The Effects of Negative Economic Shocks at Birth on Adolescents’ Cognitive Health and Educational Attainment in Malawi

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Population Center Working Papers (PSC/PARC)
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economic shock
early life adversity
cognitive health
investments in education
Demography, Population, and Ecology
Family, Life Course, and Society
Gender and Sexuality
Inequality and Stratification
Social and Behavioral Sciences
Research reported in this publication was supported by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development of the National Institutes of Health under Award Numbers R01HD090988, R01HD087391 and R01 RHD053781. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health. We also gratefully acknowledge the generous support from the Swiss Programme for Research on Global Issues for Development (SNF r4d Grant 400640_160374) and the Swiss National Science foundation (grant number: P2LAP1_187736).
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We provide new evidence of the association between moderate negative economic shocks in utero or shortly after birth and adolescents’ cognitive outcomes and educational attainment in Malawi. This is one of the first studies to analyze the effect of not one, but multiple moderate negative economic shocks in a sub-Saharan African (SSA) low-income country (LIC). This focus is important as multiple economic shocks in early life are more representative of the experiences of adolescents in LICs. Combining data on adolescents aged 10-16 from the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) project with the Malawi Longitudinal Study on Families and Health (MLSFH) (N = 1; 559), we use linear and probit regression models to show that girls whose households experienced two or more economic shocks in their year of birth have lower cognitive skills as measured by working memory, reading and mathematical skills. Girls also have lower educational attainment, conditional on age. These effects are gendered, as we do not observe similar effects among boys. Overall, our results point to lasting effects of early-life adversity on adolescents, and they highlight that, even in a LIC context where early-life adversity is common, policymakers need to intervene early to alleviate the potential long-term educational impacts of in utero or early life shocks among girls.

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