Grand Challenges Canada Economic Returns to Mitigating Early Life Risks Project Working Paper Series

Document Type

Working Paper

Date of this Version



Behrman, Jere R., John Hoddinott, John A. Maluccio, Erica Soler-Hampejsek, Emily L. Behrman, Reynaldo Martorell, Manuel Ramirez-Zea, and Aryeh D. Stein. 2013. "What Determines Adult Cognitive Skills? Influences of Pre-Schooling, Schooling, and Post-Schooling Experiences in Guatemala." GCC Working Paper Series, GCC 13-02.


Most empirical investigations of the effects of cognitive skills assume that they are produced by schooling, and that schooling is exogenous. Drawing on a rich longitudinal data set to estimate production functions for adult reading-comprehension cognitive skills and adult nonverbal cognitive skills, we find that (1) Schooling attainment has a significant and substantial effect on adult reading-comprehension cognitive skills but not on adult nonverbal cognitive skills; and (2) Pre-schooling and post-schooling experiences have substantial positive significant effects on adult cognitive skills. Pre-schooling experiences that increase height for age at age six years substantially and significantly increase adult reading-comprehension and nonverbal cognitive skills, even after controlling for schooling attainment and post-school skilled job tenure. Post-schooling tenure in skilled jobs also has a significant positive effect on adult reading-comprehension and nonverbal cognitive skills, although the latter estimate is sensitive to how we treat gender. Age also has significant positive effect but with diminishing returns on adult reading-comprehension cognitive skills. The findings (1) reinforce the importance of early life investments; (2) support the importance of childhood nutrition (“Flynn effect”) and work complexity in explaining increases in cognitive skills; (3) question interpretations of studies reporting productivity impacts of cognitive skills without controlling for endogeneity; and (4) point to limitations in using adult schooling alone to represent human capital.


Cognitive skills, Guatemala, Nutrition, Schooling



Date Posted: 26 July 2013