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Children & Youth

Economics and science meet in early childhood development

Shanta Devarajan's picture

Economists are skeptical bunch, but they seem convinced of the value of interventions in early childhood (0-6 years) and, conversely, the multiple, long-term and often irreversible effects of the failure to provide infants with nutrition, health care and stimulation. 

For instance, Norbert Schady and Chris Paxson’s found that whereas at age 3 all children (from a sample in Ecuador) had the same vocabulary score, by age 6, children from the poorest quartile scored 50 percent of those from the richest quartile.

Meanwhile, scientists studying the development of the human brain (and body) are reaching the same conclusion. 

In a fascinating presentation, Jack Shonkoff describes the process of brain development that is interrupted, sometimes permanently, by adversity in early childhood.  Overproduction of hormones associated with stress can leave toxic effects. 

He also shows how human contact (as opposed to contact with inanimate objects or no contact) can significantly improve a child’s cognitive development.  A group of pre-schoolers were exposed to a nanny who spoke to them in Chinese for a few hours a week; in a couple of years the children were speaking fluent Chinese.  Another group was exposed to a high-quality video in Chinese, but they didn’t develop any speaking ability in the language.

Infant mortality rates in Africa will increase by 30,000-50,000 - Girls will fare worse

Norbert Schady's picture

The impact of the global financial crisis on infant mortality is a topic of great policy importance. However, estimates of the likely impacts of the crisis, cited by international institutions and in the popular press, differ wildly.

This blogpost summarizes the main conclusions from some of my own recent research on this topic, jointly with various colleagues.

These conclusions include:

Education and Finance in Africa

Shanta Devarajan's picture

At a recent conference that brought together African Finance and Education ministers, the keynote speaker, Tharman Shanmugaratnam, finance minister (and former education minister) of Singapore gave a beautiful speech about Singapore's experience that contained some potentially difficult and controversial messages for Africa.

One childhood

Shanta Devarajan's picture

Rarely do we come across a video that is visually beautiful, intellectually stimulating and emotionally inspiring.  “One childhood” is a documentary about how schools and schoolteachers in Eritrea are part of the campaign to improve children’s health.  Based on the actual findings of two thorough technical evaluations that showed the wide coverage and effectiveness of the Eritrea programs, the film tells the story of how school health is now being delivered in the mountains of Eritrea, in the arid lands of the Red Sea coast and in urban Asmara.  Available on

Presque au hasard

Shanta Devarajan's picture

La « randomisation » – ou application par répartition aléatoire – des programmes d’aide est actuellement considérée comme la « règle d’or » permettant d’évaluer l’impact de chaque projet et de trouver les schémas d’intervention les plus efficaces possible. Des études antérieures ont été critiquées en raison de leur portée limitée, c’est pourquoi des interventions plus récentes portent désormais sur de plus larges échantillons de population.

Almost random

Shanta Devarajan's picture

Randomized program implementation is currently seen as the ‘gold standard’ for impact evaluation in the search for the most effective development interventions. Earlier studies were criticized for their limited scope, so some of these interventions now involve large populations. Unfortunately, the larger the intervention, the larger is the danger that people who were supposed to get the treatment do not receive the intervention and vice-versa. Do such deviations invalidate the conclusions drawn from randomized studies?

Responsible aid in a time of crisis

Shanta Devarajan's picture

My friend, former colleague and one-time co-author Bill Easterly, in his inaugural blog post, takes issue with Bob Zoellick’s Op-Eds in the New York Times and the Financial Times  on the need for more aid to poor countries in the wake of the global financial and economic crisis. Bill’s argument is that Bob is calling for more aid without specifyi

The human crisis

Shanta Devarajan's picture

My colleague Justin Lin says that it is important not to let the global financial crisis become “a human crisis.” Nowhere is this truer than in Africa. Although spared the first-round effects of banking failures, Africa is already facing the second-round impacts of declining capital flows, slowing remittances, stagnating foreign aid and falling commodity prices and export revenues. The c

Using economics to fight AIDS

Shanta Devarajan's picture

I gave one of the keynotes (based on joint work with Markus Goldstein) at the recent ICASA 2008 in Dakar, Senegal on the title of this post. The fight against AIDS involves allocating scarce resources to multiple uses; and contracting, avoiding, preventing, testing for, and treating the disease all involve behavioral choices.

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