Research Article: Poverty and youth disability in China: Results from a large, nationwide, population-based survey

Date Published: April 25, 2019

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Chao Guo, Yanan Luo, Xiaoxue Tang, Ruoxi Ding, Xinming Song, Xiaoying Zheng, Michael L. Goodman.


Youth with disability contribute to a high burden of disease but are often neglected. This study aims to estimate the prevalence of disability and its association with poverty among Chinese youth aged 15–24 years.

Data were obtained from a nationally representative population-based cross-sectional survey in 2006 and its follow-up investigations from 2007 to 2013 in 31 provinces of mainland China. A total of 357 856 non-institutionalized youth at age of 15–24 years were investigated. Population weighted numbers and prevalence rates with 95% CI of various types and causes of disabilities for the overall youth were estimated where appropriate. Univariate and multivariate logistic regressions were used to identify the association between poverty and each type of and cause-specific disability.

A weighted number of 3 633 838 youth were living with disability in China, with a prevalence rate of 19.7 per thousand Chinese youth. Youth living in poor households were 3.84 times more likely to be with disability than those living in affluent households (95% CI: 3.56–4.14). Associations were similar for most types of and cause-specific disabilities. Among youth with disability, those from poor households had less healthcare service use (OR: 0.71, 95% CI: 0.61–0.82) than those from affluent households.

A significant number of Chinese youth were living with disability, and poverty is significant associated with the disability among youth. Investment in health and disability prevention are essential to the development of youth, as well as their families and communities.

Partial Text

Disability is becoming an important concern for both developed and developing countries. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that more than 650 million people worldwide are living with some form of disability [1]. Disability is a development issue,1 which constitutes a sustained burden to both the society and family, especially when a disability occurred in the early stage of life [2]. Due to in a transition from childhood into adulthood, youth who experience disabilities may suffer from severer and longer health and social problems [4], but the disabilities in youth are often overlooked [3]. In 2014, the United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA) indicated that 1.8 billion youth are the shapers and leaders of our global future, but too many of them continue to grapple with poverty, inequality and health problems [5]. Thus, the UNFPA called for investing in the youth’s health and drew the world’s great attention on the development of youth.

This study used data from the most recent population–based survey on disability with nationally representative samples in China. The results demonstrate that a significant number of Chinese youth were living with disability and poverty is significantly associated with disability among youth. As reported by United Nations, the global number of adolescents and young adults with disabilities was between 180 and 220 million, which was estimated to be about 16.4 to 20.0 per thousand youth [20]. Our finding showed that the weighted prevalence rate of disability was 19.7 per thousand in Chinese youth, which is consistent with the global level. According to our results, 32.1% of Chinese youth with disability were in poor households. This rate was higher than the rate of developed countries; 10–15% youth with disability aged 5–17 years old were in poor households in the United States [21]. This large discrepancy may partly come from the different definitions of disability, the different study populations, and the differences in economic development levels. Nevertheless, the notable size and prevalence in our finding highlights the importance of disability prevention and rehabilitation among youth in China and other areas with similar settings.

In conclusion, our findings indicate that a considerable number of Chinese youth were suffering from disabilities, and poverty was associated with increased risk of various types of and cause-specific disabilities among Chinese youth. The findings may help increase the awareness of youth disability in the general public and for policymakers. Investment in youth’s health, including disability prevention and healthcare improvement, is essential to the achievement of both the Poverty Relief Target 2020 and the Healthy China 2030. This study contributes to the literature on poverty and youth disability in developing nations of a non-Western context as well.