Many education investments focus on the first years of primary education or – even before that – early child education. The logic behind this is intuitive: Without a solid foundation, it’s hard for children and youth to gain later skills that use those foundations. If you can’t decipher letters, then it’s going to be tough to learn from a science textbook. Or even a math textbook. But it’s important to remember that for most “investors” (whether governments or parents or the children themselves), the most basic skills aren’t the ultimate goal. The objective is better life outcomes. Most of the justification for these early interventions are that they will translate into better lives once these children grow up.
In Gaile Parkin's novel Baking Cakes in Kigali, two women living in Kigali, Rwanda – Angel and Sophie – argue over the salary paid to a development worker: "Perhaps these big organisations needed to pay big salaries if they wanted to attract the right kind of people; but Sophie had said that they were the wrong kind of people if they would not do the work for less. Ultimately they had concluded that the desire to make the world a better place was not something that belonged in a person's pocket. No, it belonged in a person's heart."
It's not a leap to believe – like Angel and Sophie – that teachers should want to help students learn, health workers who want help people heal, and other workers in service delivery should want to deliver that service. But how do you attract and motivate those passionate public servants? Here is some recent research that sheds light on the topic.
What is education good for?
- Education saves lives, but only some of them! “Education is strongly associated with better health and longer lives.” But is that mere correlation, or is a causal link? It depends! This review finds no impact on obesity, inconsistent impact on smoking, and “an effect of education on mortality exists in some contexts but not in others, and seems to depend on (i) gender; (ii) the labor market returns to education; (iii) the quality of education; and (iv) whether education affects the quality of individuals’ peers” (Galama, Lleras-Muney, and van Kippersluis).
This is the seventeenth, and penultimate, of this year’s job market series.
Research question and motivation
That early-life events can affect adult outcomes is now well established. Lifelong health, education, and wages are all shaped by events of the in-utero and early-childhood environments (Barker 1992; Cunha and Heckman, 2007; Almond et al., 2017). To the extent that adverse shocks can often not be prevented, a key task for researchers and policymakers is to ascertain the potential for and degree of mitigation: Could investing in children's health and education help reduce gaps caused by early-life adversities?
In my job-market paper, we study whether the returns on human capital investments on children differ by exposure to adverse early-life shocks. We focus on two shocks that significantly affect households in developing countries: adverse weather shocks -- i.e., floods and droughts, which reduce children's initial skills--, and the introduction of conditional cash transfers (CCTs), which provide monetary subsidies to families with young children conditional on investments in children's health and education. In particular, we provide empirical evidence on how the effects of CCTs on children's long-term educational outcomes interact with children's early-life exposure to adverse weather shocks.
Did you miss this year’s Northeast Universities Development Consortium conference, or NEUDC? I did, unfortunately!
NEUDC is a large development economics conference, with more than 160 papers on the program, so it’s a nice way to get a sense of new research in the field.
Thankfully, since NEUDC posts submitted papers, I was able to mostly catch up. I went through 147 of the papers and summarized them below, by topic. If a paper you loved or presented isn’t in the rundown, feel free to add a brief summary in the comments. (Why 147 instead of 160? I skipped a few macro papers and the papers that weren’t posted.)
These links should take you to your topic of interest: Agriculture, cash transfers and asset transfers, credit and insurance, crime, conflict, violence, and war, culture, norms, and corruption, education, elections and political economy, firms, governance, bureaucracy, and social capital, health (including WASH), jobs (including public works), marriage, methodology, migration, mobile phones and mobile money, poverty, inequality, and shocks, psychology, taxes, and traffic.
The rigorous evidence on vocational training programs is, at best, mixed. For example, Markus recently blogged about some work looking at long term impacts of job training in the Dominican Republic. In that paper, the authors find no impact on overall employment, but they do find a change in the quality of employment, with more folks having jobs with health insurance (for example).
- Sure, that intervention delivered great results in a well-managed pilot. But it doesn’t tell us anything about whether it would work at a larger scale.
- Does this result really surprise you? (With both positive results and null results, I often hear, Didn’t we already know that intuitively?)
A recent paper – “Cognitive science in the field: A preschool intervention durably enhances intuitive but not formal mathematics” – by Dillon et al., provides answers to both of these, as well as giving new insights into the design of effective early child education.