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Working Paper

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Acknowledgments: This study was funded by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development project entitled “Foundational cognitive skills in developing countries: early-life nutritional, climatic and policy determinants and impacts on adolescent education, socio-emotional competencies and risky behaviors.” under Grant [number NICHD R21 HD097576]. The funder had no role in the design, interpretation or writing-up of the study or in the decision to submit the study for consideration for publication. Thanks also to the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) for funding Young Lives at Work and enabling this research and to Old Dart Foundation for providing additional funding for this study. We are grateful to Margaret Sheridan, Richard Freund, Douglas Scott, and Annina Hittmeyer for providing very useful comments.


We estimate the associations between a set of foundational cognitive skills (inhibitory control, working memory, long-term memory, and implicit learning) measured at age 12 and educational outcomes measured at ages 15 and 19-20 in Ethiopia and Peru (the Young Lives study). The estimates adjust for a rich set of lagged controls and include measurements of children’s general abilities. For a subset of the outcomes, we exploit within-household variation. Working memory and long-term memory are consistently and positively associated with subsequent domain-specific cognitive achievement tests in both countries, university enrolment in Peru (working memory) and lower secondary-school completion in Ethiopia (long-term memory). Inhibitory control predicts subsequent math-test scores in both countries, and grade attainment in Ethiopia. These results provide additional evidence to justify the importance of promoting investments in cognitive skills throughout childhood and adolescence, and these results potentially elucidate how investments in children impact their educational achievements.


Human Capital, Cognitive Skills, Education, Executive Function, Ethiopia, Peru, Memory



Date Posted: 29 September 2022