Deborah Levison

Professor, Humphrey School of Public Affairs
Associated Projects
MPC Primary Research Areas

I study the work (both labor force and "chores") and schooling of children in low-income countries, typically via quantitative analysis of survey data; recent projects also include qualitative approaches. My research challenges a number of assumptions about child labor. It calls attention to children’s intermittent labor force work, when policies typically assume adult-like continuous work. Several articles find that there is a substantial bias in thinking and data collection efforts that inform policy, such that girls’ work is consistently overlooked. Another study discredits the “nimble fingers” argument that is often used to explain the prevalence of child labor. Research on economic shocks points to the negative effects on children’s educational attainment of even short unemployment spells of a father. A study of child domestic servants in Latin America demonstrates that estimating live-in child servants is possible there. My co-authored book, Rights and Wrongs of Children’s Work (2010), explores the place of work in children’s lives and development. Recent projects examine risky child work in urban Brazil, work/school trade-offs in Egypt, and connections between domestic violence and educational progress in Colombia.

While on sabbatical in Tanzania, I became interested in connections between environmental sustainability, livelihoods, and the time use of children, women, and men. In 2011, I piloted a study in Kondoa, Tanzania, examining connections between youth’s chores and schooling, on the one hand, and environmental degradation on the other hand.

I have been a co-Principal Investigator on the IPUMS International Project since its inception. Based at the Minnesota Population Center of the University of Minnesota, IPUMS International collects and distributes census microdata from around the world—for free—for research purposes.