Economics and science meet in early childhood development


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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.


If the economic evidence and scientific evidence are saying the same thing—and now we have evidence of what works and what doesn’t in

—surely this is an area for scaling up public interventions for the next generation.


Shanta Devarajan

Senior Director, DEC and Acting World Bank Group Chief Economist

Join the Conversation

February 26, 2010

The scientific evidence on the drivers of brain development in infants is of longstanding vintage and has been publicly available for quiet some time. The additional good news is that the scientific data is robust, volume and quality of data continues to improve rapidly, measurement methods are becoming more precise and accurate and the underlying theoretical foundations are robust and deep.

Relative to these benchmarks in the science of infant brain development, how robust and evidence driven is the economist conclusion and recommendation for scaling up public interventions? Why only now are economists recognizing the importance of public interventions? After all the scientific evidence relating to infant brain development has been available for quiet some time.

Can you cite specific long-term data and evidence regarding the relative merits of different forms of public interventions in this area. If such evidence exists then it should be widely publicized so that citizens are energized to mandate governments to implement good public interventions. The World Bank has a longstanding history of providing economic policy advise and loans to governments in countries where childhood deficiencies are significant. It would be good if the World Bank could publicize success stories and lessons based on its own portfolio of advisory and lending activities.

Sam Chow
March 07, 2010

Infants inherit from the genes to recognize the voice of the mother and the same species and ignore other sounds. DVD produces machine sounds and are thus ignored by infants. Talk more to the baby. Play more with the baby, in whatever language. It does not cost money. But it does enormous good to the brain and language development of the child.

June 16, 2010

it will because it has improved infrastuctures like;
1. Tourist industry
2. Improved their roads
3. it now on the world map were most the countris will make business.

Agustin Stryke
August 18, 2010

Science involves more than the gaining of knowledge. It is the systematic and organized inquiry into the natural world and its phenomena. Science is about gaining a deeper and often useful understanding of the world. You may visit for more reference.