differential effects on daughters relative
to sons. In South Africa it is the opposite: fathersâ™ schooling has a positive
effect on girlsâ™ schooling while mothersâ™ assets brought to marriage have a
negative effect on girls. In Ethiopia, Quisumbing and Maluccio (2003) ď¬nd
that mothers with more assets invest preferentially in boys. Thus, in all three
countries, the pattern is consistent with patterns of old age support, and thus
For example, labour income is problematic because it reď¬‚ects time allocation and labour
force participation decisions that may have been the result of previous bargaining. Non-
labour income, on the other hand, is more likely to be exogenous, though the assumption
that it is independent of labour market decisions may not be true if a substantial portion
comes from, for example, pensions, unemployment beneď¬ts, or earnings from accumulated
assets. Current asset holdings are likely to be affected by asset accumulation decisions made
during the marriage. Inherited assets are less likely to be inď¬‚uenced by decisions within
marriage, particularly those inherited before the union, but remain vulnerable to other poten-
tial â˜endogeneityâ™ problems. Inheritances could be correlated with individual unobservable
characteristics, such as tastes or human capital investments in the individual, and these
characteristics in turn inď¬‚uence the outcomes under study (Strauss and Thomas, 1995). Also,
they may be endogenous to the marriage as a result of marriage market selection (Foster,
1998). Assets brought to marriage, while not affected by decisions made within the marriage,
are susceptible to the same potential endogeneity problems as inheritances.
In examining the impact of fatherâ™s and motherâ™s resources on allocations among sons
and daughters within a family, it is important to control for unobserved family-level charac-
teristics that may affect allocations between boys and girls. The appropriate analysis therefore
involves family ď¬xed-effects analysis, with the sample of families being restricted to those
with more than one child, with at least one of either sex.
Investments, Bequeaths, and Public Policy
may reď¬‚ect the impact of both potential returns and parental preferences. In
contrast, in matrilineal Sumatra, Indonesia, mothers with more paddy land
invest preferentially in sonsâ™ education, while better-educated fathers invest in
their daughtersâ™ schooling. Mothers with more paddy land may invest less in
their daughtersâ™ education since their land will traditionally be bequeathed to
daughters, whereas fathers, who normally engage in other non-farm activities
in addition to cultivating their wifeâ™s family land, may beneď¬t from having
This conceptual framework has identiď¬ed possible barriers that the poor
may face in making wealth transfers to children. Parents may have different
preferences regarding the child in which to invest resources; when resources
are scarce, these trade-offs become more stark. Expected returns in labour
markets, in marriage markets, and in terms of support to parents in their old
age, may lead parents to invest differentially in sons versus daughters. Lastly,
differences in the relative bargaining power of individual household members
may reinforce patterns of discrimination embedded in parental preferences.
12.3. Empirical Evidence on Intergenerational Transfers,
Lifetime Incomes, and Inequality
12.3.1. The impact of credit constraints on intergenerational transfers
Abundant empirical evidence shows that, in the presence of credit con-
straints, parental resourcesâ”household income and socio-economic statusâ”
affect investments in childrenâ™s human capital. Evidence that household
income is associated with increased years of completed schooling comes from
countries as diverse as Malaysia (King and Lillard, 1987), Brazil (Levison,
1991), Indonesia (Deolalikar, 1993), and Peru (King and Bellew, 1991). In
sub-Saharan Africa, the education of the household head has a positive and
signiď¬cant effect on school enrolment, attendance, and completion (Lloyd
and Blanc, 1996). Enrolment rates are 26 to 39 percentage points lower for
household heads without schooling compared to household heads who have
seven or more years of schooling.
We know less about the effects of parental resources on asset transfers. Not
surprisingly, the available evidence shows that parents with lower levels of
initial assets are less able to make larger asset transfers to children. This may
arise due to credit constraintsâ”poorer parents are less able to self-ď¬nance asset
accumulation and eventual transfer of assets to children.
An alternative way of examining the impact of credit constraints is to
examine what happens when households experience income shocks. A large
literature on consumption smoothing (e.g. Hall and Mishkin, 1982; Altonji
and Siow, 1987; Zeldes, 1989; Townsend, 1994) shows that if credit markets
are perfect, households should be able to smooth consumption against idio-
syncratic shocks. However, village-level insurance mechanisms are usually less
able to smooth the impact of aggregate shocks. But poor households typically
do not have the same access to the same consumption-smoothing opportu-
nities enjoyed by the rich, such as borrowing and remittances (Skouď¬as and
Quisumbing, 2005). In the poorest households of urban Brazil, loss of earnings
by the household head has adverse consequences on child time in school and
grade advancement (Neri et al., 2000), with children more likely to be working
as a consequence. In rural India, households withdraw their children from
school when experiencing shortfalls in crop income ( Jacoby and Skouď¬as,
There is relatively little evidence on impacts of credit constraints on inter-
generational transfers of assets because of longitudinal data linking parental
credit constraint to asset transfers to children is scarce. Recent empirical evi-
dence from a longitudinal study in Bukidnon, Philippines, however, suggests
that the effects of credit constraints persist to the next generation (Quisumb-
ing, 2006). Parents who were credit constrained in the past (approximately
twenty years ago) have lower levels of land and non-land assets in 2003, made
signiď¬cantly lower transfers of land and non-land assets to children, and have
signiď¬cantly lower levels of consumption expenditure per adult equivalent in
2003 compared to those who were unconstrained. Children whose parents
were credit constrained in the past also have signiď¬cantly lower levels of
land and non-land assets, and signiď¬cantly lower levels of consumption per
adult equivalent. Related work by Gilligan (2006) on childrenâ™s adult height
and educational attainment conď¬rms that parental credit constraints have
an adverse impact on childrenâ™s human capital. Individuals who spent their
childhood in households that were credit constrained have signiď¬cantly lower
adult height and lower educational attainment than those whose households
12.3.2. The impact of the intra-household distribution of
transfers on lifetime incomes
Differences in the type and amount of wealth transferred by gender could also
result in differences in lifetime incomes of men and women. Intergenerational
transfers do not necessarily penalize women: whether the bestowal of different
types of assets to sons and daughters sets one on a permanently lower income
path depends critically on the social, cultural, and labour market environ-
ment. Quisumbing, Estudillo, and Otsuka (2004) address this issue in the
Philippines, Sumatra, and Ghana. In the Philippines, which is characterized
by bilateral kinship and inheritance, sons inherited more land, but daughters
Investments, Bequeaths, and Public Policy
achieve higher educational attainment. 11 In matrilineal Sumatra, land inher-
itance has traditionally favoured women, although men have higher school-
ing attainments. With the introduction of agroforestry and the expansion
of public schooling, respectively, sons are increasingly inheriting land that
is suited to agroforestry, and the gender gap in schooling has narrowed.
Finally, in Ghana, which has uterine matrilineal inheritance, 12 daughters are
disadvantaged in both land transfers and schooling investments, although
wives are increasingly receiving â˜giftsâ™ of land with strong private property
rights from their husbands, if they help the husband establish a cocoa
Quisumbing, Estudillo, and Otsuka (2004) estimated the impact of chang-
ing the distribution of land and education between sons and daughters on
lifetime incomes, based on estimated coefď¬cients of the effect of farm land
and schooling on household incomes. In the Philippines, the smaller farm
income of daughters due to smaller areas of inherited paddy land is almost
exactly compensated by their larger non-farm incomes due to their higher
schooling attainments. In the Sumatra sites, sonsâ™ and daughtersâ™ incomes are
largely equalized, reď¬‚ecting the rough equality of agricultural land inheritance
and the equal level of schooling between sons and daughters. In the case of
Ghana, however, womenâ™s income is signiď¬cantly lower than menâ™s. Such
a persistent and signiď¬cant income gap can be attributed largely to social
discrimination against females in land transfers and schooling, even if the gap
is decreasing through time. The authors conclude that in relatively egalitarian
societies, such as the Philippines and Sumatra, lifetime incomes will tend
to be equalized. Lifetime incomes will be systematically lower for women in
societies where social discrimination against women persists.
It is difď¬cult to generalize beyond these three countries because the patrilin-
eal inheritance system is probably more dominant in the developing world as
a whole. In the case of the three inheritance systems discussed above, women
have both interests in and inď¬‚uence on land inheritance decisions, but are
often excluded from land inheritance decisions in patrilineal communities.
Micro-level studies in South Asia show signiď¬cant pro-male bias in patrilineal
societies: women have less access to land (Agarwal, 1994), tend to receive
In societies with bilateral kinship and inheritance, individuals consider both their
fatherâ™s and motherâ™s relatives as kin, and can inherit property from both their father and
Traditionally, Akan households in this region have practised uterine matrilineal inheri-
tance, in which land is transferred from the deceased man to his brother or nephew (sisterâ™s
son) in accordance with the decision of the extended family or matriclan. The preferred
order of inheritance if a man dies intestate is ď¬rst, his uterine brother; second, if there is
no uterine brother, the son of a uterine sister. The third option is one of the sons of the
deceased motherâ™s sister (Awusabo-Asare, 1990). The type of matrilineal kinship system in
Ghana is different from that in Sumatra, where property passes directly along the female line,
from grandmothers, to mothers, to daughters.
signiď¬cantly less schooling than men (Meier and Rauch, 2000, p. 267), and
receive signiď¬cantly less food intake and provision of medical care (Haddad et
al., 1996). Moreover, whether land inheritance and schooling can be close sub-
stitutes depends crucially on the ability of educated women to realize returns
to schooling in non-farm jobs. Even if women have a higher probability of
participating in the non-farm labour market (as in the Philippines), they may
not have equal opportunities for advancement and may have to confront
sexual harassment and violence in the workplace. Moreover, if land bestows
social status, power, and access to credit that education does not provide,
the above calculations of economic returns may miss out on important non-
measured social and economic returns (Floro, 2006).
12.3.3. Assets at marriage and the marriage market13
(I) ASSORTATIVE MATCHING
The above discussion has assumed that returns to parental investments are
realized by individuals, not by couples. However, marriage is one of the
most important occasions for intergenerational transfers in many agrarian
settings. First, it typically marks the onset not only of a new household
but also of a new production unit, e.g. a family farm. Assets brought to
marriage determine the start-up capital of this new enterprise. Second, assets
brought to marriage play a paramount role in shaping the lifetime prosperity
of newly formed households. Assortative matching between spousesâ”the rich
marry the rich, the poor marry the poorâ”not only increases inequality, it
also reduces social mobility due to intergenerational transfers of assets at
Assortative matching is of interest to policy makers because of its effect on
inequality, both within and among households. Fafchamps and Quisumbing
(2005a) ď¬nd that, to a large extent, the formation of new couples in rural
Ethiopia is characterized by assortative matching. There is also substantial
inequality in assets brought to marriage, with a Gini coefď¬cient for all com-
bined assets of 0.621. The high correlation between parental wealth and
wealth at marriage also suggests relatively low intergenerational mobility.
However, the correlation between assets at marriage and current assets is
lower, indicating either that couples continue to accumulate assets over their
married life, that bequests counteract some of the initial asset inequality at
marriage, or that public redistribution policies (particularly the redistribution
This draws heavily from Fafchamps and Quisumbing (forthcoming).
There is ample empirical evidence in support of the assortative matching hypothesis
(Montgomery and Trussell, 1986; Fafchamps and Quisumbing, forthcoming). Recent evidence
also suggests that assortative matching on human capital attributes has increased relative to
sorting based on parental wealth and physical capital (Fafchamps and Quisumbing, 2005a;
Quisumbing and Hallman, 2006).
Investments, Bequeaths, and Public Policy
of land by Peasant Associations) have had an impact on current inequality.
Combined with high inequality in assets brought to marriage, the pairing of
prospective brides and grooms based on human capital favours the reproduc-
tion of rural inequality over time. This result is consistent with studies of
earnings inequality elsewhere: Hyslop (2001), for instance, shows that in the
United States assortative matching contributes over one-quarter of the level of
permanent inequality, and 23 per cent of the increase in inequality between
1979 and 1985.
(II) ASSETS AT MARRIAGE AND IMPACTS ON THE
In many developing countries, parents and the extended family are involved
in the decision to marry. Since assets brought to marriage in large part come
from the parents of the bride and groom, bequest considerations come into
play as well. The empirical evidence strongly indicates that sons and daughters
are not treated equally (Strauss and Thomas, 1995; Behrman, 1997). As indi-
cated above, the extent of gender inequality in asset inheritance nevertheless
varies across cultures, depending on the form of kinship and inheritance
(Quisumbing, Estudillo, and Otsuka, 2004). In many societies, marriage is
also the occasion for large transfers of wealth between the family of the
bride and that of the groom. Brideprice refers to the case when assets are
transferred from the groomâ™s family to the brideâ™s; when assets ď¬‚ow from the
brideâ™s family to the groomâ™s, it is called a dowry. Others deď¬ne dowry as a
large transfer made to the daughter at the time of her marriage, regardless of
whether it is controlled by her or by the groomâ™s family (Botticini and Siow,
There are several explanations for the presence of dowry and brideprice,
including marriage market clearing, intergenerational transfers, and strategic
motivations, that is, manipulation of marriage outcomes. 16 Regardless of the
functions of dowry and brideprice, what is probably most important for the
intergenerational transmission of poverty is the extent of gender differences
in total assets brought to marriage, and the impact of these differences on
investments in the next generation. In most societies for which we have data
on assets at marriage, men bring more physical and human capital to marriage
than women (Quisumbing and Maluccio, 2003; Quisumbing and Hallman,
2006). 17 An analysis of trends in schooling, age, and assets at marriage in
There may also be other kinds of transfers, such as contributions to the cost of the
wedding ceremony itself. These are relatively small compared to the value of assets ultimately
transferred to the bride and groom.
See Goody (1973) for the classic anthropological treatment, Botticini and Siow (2003)
and Fafchamps and Quisumbing (forthcoming) for reviews of the economic literature.
Most of these data come from the International Food Policy Research Instituteâ™s research
programme on Strengthening Development Policy through Gender and Intrahousehold
Analysis, and are publicly available from <www.ifpri.org>.
six developing countries shows that in all six countries, years of schooling at
marriage have increased for husbands and wives (Quisumbing and Hallman,
2006). In four out of six countries, grooms also seem to be bringing more
physical assets to marriage. Over time, however, in three out of six countries,
husbandâ“wife gaps in schooling attainment at marriage have decreasedâ”
pointing to an equalization of human capital at marriage. Nevertheless, the
distribution of assets at marriage continues to favour husbands. In three out
of six countries, the husbandâ“wife asset difference has not changed through
timeâ”and therefore continues to favour husbandsâ”and has even increased
in the two Latin American countries. Finally, transfers at marriage are increas-
ingly favouring men in Bangladesh, while the gap in transfers at marriage is
decreasing in South Africa.
The reduction of husbandâ“wife gaps in age and schooling indicates a
potential improvement in the balance of power within the family, but asset
ownership continues to favour husbands. Persistent differences in assets in
favour of men have important implications for household well-being and the
welfare of future generations, given recent ď¬ndings that increasing womenâ™s
status and control of assets has favourable effects on child nutrition and
education (Quisumbing and Maluccio, 2003; Smith et al., 2003).
12.4. Implications for Public Policy
The above discussion has highlighted aspects of the process of intergene-
rational transfers, as well as the constraints that parents face in making those
transfers. Strategies to break the intergenerational cycle of poverty should
include those that enable the poor to accumulate assets over time and preserve
their asset base in the face of unexpected shocks, as well as those that enable
them to transfer wealth to the next generation in an efď¬cient and equitable
12.4.1. Enabling the poor to accumulate assets over time
For the poor to transfer assets to the next generation, they have to be able
to accumulate a stock of assets that exceeds the value of their lifetime con-
sumption. Strengthening property rights will be important: in many societies,
the poor do not have legal rights to land or other forms of property. Without
recognized property rights, it is difď¬cult to make investments to sustain and
improve oneâ™s asset base or to obtain access to formal ď¬nancial markets,
which typically require collateral. Governments should consider mechanisms
to reduce initial costs for acquiring capital, which are usually prohibitively
high for the poor. These include â˜sweat equityâ™ (contributing labour to asset-
creation schemes), or group guarantees as collateral substitutes (as in the
Investments, Bequeaths, and Public Policy
Grameen Bankâ™s microď¬nance programmes). Groups also offer the opportunity
to invest in social capital, although the acquisition of social capital is not
costless, requiring investment of time and, sometimes, ď¬nancial resources.
Other approaches may help the poor accumulate assets for which initial costs
are not prohibitively high (such as livestock), and use such initial asset accu-
mulation as a springboard for accumulating larger assets. Governments (or
private institutions) may also need to look into providing a whole spectrum
of ď¬nancial services that enable the poor to save (especially if there are positive
shocks) and draw down on savings, if necessary, rather than liquidate assets
in case of negative shocks.
12.4.2. Providing mechanisms to maintain the poorâ™s asset base
in case of negative shocks
Evidence from life histories (see Davis, 2005, for Bangladesh) suggests that
asset accumulation is gradual and incremental, but shocks such as death and
illness can lead to a rapid depletion of assets. Safety nets that enable the
poor to smooth consumptionâ”ranging from publicly provided health insur-
ance, credit-cum-insurance schemes, as well as food-for-workâ”may protect
the poor from temporary shocks that could otherwise lead to a permanent
depletion of asset stocks. Studies of emergency assistance after droughts and
ď¬‚oods in Ethiopia and Bangladesh, for example, indicate that well-targeted
food assistance enabled poor households to attain pre-disaster levels of con-
sumption and to restore their asset base (Gilligan and Hoddinott, 2005;
12.4.3. Enabling the poor to invest in the next generationâ™s
As economies urbanize and non-agricultural employment grows, investment
in the next generationâ™s human capital will increasingly become the most
important type of intergenerational transfer for the poor. Scholarship pro-
grammes targeted to the poor and conditional cash or food transfers to
increase school and clinic attendance can reduce the effective price of educa-
tion to the poor. While these can be targeted to increase schooling of children,
regardless of gender (see Ahmed and del Ninno, 2002, on Bangladeshâ™s Food
for Education programme), they often yield larger impacts on girlsâ™ education,
and can also provide greater incentives to girls. Other approaches that have
shown promise both for reaching the poor as well as promoting gender
equality in education are: (1) reducing prices and increasing physical access
to services; (2) improving the design of service delivery; and (3) investing in
time-saving infrastructure (World Bank, 2001).
12.4.4. Enabling the poor to continue investing in human capital
even if they are credit constrained or if shocks occur
Credit constraints prevent the poor from investing optimally in human capi-
tal. Conditional cash transfers not only provide income transfers to the poor,
but may provide a safety net to prevent them from withdrawing children
from school in case of shocks. De Janvry et al. (2006) provide evidence from
PROGRESA in Mexico; Gitter (2005) provides similar evidence for Nicaragua.
The Red de Proteccion Social, the Nicaraguan conditional cash transfer pro-
gramme, helped to substantially increase school enrolments especially for
credit-constrained households that experienced an economic shock.
12.4.5. Enabling the poor to transfer assets to the next generation through
legally sanctioned, transparent, and equitable mechanisms
The reform of property rights systems and the legal framework is crucial to
enabling the poor to transfer assets to the next generation. If property rights
are weak and are contested, assets may not be transferable across generations.
Oftentimes, statutory and customary law may not be consistent. Transparency
of inheritance law may be a prerequisite for enabling the poor to assert their
claims in court. Moreover, poor claimants often do not have the resources or
legal know-how to assert their property rights, and in developing countries,
formal legal systems may well be biased against them. Assuring claims to com-
mon property across generations may also be critical to ensuring sustainable
natural resource management.
The difď¬culty of ensuring equity in intergenerational transfers is well illus-
trated by persistent gender disparities in inheritance, particularly land inher-
itance. Gender disparities in the inheritance of natural and physical capital
persist partly because the legal framework supports property rights systems
that are biased against women (Gopal, 2001). Thus, legal reform is necessary
to change statutory laws to strengthen womenâ™s entitlements, and to increase
the enforceability of their claims over natural and physical assets. Land titling
is often mentioned as a solution to gender disparities in land rights. However,
land titling is feasible only if land rights are sufď¬ciently individualized, and
many programmes have failed largely due to premature implementation.
If titling programmes are implemented, they must pay special attention to
the gender issue. If men are traditionally owners of land, land titling may
strengthen their land rights at womenâ™s expense. To be fair, men and women
should be equally qualiď¬ed to acquire land titles, or titles could be awarded
jointly to men and women.
Women should be able not only to hold a title to land but also to inherit
land. In many traditional societies, women may be left without property if
their husbands die without leaving a will. In Ghana, widowsâ™ property rights
Investments, Bequeaths, and Public Policy
were strengthened with the promulgation of the Intestate Succession Law
(PNDCL 111) in 1985, which provides for the following division of the farm:
three-sixteenths to the surviving spouse, nine-sixteenths to the surviving
children, one-eighth to the surviving parent, and one-eighth in accordance
with customary inheritance law (Awusabo-Asare, 1990; Quisumbing et al.,
2001). However, the effectiveness of legal reforms also depends on womenâ™s
knowledge of the provisions of the law and their ability to enforce their claims
in court. While improving womenâ™s land rights is conducive to both increased
gender equity and production efď¬ciency, it is not enough. Transferring own-
ership of land to women is unlikely to raise productivity if access to and use
of other inputs remains unequal.
The gender issue in asset inheritance is important not only because of equity
considerations, but also because it has important implications for the transfer
of wealth to the next generation. In the face of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in
sub-Saharan Africa, widows may be forced to leave their husbandâ™s village
upon his death and therefore have no control over land and other assets used
jointly. In some cultures, â˜widow inheritanceâ™, in which a woman is expected
to marry the brother of the deceased, is the only way she can retain rights
to her husbandâ™s land. However, such practices place women at even greater
risk of acquiring the disease (Drimie, 2003; Strickland, 2004; Gillespie and
Kadiyala, 2005). Increasing evidence has also shown that assets controlled by
women often result in increased investments in the next generationâ™s health,
nutrition, and schooling (Quisumbing and Maluccio, 2003; Smith et al.,
2003). Preventing the intergenerational transmission of poverty may require
a two-pronged solution of making opportunities to acquire and transfer asset
more equitable across households, as well as reducing inequality in the control
of resources within the household.
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Questioning the Power of Resilience
Are Children up to the Task of Disrupting the
Transmission of Poverty?
Jo Boyden and Elizabeth Cooper
Scholars have long been interested in learning how human beings react to
adversity, and human responses to phenomena such as family separation,
poverty, and armed conď¬‚ict, categorized as adversities in and of themselves,
or as inducing risk exposure to adversity, are now the subject of several major
bodies of literature globally. Risk and resilience have been judged powerful
conceptual and analytical tools in this work and are invoked by researchers
in a range of disciplines. Historically, the notion of resilience ď¬rst entered
the health sciences from applied physics and engineering, where it signiď¬es
the ability of materials to â˜bounce backâ™ from stress and resume their origi-
nal shape or condition. In medicine the term characterized the recovery of
patients from physical traumas such as surgery or accidents. Somewhat later,
it was adopted into psychological and social research to indicate an individ-
ualâ™s capacity to recover from, adapt to, and/or remain strong in the face of
adversity. This literature tends to ascribe the concept of resilience to three
kinds of phenomena: (a) good outcomes despite high-risk status; (b) sustained
competence under threat; and (c) recovery from trauma (Masten, Best, and
Garmezy, 1990; Masten, 1994).
Given that adversity and risk are enduring features of human exis-
tence, the resilience concept has special appeal for scholars: the promise
of research on resilience being the discovery of those factors that enable
individuals to triumph over catastrophe. Unsurprisingly, the popularity of
this concept in research has led to a remarkable proliferation in popular
Jo Boyden and Elizabeth Cooper
Western media, â˜tradeâ™ literature (Boyden and Myers, forthcoming), and con-
temporary development discourse and practice (Christian Childrenâ™s Fund,
2002â“6; International Rescue Committee, 2002â“7; World Health Organiza-
tion, 2006). Much of the trade literature and development discourse, and
much of the research that informs it, focuses on children. In research
with the young, the concept of resilience is used largely as a means of
exploring what is predetermined and what is pliant in the child. Hence,
childrenâ™s resilience is located at the nexus of the natureâ“nurture dialec-
tic, or as Rutter (2002) pointedly corrects, at the interplay of these two
Applied to childhood poverty, poverty over the life course, and the inter-
generational transmission of poverty, the resilience of boys and girls may
be considered as serving as a conceptual and analytical tool for examin-
ing the ways in which young humans are able to overcome the negative
outcomes of poverty and prevent its transfer within families, households,
and communities. However, research shows that, as a general rule, chil-
dren are more susceptible to the effects of poverty than are adults, espe-
cially during infancy and in terms of physical impacts. It is not merely
by chance that many of the more robust global indicators of povertyâ”
low birth weight, infant and under-5 mortality, for exampleâ”relate to
the survival and well-being of children. And child and maternal nutri-
tion and health status are cited as critical in determining the irreversibil-
ity of poverty transfers (Smith, 2006, p. 5). Childrenâ™s relative vulnerability
is due both to processes of maturation in young humans and conď¬gura-
tions of power and dependence within society, especially bearing in mind
their need for security, nurturance, and teaching through to (and beyond)
Evidence of high rates of infant and child mortality and morbidity in
poor communities throughout the world as well as observations of enduring
poverty and cumulative effects of poverty over the life course and subse-
quent generations would seem to ď¬‚y in the face of any assertion of child-
hood resilience against poverty. Yet, narratives of childrenâ™s resilience have
from the beginning of the conceptâ™s popular adoption by social scientists
been interwoven with narratives of childhood poverty. To ascertain whether
resilience is an article of ideological faith or in fact a cross-culturally evident
feature of young human lives, this chapter reviews the advances and persis-
tent challenges in realizing a credible and useful deď¬nition of resilience in
the social sciences as a basis for considering speciď¬c associations between
children and resilience in the context of chronic poverty. Its purpose is
to explore what, if anything, studies of resilience in children can tell us
about the life course and intergenerational transmission of poverty and its
Questioning the Power of Resilience
13.2. The Development and Application of Resilience
in â˜Riskâ™ Research
The most systematic and inď¬‚uential research on risk, resilience, and coping
has been conducted in the United States and Europe in the ď¬elds of human
development and social work. Early psychological and social studies of chil-
dren focused far less on competence and strength than on pathology and were
motivated by concerns of parents, welfare professionals, and public institu-
tions about behavioural problems in the young such as school failure, crime,
and suicide (Fraser, 2004). One of the aims of this research was to identify
forces in childrenâ™s lives that increase risks for such behaviours and to establish
how policy might prevent or reduce these risks. Theoretical and empirical
advances were soon made in understanding that a variety of social problems
appeared to be inď¬‚uenced by a common set of multiple risk factors (Barton,
2005). Acknowledgement of the recurrence of social and behavioural prob-
lems in successive generations motivated an emphasis on intergenerational
inď¬‚uences on conduct. Emphasizing childrenâ™s psycho-emotional and social
dependence on adults, there was a particular focus on the values, condition,
and circumstances of parents and carers. Harsh or neglectful parenting behav-
iour, together with parental mental illness, unemployment, and recurrent
ill health, early and single parenthood, family separation, and divorce were
among the many phenomena highlighted as signiď¬cant.
Even though research long ago established a clear link between a range of
stressors and behavioural problems in the young, the accumulated evidence
that some individuals appear to thrive despite sharing the characteristics and
conditions of those with problems (e.g. Rutter, 1985; Anthony, 1987; Werner
and Smith, 2001) led eventually to a shift in scholarly interest. These â˜success-
fulâ™ individuals were deemed to be resilient, and discovering the factors that
enhance their resilience became a prominent line of enquiry.
In this research context risk is deď¬ned in terms of statistical probabilities of
susceptibility to negative outcomes. Hence the focus on resilience is trained
on those factors that moderate outcomes and impacts. These moderating fac-
tors are variables that inď¬‚uence the potency and direction of the association
between cause and effect, thereby strengthening or weakening the effects of
stressors on children. Those factors that exacerbate susceptibility to negative
effects are often termed risk or vulnerability factors while those factors that
mitigate negative effects are generally described as protective factors or pro-
tective processes (Luthar, 2006). Coping is another term associated with both
risk and resilience, and usually denotes struggling or dealing with difď¬culties.
Although coping may imply some degree of success in managing adversity, it
does not normally indicate positive adaptation in the same way as protective
factors leading to overall resilience.
Jo Boyden and Elizabeth Cooper
Appreciating that the effects of adversity on human development are highly
inď¬‚uenced by both individual and collective processes, there has been a
signiď¬cant concern with identifying different mechanisms operating at dif-
ferent levelsâ”individual, familial, communal, institutional, and so onâ”and
how they correlate with and reinforce one another. Some risk and protective
factors are characterized as internal; they result from the unique combination
of characteristics that make up an individual, such as temperament, intelli-
gence, or physical health. Thus, ethnographic research conducted in Brazilian
shanties by anthropologist Nancy Scheper-Hughes (1992) found that, through
higher levels of alertness and social interaction, some infants are able to
attract greater attention from carers than others, with signiď¬cant effects on
the levels of care they receive and hence on their survival in the context of
poverty. Others are external or ecological; that is, they are the outcome of
environmental factors, such as social and material conditions, which affect
an individualâ™s healthy development and well-being. The signiď¬cance of the
interplay between internal and external factors is bound to how each is
transmitted and options for responses.
Developmental psychologist Suniya Luthar concludes her synthesis of
resilience research with the evaluation that â˜Resilience rests, fundamentally,
on relationshipsâ™ (Luthar, 2006, p. 780). By relationships, Luthar is explicitly
referring to social relationships between human beings:
During the childhood years, early relationships with primary caregivers affect several
emerging psychological attributes and inď¬‚uence the negotiation of major developmen-
tal tasks; resolution of these tasks, in turn, affects the likelihood of success at future
tasks. Accordingly, serious disruptions in the early relationships with caregiversâ”in the
form of physical, sexual, or emotional abuseâ”strongly impair the chances of resilient
adaptation later in life. Whereas some maltreated children will obviously do better in
life than others, the likelihood of sustained competence, without corrective, ameliora-
tive relationship experiences, remains compromised at best. On the positive side, strong
relationships with those in oneâ™s proximal circle serve vital protective processes, for
children as well as for adults. (Luthar, 2006, p. 780)
As resilience and competence have risen to the fore in research, so social
workers and other â˜helpingâ™ professionals (e.g. Saleebey, 1997) have sought to
establish models of practice that emphasize clientsâ™ strengths rather than their
problems or deď¬cits. In this sense, it can be understood that the conceptual
genealogy of resilience hints at an ideological bias. In other words, one way of
framing the sudden popularity of the notion of resilience is to acknowledge
its purposeful contrast with the vulnerability discourse, much in the same
way that the assets discourse in poverty studies provided a counter to the
deď¬cit-focused model that emphasizes needs (Narayan et al., 2000). Applied to
children, this change in approach reď¬‚ects a decidedly political orientation in
its recognition of the young as competent social agents rather than inherently
Questioning the Power of Resilience
vulnerable beings that are wholly dependent on others for their survival and
With recent advances in the study of the human genome, genetic
researchers have begun to contribute to the conceptualization of human
resilience. These advances have expanded the boundaries of research on
human development, giving rise to studies of the activities of speciď¬c genes
and their potential effects. Scientists have pursued research that indicates
correlations between certain genes and psychological traits, including those
involving attitudes or social behaviour (linking genetic effects to probabilities
of divorce, religiosity, and parenting styles, for instance; Rutter, 2002). While
such associations have been critiqued among their disciplinary peers for being
overly reductionist, there is acceptance of the idea that all behaviours are
affected in some way by genetics (Rutter, 2002; Curtis and Cicchetti, 2003).
In other words, it would seem that resilience is at least partly heritable,
with protective processes operating through both genetic and environmental
effects, the test being the ability â˜to ď¬nd out how these genetic effects are
mediated because, obviously, they are most unlikely to operate directly on
the social behaviour as observedâ™ (Rutter, 2002, p. 3).
As yet, there have been few studies examining genetic contributors to
resilient functioning (Curtis and Cicchetti, 2003), although genetic inher-
itance has been hypothesized as an â˜obvious placeâ™ to investigate human
resilience based on the truism that individuals differ in both genetic make-