Help us improve age disaggregated data: Youth

Your opportunity to take part in this process ends on 25 April 2016

This article is part of a series on age disaggregated data. Take a look and let us know what you think:

To make sure everyone benefits from the Global Goals we need to improve the quality, consistency and use of age disaggregated data. We need your help!

Today’s generation of young people is the largest in history, and almost 90% of them live in Low and Middle Income Countries. They are the change-makers of tomorrow. Currently the data systems in many Low and Middle Income Country contexts are failing young people. When the data is collected, it is not fully analysed, reported or utilised. This means there are gaps in knowledge about the challenges young people face. There are key populations of children and young people that are not adequately captured in the monitoring and measurement of development outcomes. The United Nations Population Fund estimates that just over 1.8 billion of the world’s population is aged between 10 and 24. That’s 25% of the world’s population. In Low Income Countries it is even higher (32%). Children and young people remain one of the most vulnerable groups in society.

The data systems in many Low Income Countries are simply not equipped to describe the lives of young people. Lack of quality data on young people is compounded in contexts which are categorised by fragility, conflict, natural disasters, emergencies and disease. When young people are not counted they are invisible. Policies are not made for them. They don’t get the help they need. They are locked out of development. They are left behind.

Lack of consensus on disaggregation

There is currently no consensus on the age intervals by which to disaggregate data. A growing number of Civil Society Organisations engaged in policy and advocacy are seeking to ensure that age data disaggregation and reporting is in five year intervals. While this may be appropriate as people progress through the lifecycle beyond adolescents it lacks the necessary sensitivity to describe the lives of young people who are developing rapidly and passing critical developmental, social and legal milestones in quick succession. Statistical reporting which is not sensitive enough to differentiate between marriage at 15 year or 20 years is of little use to policy makers who want to design interventions to ensure that girls are afforded the right to a childhood and a better future.

Lack of consensus on the boundaries of youth

There is currently no consensus on the boundaries of youth. Despite the United Nations having a definition, states have tended to establish their own and the application is often different depending on policy sector. It is common that, in many contexts, the age of criminal culpability, the age of consent, and the age of franchise are often defined differently. This is replicated in other areas of life and the definition of youth is not static in time or place. There are also social factors which impact on whether a person is defined as a young person or not. In many contexts the transition from youth to adulthood is driven by events such as marriage or pregnancy rather than reaching a given age. This is often associated with their exclusion from data collection systems despite their still being, in years, a young person.

Many of the data sources that policy makers look to for evidence to inform their work only collect data on people over the age of 18. This includes the Afrobarometer, the World Values Survey, and the Social Institutions and Gender Index which is delivered by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. Demographic and Health Surveys, which are widely respected, do not disaggregate data below 15 years or above 49 years. The Commonwealth Youth Index, an extensive data source on young people, only collects data on young people age 15–29. These data sets are used to inform decisions about programmes and services, including services designed to safeguard Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights. The lack of sufficient disaggregation of data results in many services failing young people. Coupled with this, states continue to make amendments to Demographic and Health Survey questions at the national level which makes it difficult or impossible to compare with other data sets.

Household surveys collect information from a single individual within a household. The response provided by the individual may be biased about needs of other household members. There is also a significant risk that the information given by a head of household will be shaped by a desire to avoid stigma or social taboos. The accuracy of this kind of survey on issues which could be viewed as being contentious such as Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights cannot be relied upon. At the global level, young people are excluded from monitoring and reporting on some critical health issues. The UNICEF Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys which only captures data on HIV testing or condom use of people who are between the ages of 15 and 49. This problem is not limited to surveys on communicable diseases.

Gaps in data and statistics

It is critical that development agencies and Governments significantly improve their capacity to address gender, age and disability as cross cutting issues. The gaps in systematic data and research on the impact of marginalization on some of the most vulnerable groups of young people threatens our ability to realise the ambitions of the Global Goals. On top of these challenges there are some critical data gaps which make it difficult to plan services and support for youth and adolescents:

  • There is no scaled data on the time poverty which is holding so many adolescent girls back from realizing their potential
  • There is a too little data on young people in urban settings or who have been institutionalised
  • Young people who are stateless, displaces, the children of migrant workers, who are forced to work, who live on the margins, who live in fragile contexts and protracted crises are rarely included in official national data sets. At the national level this can lead to the loss of entire generations
  • Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights data is not disaggregated for people under the age of 15
  • There is little or no data about the lives of Lesbian, Gays, Bisexual and Transgender adolescents

The response to the data challenge

The monitoring framework and indicators developed to track progress towards achieving Global Goals and to ensure accountability of governments to their citizens needs to be inclusive of people of all ages with data disaggregated by age, sex, and disability. The monitoring framework should include an agreed system for disaggregation so that there is consistency. This must provide a minimum level of age disaggregation that ensures consistency and allows for comparison, but does not prohibit an additional, further level of age disaggregation within these groups as appropriate. Plan UK are calling for disaggregation of age data on young people to be at a greater degree of granularity than 5 year bands because of the rapid development which young people experience.

How can we fix this?

There needs to be concerted action to ensure young people are not left behind and to address the problems and gaps in the data on young people. There are a range of methods that would help to close the gaps in data for young people to ensure that the available data reflects their lives. The use of existing internationally comparable surveys needs to be expanded. Work must also be undertaken to improve existing targets, indicators and surveys:

  • Lower the age bracket for large data sets such as the World Vales Survey and Demographic and Health Surveys to reflect the early adolescence.
  • Disaggregate data by a smaller age ranges for young people (preferably 2 year brackets). This data would also ideally be collected and analysed annually to ensure that the data reflects accurately all the barriers faced in transition to adulthood.
  • In addition to quantitative data sets there should be investment in methodology that collect perception based data to monitor the real life experiences of young people and societies perceptions towards them
  • Data must be collected in a safe environment that allows young people to honestly report, particularly on issues of Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights and violence.
  • Support youth networks, including youth parliaments, national youth councils, and other civil society organisations led by and/or made up of young people to develop and/or contribute to national level alternative reports on the Global Goals on youth-relevant goals, targets, and indicators. These could be shared with governments to improve national reports and also with civil society organisations to strengthen other national alternative reports.
  • Support young women and young men to understand, collect, analyse and use information (on rights, quality of services, political processes, policies and budgets) to promote dialogue with duty-bearers and to hold them to account. Specific attention should be paid to supporting the marginalised.

What happens next and how do I get involved?

One of our main goals is to see this problem from a range of different perspectives so that we can understand the impact that it is having on people making policy, statisticians, advocates and real life people like you and me. The good news is that we have already started. We have been reaching out to experts, academics and partners to help us to scope this work. They have helped us to tell the story of this problem from a range of different perspectives. Now it’s your turn!

You can have your say too! There are two ways for you to feed in to this process:

So share your views with us, have your say and help to ensure that people of all ages can benefit from the Global Goals.

This blog post has been written by Plan UK and the views it contains may not represent the views of the Department for International Development.

Want to know more about Open Policy Making?

  • The Policy Lab in the Cabinet Office have created lots of useful tools, guidance, case studies, tips and advice to help you take your first step toward a more open, collaborative and better policy making process. Pay them a visit over here. If you’re just getting started have a read at the Policy Lab’s introduction to design in policy making for more information on how to apply design thinking and policy making.
  • To follow this Open Policy Making process — follow DFID Inclusive Societies on Medium. We’re on Twitter too!