Is child work detrimental to the educational achievement of children?

Tassew Woldehanna and Aregawi Gebremedhin


To what extent does child work have an effect on education? This study adds value to the previous work done by Young Lives in Ethiopia by investigating the causal relationship between child work and education. It finds that child work has an adverse effect on children’s educational achievement, and suggests that the Government of Ethiopia should focus on addressing trigger factors related to household income.

The paper uses the Young Lives Round 2 and Round 3 data collected in Ethiopia in 2006 and 2009.  Vocabulary test scores are used to measure educational attainment rather than the more commonly used school enrolment and primary school completion figures. In doing so it helps to assess the effect of child work on the cognitive development of children, as the data contain scores for all children in the sample and not just those who are enrolled in school. In this study, the term ‘child work’ refers to any form of participation by children in paid or unpaid work activities.


  • Children living in more urban areas have higher educational achievement than those living in rural areas
  • Boys have higher educational achievement than girls
  • Regionally, children living in Addis Ababa have higher educational achievement
  • Children living in female-headed households have (on average) lower educational achievement than those children living in male-headed households
  • Most common child work activities are: household chores (90%); child-care activities (44%); and unpaid family business work (40%)
  • Children engaged in paid work (9%) have the highest mean hours of work (approx. 4.8 hours)
  • A significant number of households have experienced household shocks in the past 4 years, either increased food prices or drought, crop failure or pests. As expected, the former affected those in urban areas more acutely than those in rural areas within the sample, and vice versa.


The study shows that there is clear causal evidence that child work has an adverse effect on children’s educational achievement. It recommends three policy areas to address trigger factors so that children would not be required to work so much:

  • Conditional cash transfer programming would address the issue of household income and also have the potential to increase children’s future earning capacity and allow them to spend more of their free time studying.
  • Social protection should also help households cope with different kinds of shock identified in the study.
  • Access to credit could be an additional way of empowering households to withstand some of the income shocks that lead to increased child work.


Woldehanna, T. & Gebremedhin, A. (2015). Is Child Work Detrimental to the Educational Achievement of Children? Results from Young Lives in Ethiopia. Young Lives Working Paper 140. Oxford: University of Oxford.