Influences on Children's Human Capital in Rural Malawi

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Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
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household wealth
Demography, Population, and Ecology
Public Health Education and Promotion
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The circumstances that characterize poor, rural communities in Malawi suggest that children's health-wealth gradient can vary from other settings. This dissertation begins with a description of the methods used to create a household wealth variable using assets data in the Malawi Longitudinal Study of Families and Health project. By using a fixed effects model to minimize omitted variable bias, I determine the influence of participating in a farm subsidy program on the levels of household wealth in 2004, 2006 and 2008. The results show that the program is positively associated with the wealth index score and this association is stronger when using lagged explanatory variables. This chapter demonstrates how asset data broadens the possibilities of wealth-poverty research that can be undertaken in poor settings. In the next chapter, I use the wealth index to identify a health-wealth gradient for children under 5 years, and I determine whether the gradient varies with age. I find that children in wealthier households have decreased risk of stunting but this is not significant until the oldest age groups (36-47 and 48-59 months). While there is no apparent health-wealth gradient across these ages, there is evidence of an emerging gradient as children get older. The final chapter explores the role of maternal social capital in children's schooling outcomes, using an index measure of women's membership in community groups and instrument variable analysis to address endogeneity concerns. I find that maternal social capital has a significant, positive association with primary school enrollment for younger children and primary school completion for older children. In contrast, maternal social capital has significant, negative association with school enrollment for older children. Maternal social capital is discussed within the context of government policies to improve enrollment and retention. Poor, rural children in Malawi face unique circumstances that have long-lasting implications. The findings across these chapters underscore the need for research that contextualizes and seeks to understand these specific challenges. If this can be achieved, Malawian children have a better chance in becoming healthier, productive adults.

Hans-Peter Kohler
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