Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs
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Bryce Millett Steinberg ─ Brain vs. Brawn: Child Labor, Human Capital Investment, and the Role of Dynamic Complementarities

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

4 p.m. – 5:30 p.m.

McKinney Conference Room, 111 Thayer Street

Early-life interventions are a promising route to improve educational outcomes. Yet, in many low-income countries, children (and their parents) make trade-offs between schooling and productive work. We formalize this trade-off in a simple model of human capital investment. If early-life investments increase child wages more than they increase the returns to education, children who receive greater early life investments will attend less school. Exploiting rainfall shocks as a source of variation in early-life income in India, we test the model. Parental income shocks early in a child’s life lead to higher educational attainment in places with low levels of child labor, but this positive effect is attenuated in areas with high child labor. When child labor is especially prevalent, positive early shocks have statistically significant, negative effects on educational attainment. To verify that this is not driven by the unobservable characteristics of high child labor regions, we replicate this pattern using geographic variation in two child labor intensive crops, cotton and sugar.

Bryce Millett Steinberg is the Stephen Robert Assistant Professor of Economics and International and Public Affairs at Brown University. She received her PhD in economics from Harvard in 2015, and her AB from Brown in 2009. Her work focuses on health and education in the developing world, particularly the effect of market forces and government programs on families’ decisions to invest in human capital.

Development and Governance Seminar