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Relative Affluence and Child Labor—Explaining a Paradox


Review of Development Economics

Published online on


Some micro level empirical studies found child labor incidence increasing even with improvement in the economic conditions of the poor. This paper provides a possible explanation as to why increase in absolute income may not be sufficient to solve the problem of child labor. We argue that people in general are not just concerned about their own consumption; they are very much affected by the consumption of their peers. While taking decisions regarding the time allocation of their children between work and leisure, parents do keep an eye on their relative position in the society. We develop a theoretical model of household decision making to show that child labor supply from a poor family can increase even with improvements in its economic conditions, if the family's relative position in the society deteriorates and if the relative status effect is sufficiently strong.