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Research Projects

Improving Early Childhood Development in Latin America and the Caribbean

Administered by: Research Department

Documents related to this project:

Topic: Poverty Reduction and Labor

Start Date: April 2009

Members of the Coordinating Team:

Participating Institutions:

Working Papers :

Selected Proposals :

Final Drafts

  • The Impact of Daycare Attendance on Math Test Scores for a Cohort of 4th Graders in Brazil
    by: Clarissa G. Rodrigues (CEDEPLAR), Cristine X.C. Pinto (EESP/FGV) and Daniel D. Santos (IBMEC/RJ)
  • Abstract: This paper estimates the impact of having attended center-based daycare institutions during early childhood on Math test scores at the 4th grade of elementary school. Because enrollment in daycare centers may depend on unobservable characteristics of the family and the child, the paper builds and estimates a structural model of endogenous choice of school to deal with the selectivity problem. The study uses two approaches that explore different types of variation in the data to estimate the causal effect of preschool attendance on Math test scores. The first approach uses the variation in the probability that a child started school at daycare/ kindergarten induced by a variation in the exclusion restrictions associated with the supply of daycare/ kindergarten services at the municipality level as well as with the spread of contagious diseases among children at preschool ages (also at the municipality level). The second approach explores the longitudinal variation in the proportion of the students that are reported to have started school either in daycare or in kindergarten institutions at the school level (by introducing a school fixed-effect in a panel of observations at the school level). Using these two approaches the paper finds that attendance at daycare institutions is associated with a gain of approximately 0,1 standard deviation in 4th grade Math test scores. The fact that these two very different sources of variation led to very similar magnitudes of the estimated impacts constitutes convincing evidence about the estimated effect. Click here to download the document.

  • The Impact of Out-of-Home Childcare Centers on Early Childhood Development
    By: Sergio Urzúa and Gregory Veramendi (Northwestern University)
  • Abstract: This paper presents a comprehensive empirical analysis of the impact of attending a child daycare center on early childhood development (ECD) in Chile. We examine child development from a multi-dimensional perspective, taking into account the equally multi-dimensional characteristics of parents and the availability of child daycare providers. We also deal with the potential endogeneity associated with the parental decision of sending children to child daycare centers (or preschools). This is an important element that has received little attention in the literature. We do so by estimating a model with endogenous outcomes and unobserved heterogeneity. Additionally, and following the recent development in the literature, we interpret unobserved heterogeneity as (latent) abilities. The empirical analysis is carried out using new data from Chile, specifically designed to characterize child development. The empirical results suggest: (i) cognitive and socio-emotional test scores from children younger than two are too noisy to be analyzed, (ii) when analyzing the enrollment in childcare centers for children older than two we find significant effects of family background, unobserved abilities, the local availability of centers, and local capacity, and (iii) enrollment in childcare centers seem to boost child cognitive development among children older than two, even after controlling for selection. Click here to download the document.

  • The Inter-Generational Transmission of Cognitive Abilities in Guatemala
    By: Maria Cecilia Calderon (University of Pennsylvania) and John Hoddinott (International Food Policy Research Institute)
  • Abstract: This paper examines Early Childhood Development (ECD) outcomes and their association with family characteristics, investments and environmental factors. We are particularly interested in the inter-generational transmission of cognitive abilities. Given the strong causal links between cognitive abilities and economic productivity in adulthood, the inter-generational transmission of these abilities represents an important pathway by which economic advantage or poverty is perpetuated over time, an issue of especial salience in Latin America with its long history of inequality. While there are many associational studies on this topic, these cannot be considered causal given that the cognitive abilities of different generations reflect, in part, unobservable factors such as the genetic heritability of such abilities. We examine the causal relationship between parental cognitive abilities and ECD outcomes of their offspring using a rich data set from rural Guatemala that can account for such unobservable factors. We find that a 10 percent increase in maternal Raven's scores increases children's Raven's scores by 7.8 percent. A 10 percent increase in maternal reading and vocabulary skills increases children's score on a standard vocabulary test by five percent. Effects are larger for older children and the impact of maternal cognitive skills is larger than for paternal skills. Failing to account for unobservable factors substantially underestimates the impact of parental, especially maternal, cognitive skills on those of their children. Click here to download the document.

  • The Coffee Crisis, Early Childhood Development, and Conditional Cash Transfers
    By: Seth R. Gitter (Department of Economics Towson University), James Manley (Department of Economics Towson University) and Brad Barham (Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics, University of Wisconsin-Madison)
  • Abstract: Conditional cash transfer (CCT) programs that provide cash payments on the condition that households utilize health services and send their children to school have become a popular tool to improve human capital including early childhood development of non-school age children. This paper examines the efficacy of three CCT programs in Honduras, Mexico, and Nicaragua in mitigating the potential negative effects of an income shock caused by falling coffee prices, where coffee is a key cash crop to many CCT participants. The paper presents a theoretical household model that demonstrates both the positive potential of CCTs to mitigate negative shocks effects on early childhood development and the negative potential of CCTs to exacerbate the impacts of a negative shock to early childhood development if the conditionality encourages households to shift resources from younger to older children to sustain their school attendance. The experimental design of the three CCTs includes both CCT and non-CCT households and communities with and without coffee production. From this design, the empirical analysis is able to identify that in Mexico the CCT mitigated the negative shock on child height-for-age z-scores, while in Nicaragua coffee producing households who participated in CCTs saw greater declines in z-scores. Click here to download the document.

  • The Impact of Economic Migration on Children's Cognitive Development: Evidence from the Mexican Family Life Survey
    By: Elizabeth T. Powers (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)
  • Abstract: Data from the Mexican Family Life Survey are used to estimate the impact of the migration of a household member to the U.S. on the cognitive development of children left behind in Mexico. A value-added model of child development uses a pre-migration cognitive score as a benchmark for subsequent development. Estimates indicate that the identity of the migrant plays an important role. While there is no developmental affect of a child's sibling migrating to the U.S., there is an adverse effect when another household member—typically the child's parent—migrates. Migration effects are heterogeneous, with the most adverse impacts of parental migration estimated for pre-school to early-school-aged children with older siblings. The effect of parental migration on the cognitive development of a young child is comparable to speaking an indigenous language at home or having a mother with very low educational attainment. Further analysis suggests that household-member migration to the U.S. affects how children spend their time in ways that may influence and/or be influenced by cognitive development. An instrumental variables strategy based on historical migration patterns corrects for potential remaining biases due to omitted variables and endogeneity of U.S. migration with child development and time use. In the case of child development, instrumented migration coefficients are qualitatively similar to the single-equation findings but have large standard errors adjusted for intra-household clustering. Click here to download the document.

  • Early Nutrition and Cognition in Peru: A Within-Sibling Investigation
    By: Ingo Outes-Leon (Oxford University, UK), Catherine Porter (Oxford University, UK), Alan Sanchez (Oxford University, UK), Santiago Cueto (Grupo de Analisis para el Desarrollo, GRADE, Peru), Stefan Dercon (Oxford University, UK), and Javier Escobal (Grupo de Analisis para el Desarrollo, GRADE, Peru)
  • Abstract: This paper examines the causal link between early childhood nutrition and cognition, applying instrumental variables to sibling differences for a sample of preschool aged Peruvian children. The analysis uses child-specific shocks in the form of food price changes and household shocks occurring during the critical developmental period of a child as instruments. The results shows that there are significant and positive returns to early childhood nutritional investments that are meaningful, given their young age and measured prior to their formal school enrolment: an increase in the Height-for-Age z-score of one standard deviation - keeping other factors constant - translates into increases in the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test (PPVT) score of 17%-21% of a standard deviation. The period of analysis includes the recent global food price crisis that also affected Peru between 2006 and 2008 and therefore this is also a quantification of the nutritional and subsequent cognitive costs of food prices on our sample, which could be magnified in later years. Click here to download the document.

  • Social Assistance and Birth Outcomes: Evidence from the Uruguayan PANES
    By: Verónica Amarante (Universidad de la República, Uruguay), Marco Manacorda (Queen Mary University of London, CEP-LSE-, CEPR and IZA), Edward Miguel (University of California Berkeley and NBER), and Andrea Vigorito (Universidad de la República, Uruguay)
  • Abstract: This paper focuses on the impact of a large temporary poverty relief program - the Uruguayan PANES - on birth outcomes. Using program administrative data and longitudinal vital statistics, the analysis shows considerable improvements in children's birthweight as a result of program participation. The estimates imply a fall in the incidence of low birthweight on the order of 10% to 20%, allowing beneficiaries to essentially close half of the gap with the rest of the population. Despite the program initial design, and differently from many other recent social assistance programs in Latin America, participation was in practice unconditional on health checks. Consistent with this, the paper finds positive but modest changes in pre-natal care utilization among beneficiary mothers. The results do not show any significant difference in work involvement between PANES and non-PANES mothers during pregnancy. This tends to rule out that reduced mother's work involvement - with the associated reduction in physical and perhaps psychological stress - is a relevant channel behind the estimated effects. The estimation suggests that the cash (and in-kind) transfer components of the program are likely driving the results, implying that unrestricted social assistance has the potential to positively affect birth outcomes, most likely through improved nutrition. Assuming that all the effect of the program was through the transfer, a back of the envelope calculation suggests an elasticity of low birthweight with respect to welfare transfers on the order of around 0.30. Click here to download the document.

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