Tradeoffs between work and education for children
In low-income households, each member is expected to chip in labor so that things around the house run smoothly. Children may not be excluded from the expectation, and they may be expected to work — whether it be taking up a job, assisting on a family farm, or watching younger siblings. Last month, UCSB anthropology professor David Lawson and his colleagues published a paper, which takes a look at the role that children’s work could play regarding educational attainment of children in a household.
The research team focused on a modernizing region in northwestern Tanzania. In their paper, the researchers described modernizing populations as those “where children attend school while contributing to the household economy.”
In such a modernizing society, having a child pursue education instead of working could be viewed as a parental investment. The researchers write, “it is costly both directly and through the opportunity costs of children’s lost work contributions.”
“Basically the whole motivation behind the project was to better understand the decisions that parents have to make around whether or not a child should go to school or they should stay at home to help with domestic tasks and farm work,” Dr. Lawson told the News-Press.
And what did the researchers find?
In a household, birth order and gender seem to be influencing whether or not a child dedicates more time towards school. After collecting schedule data from almost 1,300 children, the research team found that “work by relatively older girls enables younger girls to allocate more time to attend school…for boys, traditional age hierarchies appear to favor older boys in education access…”
According to the study, in a home, girls who are not in school tended to alleviate the burden of household work for girls who attend school. When older boys go to school, meanwhile, “a gendered allocation of household work is seen, with girls substituting for boys’ household chores,” write the researchers.
Dr. Lawson told the News-Press that he found it “interesting that we have a different dynamic with gender. But in most cases there’s a labor substitution dynamic going on where some children may be prioritized but other ones taking up a greater burden of work.”
Northwestern Tanzania, according to the UCSB anthropologist, is “a very rural but urbanizing place. A lot of kids are now going to school. So, these tradeoffs between work and school are important and relevant to them.”
This recent paper on children’s work and the tradeoffs between work and school is merely one of the several papers that have come out of a project that has been going on for the past five years in Tanzania. Other papers written by Dr. Lawson’s team discuss topics like fostering children and marriage under the age of 18.
“For us, it’s just really about trying to understand decisions that people have to make within their home context,” said Dr. Lawson.
To attain that understanding, however, folks may need to check their ethnocentricity at the door.
“Try to understand other cultures in its own terms,” said Dr. Lawson. “You have to try not to be ethnocentric. We can often look at other countries, other places and think ‘Oh, children are working long hours. That seems very difficult and unpleasant.’ And you wish that wasn’t the case. But it’s important to understand that parents everywhere are doing the best for their children, that they’re making difficult decisions so if it’s in the case of children’s work, if some kids might be held back from school so they can help out with tasks, that’s not best understood as parents not caring for their children. That’s to be understood as parents making difficult decisions cannot factor just one child or individual but the whole family.”The paper recently published by Dr. Lawson’s team can be accessed at https://www.demographic-research.org/Volumes/Vol41/10/