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Life Course, Migration and Wellbeing

Life course frameworks recognise that human experience does not fit into neat, separate stages (childhood and school; adulthood and work/parenting; old age and retirement). Real lives are less predictable, particularly in settings of poverty and under-development, and involve complex transitions and trajectories. Life course frameworks also recognise that early life experiences can significantly influence what happens to us when we are older.
Research in DEV seeks to understand real-world life course dynamics, in order to identify key problems, as well as appropriate policies and interventions. Our work draws on and combines conceptual frameworks from epidemiology, sociology and other disciplines, and falls into the three key research areas.

Early life transitions, including work and schooling

The Early life transitions research group brings together faculty and research students with an interest in the current and future experiences of children and young people in developing countries, framed within an understanding of the life course that takes account of the effects of early life experiences on adult outcomes.

The research interests of the Early life transitions group include:

• Understanding and measuring child poverty
• Relationship between aspirations, experiences and the social mobility of young people in developing countries
• Methodological concerns such as the use of ‘participatory' methods with children and developing more accurate and experience-near measures of children's ‘non-cognitive skills'
• Impact of medium and long-term parental absence on children's outcomes

Our research programme currently incorporates the following issues:

• Child and youth transitions
• Youth aspirations
• Child wellbeing
• Child poverty and poverty measurement
• Orphanhood and child sensitive social protection
• Child work
• Methodological and ethical aspects of research with children

Related Projects

ESRC Comparative Cross-national Research Methods Initiative: Developing and refining methods for comparative cross-national research on poverty and vulnerability: drawing on Young Lives' and WED's experiences

Regional Hunger and Vulnerability Programme: Second Phase Research Component – Frontiers of Social Protection

Key publications

Camfield, L. (2014). Growing up in Ethiopia and Andhra Pradesh: the impact of social protection schemes on girls' roles and responsibilities, European Journal of Development Research (in press).

Camfield, L, Roelen, K. (2013). Household trajectories in rural Ethiopia – what can a mixed method approach tell us about the impact of poverty on children? Social Indicators Research 113(2): 729-749. 

Camfield, L, Masae, A., McGregor, J.A., Promphaking, B. (2012). Cultures of Aspiration and Poverty? Aspirational Inequalities in Northeast and Southern Thailand. Social Indicators Research (in press, DOI 10.1007/s11205-012-0189-3).

Camfield, L. (2012). Resilience and Well-being Among Urban Ethiopian Children: What Role Do Social Resources and Competencies Play? Social Indicators Research 107(3): 393-410.

Mbonye M and Seeley J. 2012. ‘Between town and country: Shifting identity and migrant youth in Uganda' Journal of Modern African Studies 50(2)

Camfield, L (2011). ‘From school to adulthood'? Young people's pathways through schooling in urban Ethiopia. European Journal of Development Research 23, 679–694.

Camfield, L., Tafere, Y. (2011). Community understandings of childhood transitions in Ethiopia: Different for girls? Children's Geographies, 9(2):249-64.

Camfield, L. (2011). ‘A girl never finishes her journey': Mixing methods to understand female experiences of education in contemporary Ethiopia. Research Papers in Education 26(4), 393-412.

Camfield, L. (2010). Outcomes of Orphanhood in Ethiopia: A Mixed Methods Study. Social Indicators Research, 104(1): 87-102.

Camfield, L., Streuli, N., Woodhead, M. (2010). ‘Children's well-being in developing countries: A conceptual and methodological review. European Journal of Development Research, 22:3, 398-416.

Camfield, L. (2010). "Stew without bread or bread without stew": Children's understandings of poverty in Ethiopia. Children and Society, 24:4, 271-281.

Vikan, Selvi and Janet Seeley, 2009,` Orphans and future livelihoods in Mozambique? The role of the Junior Farmer Field and Life School Programme' Vulnerable Children and Youth Studies 4(1): 83-89

Camfield, L., and McGregor, A. (2005). Resilience and well-being in developing countries. In Ungar, M (ed) Handbook for Working with Children and Youth: Pathways to Resilience Across Cultures and Contexts. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Migration and Mobility

The theme of migration and mobility brings together the work of staff and research students who are using life course perspectives to explore the way that migration plays into social mobility and its meanings for the construction and experience of social identities.

The research interests of this group include:

• Understanding how migration for work impacts on family lives
• Exploring the ambiguity and complexity of changes in gendered social relations around migration
• Investigating what migration means for social protection needs and vulnerabilities

Related Projects

Examining the vulnerability of coffee growing migrants in Vietnam

Linking Migration, Reproduction and Wellbeing: Exploring the Reproductive Strategies of Low-income Rural Migrants in Vietnam

Migrant fishers and fishing in the Western Indian Ocean: Socio-economic dynamics and implications for management

Social protection by and for temporary work migrants and their households in northwest Bangladesh

The longitudinal impact of HIV and AIDS on rural livelihoods in East Africa

Key Publications

Locke, C., Nguyen, T.T.T, and Nguyen, T.N.H. (forthcoming) ‘A Mother who Stays but Cannot Provide for her Children is not as Good as Migrant People like us": Migrant Mothers in Vietnam' in M. Unnithan and S.Khanna (eds.) Migration and The Reproductive Body: The Biopolitics of Birth, Place, Health and Identity, chapter 2, Berghahn.

Locke, C., Seeley, J. and Rao, N. (forthcoming, 2013) ‘Migration and Migration and Reconfigurations of Family Relations and Social (In)security' Third World Quarterly.

C. Locke, J. Seeley and N. Roa, (forthcoming, 2013)  ‘Migration and Social Reproduction at Critical Junctures in Family Life Course' Third World Quarterly.

Locke, C. Nguyen, T.T.T., and Nguyen, T.N.H. (forthcoming, 2013) ‘‘A mother who stays but cannot provide for her children is not as good as migrant people like us': Migrant mothers in Vietnam' in M. Unnithan and S. Khanna (eds) Migration and the Reproductive Body: The Biopolitics of Birth, Place, Health and Identity, chapter 2, Berghahn.

Locke, C., Nguyen, T.T.T. and Nguyen, T.N.H. (2013) ‘Mobile householding and marital dissolution in Vietnam: An inevitable consequence?' Geoforum, published online April 2013, DOI 10.1016/j.geoforum.2013.03.002

Rao, N. and Mitra, A. (2013) ‘Migration, Representations and Social Relations: experiences of Jharkhand Labour to Western Uttar Pradesh' Journal of Development Studies 49(6):846-860.

Barratt C, Mbonye M, Seeley J. (2012) `Between town and country: Shifting identity and migrant youth in Uganda' Journal of Modern African Studies 50(2):201-233.

Locke, C., Nguyen, T.T.T., and Nguyen, T.N.H. (2012) ‘Low-Income migrant workers struggling to sustain marriages and build families in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh'  Journal of Vietnamese Studies, 7(4):63-91.

Locke, C., Nguyen, T.T.T, and Nguyen, T.N.H. (2012) ‘Visiting Marriages and Remote Parenting: Changing Strategies of Rural-Urban Migrants in Vietnam' Journal of Development Studies 48(1):10-25.

Massey, Deeptima, Abdur Rafique and Janet Seeley `Begging in rural India and Bangladesh' Economic and Political Weekly XLV(14): 64-71 (2010).

Rao, N. and Hossain, M.I. (2012) ‘"I Want to Be Respected": Migration, Mobility and the Construction of Alternate Educational Discourses in Rural Bangladesh' Anthropology and Education Quarterly 43(4):415-428.

Rao, N. (2012) ‘Breadwinners and Homemakers: migration and Changing Conjugal expectations in Rural Bangladesh' Journal of Development Studies 48(1):26-40.

Rao, N. ‘Respect, Status and Domestic Work: Female Migrants at home and at Work' European Journal of Development Research 23(5):758-773.

Locke, C. and Zhang, H.X. (2010) ‘A Better Life? Migration, Reproduction and Wellbeing in Transition' in Society, Biology and Human Affairs (SBHA) - Special Edition: Space, Movement and Health: Biosocial Perspectives 75 (2): 51-71

Rao, N. (2010) ‘Migration, education and socio-economic mobility: introduction' COMPARE – A Journal of Comparative and International Education 40(2):137-145.

Seeley, Janet, Nazmun Nahar Lipi, Sadia Afrin and Md Azmal Kabir, 2009, ``The family is suffering' -- challenges faced by migrants' families who stay behind in a village in rural Northwest Bangladesh' in C.R.Abrar and Janet Seeley (eds.) Social Protection and Livelihoods. Marginalised Migrants of South Asia University Press Ltd., Dhaka

Locke, C. & Zhang, H.X. (2009) Missing Links Between Migration and Reproduction in Vietnam and China, Working Paper 14, DEV Working Paper Series, The School of International Development, University of East Anglia, UK
Link to Working Paper

Seeley, Janet and Katy Gardner, 2007, `Social Protection and Internal Migration in Bangladesh: supporting the poorest' Briefing 9, Development Research Centre on Migration, Globalisation and Poverty, Link to document

Zhang, H.X., Kelly, P.M., Locke, C., Winkels, A. and Adger, W.N. (2006) ‘Migration in a transitional economy: beyond the planned and spontaneous dichotomy in Vietnam', Geoforum. 37(6): 1066-1081

Adger, W.Neil, P.Mick Kelly, Alexandra Winkels. Luong Quang Huy and Catherine Locke, 'Migration, Remittances, Livelihood Trajectories and Social Resilience', Ambio 31 (4): 358-366.

Seeley, Janet, Sheila Ryan, Munshi Israil Hossain and Iqbal Alam Khan. 2006 `Just surviving or finding space to thrive? The complexity of the internal migration of women in Bangladesh' pp. 171-191 in Sadhna Arya and Anupama Roy (eds.) Poverty, Gender and Migration Sage, New Delhi, 2006.

Rao, N., Power, culture and resources in gendered seasonal migration from Santal Parganas, chapter in Arya, S and A. Roy (eds.) Gender, Poverty and Migration. Sage. New Delhi. Rao, N.,


DEV research interests in this area include:

• Social policy perspectives, ranging from large-scale pension reforms to the implementation of targeted health interventions at the village level
• Sociological and anthropological perspectives on ageing, vulnerability and life-course, examining the complexity of later life experiences and how age intersects with other identities such as gender

Our research programme currently incorporates the following issues

• The health of older people in low and middle income countries, particularly the impacts of AIDS on older people in sub-Saharan Africa and the growing prevalence of non-communicable diseases
• Pensions and social protection for older people
• The economic and social impact of dementia, stroke and care dependency on older people
• Ageing, vulnerability and the life-course

Related Projects

Ageing, Wellbeing and Development

Pensions, Health and Wellbeing of Older People in Low and Middle Income Countries. Insights from the WHO SAGE Survey.

The Economic and Social Effects of Care Dependence in Later Life

Key Publications

P. Lloyd-Sherlock et al (2012) "Population ageing and health" Lancet 379:1295-6.

Seeley, Janet. `The changing relationships of co-wives over time in rural Southern Uganda' Journal of Development Studies 48(1): 68-80 (2012).

Lloyd-Sherlock, P., Minicuci, N., Beard, J. and Chatterji, S. (2012) "Social protection and the health of older people in development countries: establishing the health effects of pensions and health insurance" International Social Security Review 65 (4): 51-68.

P.Lloyd-Sherlock, A.Barrientos, V.Moller and J.Saboia (2012) "Pensions, poverty and wellbeing in later life: comparative research from South Africa and Brazil" Journal of Aging Studies 26 (3): 243-252.

P.Lloyd-Sherlock, J.Saboia and B.Ramirez-Rodriguez (2012) "Cash transfers and the wellbeing of older people in Brazil". Development and Change 43 (5):1049-1072.

P.Lloyd-Sherlock, A.Barrientos and J.Mase "Social inclusion of older people in developing countries: relations and resources" in T. Scharf and N. Keating, eds. From exclusion to inclusion in old age. Policy Press, Bristol (2012).

"Ageing and international development: a critical view" in L.Leisering, ed. Die alten der welt. Institute of World Social Studies, Bielefeld (2012)

K.Artaraz and P.Lloyd-Sherlock "Pension reform in Bolivia: two models of income security in old age" in K.Hujo, ed. Reforming pensions in developing and transition countries. UNRISD, Geneva (2012).

Scholten F, Mugisha J, Seeley J, Kinyanda E, Nakubukwa S, Kowal P, Naidoo N, Boerma T, Chatterji S, Grosskurth H. `Health and functional status among older people with HIV/AIDS in Uganda' BMC Public Health 11:886 (2011).

C.Locke and P.Lloyd-Sherlock " Linking lives. Subjectivities and Shifting Contexts: Critical Reflections from Development Studies on Qualitative Life Course Methodologies". Development and Change (2011) 42 (4).

P.Lloyd-Sherlock (2010) Population ageing and international development: from generalisation to evidence. Policy Press.

Seeley, Janet and Kenneth Ekoru `Which factors mitigate the impact of the AIDS epidemic on the families and households of older people in rural Uganda? Are there lessons for social protection?' African Journal of Population Studies 24(1&2): 113-129 (2010).

Seeley, Janet, Brent Wolff, Elizabeth Kabunga, Grace Tumwekwase and Heiner Grosskurth, 2009, `This is where we've buried our sons'.  People of advanced old age coping with the impact of the AIDS epidemic in a resource-poor setting in rural Uganda.' Ageing and Society 29: 115-134

Lloyd-Sherlock, P and C. Locke (2008) ‘Vulnerable relations: Life course, wellbeing and social exclusion: Insights from older people's narratives, Buenos Aires', Ageing and Society. 28 (8): 117-1207.


Maria Abranches

Lecturer in Social Anthropology, School of International Development

Laura Camfield

Professor of Development Research & Evaluation, School of International Development

Frank Ellis

Emeritus Professor, School of International Development

Peter Lloyd-Sherlock

Professor of Social Policy & International Development, School of International Development

Jonathan Pattenden

Senior Lecturer, School of International Development

Nitya Rao

Professor of Gender & Development, School of International Development

Development Studies Association Conference Panel Life Course, Wellbeing and Development

3rd November 2012 at Institute of Education, London


Life course frameworks and concepts are gradually becoming increasing recognized and applied in international development (Locke and Lloyd-Sherlock, 2011). This panel will review their application across a diverse set of issues and developmental settings. A key objective of the sessions will be to establish common understandings of definitions and interpretations of "life course" in development research. Approaches and conceptions of life course diverge sharply between specific academic disciplines, such as epidemiology (where the focus is on identifying statistical associations in variables of interest at different points in an individual life history) and sociology (where life course is seen as an alternative to rigid, often artificial, life stage models of human experience).

Whilst the former approach has its roots in epidemiology, it has become increasingly prominent in the social sciences in recent years. In part, this is because epidemiologists have become more aware of the social determinants of health outcomes, leading to cross-disciplinary research (Marmot, 2005). Independently of this, different fields of social science, particularly economists and sociologists, have increasingly applied these methods to assess the life course impact of education and other effects (Dewilde, 2003).

The second approach seeks to challenge simplistic notions of life stage that continue to influence debate and policy in many fields, including international development. Instead, life course analysis distinguishes between "trajectories" (periods of relatively limited change) and "turning points" that significantly reshape individual experience. This pays particular attention to personal agency, relationships between individual life trajectories, wider environmental contexts and social relationships (Elder Jr., 1974; Langevang, 2008).  

This panel will explore the complementarities and tensions between these two traditions of life course research, drawing on original qualitative and quantitative research. A critical issue that will inform the papers is the extent to which life course frameworks offer significant insights that are not provided by more established sets of concepts (such as inter-generational poverty transmission, vulnerability, chronic poverty and social exclusion), the degree to which these insights can inform policy and barriers to effective life course research in different developmental settings. This will include a specific interest in how existing life course methodologies can be adopted or adapted to suit specific contexts and issues.
The panel will assess the value of life course concepts for developing more unified and coherent understandings of issues that are more often studied in isolation. This is reflected in the intentional diversity of the topics already selected for the panel, which include early life transitions, migration, family transitions and later life. In selecting additional papers we will seek to extend this diversity, whilst ensuring that each paper has a genuine life course focus that brings something different to the collective discussion.

Papers / Presenters

Peter Lloyd-Sherlock, University of East Anglia
Epidemiological and sociological models of life course research, and their relevance for development studies

Louise Hampton, University of East Anglia
"Just because I'm a mum doesn't mean I'm going to be a complete bum": re-presenting teenage mums in the UK through life course analysis.

Laura Camfield, University of East Anglia
Chronic poverty in rural Ethiopia through the lens of life histories

Catherine Locke, University of East Anglia
Family life course transitions, social reproduction across the generations, and migration: conceptual approaches

Social protection has been going up the policy agenda in poor countries over the past 5-10 years, and renewed interest in the social and economic implications of migration has occurred over the same period.

International Conference on Migration, (Social) Reproduction and Social Protection

2nd – 3rd April 2012 at UEA London, 102 Middlesex Street, London E1 7EZ
The interface between these two apparently separate topics is an interesting one, as yet relatively unexplored, but one which promises to yield important new strategic insights concerning the role of mobility in processes of progressive social and economic change, and the appropriate contribution of social transfers and related services in supporting or inhibiting mobile and changing livelihoods.

The antecedents of contemporary policy debates about social protection lie in the safety net approach to preventing temporary or seasonal failures to secure enough food of the 1980s. The idea of safety nets was that families vulnerable to hunger should have a minimum fallback position to which they could have recourse, in the event of incidental livelihood failures whether caused by natural cycles and risks (seasonality) or due to an enforced switch in economic structure (adjustment). The policy response mainly comprised food-for-work or cash-for-work schemes, and was consciously envisaged as not interfering in longer term social or economic change. However, this approach is challenged by chronic extreme poverty, and recurrent food insecurity crises, resulting in repeated emergency responses on a large scale. Contemporary social protection seeks to address this more continuous deprivation problem by identifying a predictable caseload and providing ‘predictable funding for predictable needs'. In addition, legislated transfer entitlements such as provision of non-contributory pensions or child support grants are now being encouraged, even in very poor countries. The emphasis is shifting more to rights, to the obligations of the state towards its citizens, and to the role social protection can play in promoting improved livelihoods, wellbeing and gender equality.

Migration is an essential component of social change that eventually (hopefully) results in more secure livelihoods and improvements in future wellbeing. Yet migration (except perhaps temporary migration for seasonal work) is often inhibited or actively discouraged by policy. This occurs at national level with respect to rural-urban migration, and at international level with respect to migration between countries. Migration can be interpreted as contributing to social protection when migrants make contributions to the livelihood security of their families who stay behind. On the other hand, migrants themselves may lose social or public support to which they would have had access in their home communities, while not being entitled to such support in their places of destination. These are merely outline sketches of two out of an array of intersections that occur between social transfers and human mobility, some of them purposive (built deliberately into policy) and some of them inadvertent (unforeseen side effects of policy focused on dealing with another problem). Many of these intersections are not obvious, for example in South Africa it has been found that pension income increases the mobility of younger household members. In our own research so far, we have examined the exclusion from social support of individuals in mobile occupations such as migrant fishermen, and the contextual and contingent nature of migrant access to health and education services. This also raises issues of boundaries between social protection and broader social policy which require critical consideration in future research.

The themes that we investigate within the context of social protection and mobile livelihoods include:

• Vulnerable livelihoods and social protection
• Migration, education and health
• HIV/AIDS and rural livelihoods
• Migration and reproduction
• Migration and older people
• Migration and fishing communities

The issues of social protection and migration are also highlighted in our teaching at postgraduate level, such as the MA in Rural Development and the MA in International Social Development.  Click for more information on taught postgraduate courses in DEV.