Disadvantage and Wellbeing in the Asia-Pacific

Melbourne Institute researchers are examining the complex issues arising from disadvantage in Australia’s surrounding regions to contribute to policy development aimed at improving citizens’ wellbeing.

Our work in the Asia-Pacific is driven by our mission to improve the lives of vulnerable and disadvantaged populations in developing nations, such as Indonesia, China, East Timor and Laos, and to ensure Australian aid is having its intended impact.

We work with research institutes in-country to collect primary data, and use experimental evaluation and behavioural economics techniques to better understand human decision-making and the impact of policy in developing nations and on marginalised groups within the population.

  • Evaluation of policies and programs affecting disadvantaged groups

    Our researchers evaluate policies and programs in developing Asia-Pacific countries with the aim of informing future decision-making. We are particularly interested in analysing the outcomes (both intended and unintended) of social protection programs and safety nets, including conditional cash transfer programs – where families are provided with cash to spend as they wish, rather than receiving specified goods or services. Our work seeks to understand how government and non-government programs can best be designed to provide maximum assistance while reducing undesirable effects.

  • Gender inequality

    We’re working to understand the extent, nature and drivers of gender inequality in our developing neighbour countries. We’re examining the interconnected issues surrounding:

    • Female labour force participation
    • The gender wage gap
    • The impact of childbearing on mothers’ social and economic outcomes.
  • Health services access and sanitation

    We’re contributing to important research in population health, with the aim of improving wellbeing through better access to health services and sanitation programs. We’re looking at the health consequences of criminialising sex work; the effectiveness of drug rehabilitation programs; and the causes of high rates of maternal mortality.

  • Wellbeing of children

    Our work provides policy-relevant insights into problems affecting children’s wellbeing in developing Asia-Pacific countries.

    We are investigating the issue of child marriage and its effect on workforce participation, health and socio-economic outcomes.

    In China, our researchers are studying the link between the one-child policy and crime rates, as well as issues related to the hukou household registration system – which provides access to certain government benefits to urban but not rural citizens.

    We’re also collaborating with government in Indonesia to design cash transfer systems that improve childhood wellbeing through behavioural incentives relating to nutrition and early childhood education.

  • Wellbeing of people living with a disability

    Our researchers are exploring the prevalence of disability in developing countries and how this affects access to education, healthcare and the labour market. We provide in-country policymakers with recommendations on how to better meet the needs of people with disabilities in the environments in which they live.

Program Details


Program Coordinator: Professor Lisa Cameron

Research staff

Partnerships and Funding

Much of this research is funded by and delivered in consultation with the Australian Government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), the World Bank, J-PAL Southeast Asia and the Australian Research Council.


Working Papers

Research Insights