Three Essays On The Economics Of Childhood Development, Human Capital Formation And Psycho-Social Well-Being

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Recently and emerging literature in economics highlights the importance of early childhood well-being and what are know as "noncognitive" skills to economic success. While growing evidence in links these skills to economic, behavioral and demographic outcomes in the developed countries, there is little such evidence linking these traits to economic outcomes in developing country contexts. Moreover, research in the economics literature generally estimates the effects of a general noncognitive aggregate rather than specific traits. In this dissertation I explore how various dimensions of human capital develop over childhood and how cognition and specific personality and noncognitive traits determine labor market outcomes. Chapter 1 estimates how health, cognition and specific noncognitive abilities are jointly produced over the different stages of childhood in a developing country context. It estimates self- and cross-productivity effects across these different dimensions of child development and examines the role of parental inputs and home environment. The noncognitive abilities examined are risky behaviors, group socialization, positive affect and negative affect. Using a rich panel data set that follows a cohort of Filipino children from birth through adulthood, I estimate this production technology using the dynamic factor model developed in Cuhna and Heckman (2008). Findings show strong path dependency with current levels of child development largely dependent on previous levels causing early disparities in child development to persist throughout childhood into adult- hood. Lagged health, in particular, is an important determinant of current health, cognition and socio-emotional well-being in this developing country context. Cognition and socio-emotional traits similarly exhibit both self- and cross-productivity. Findings imply that child development is cumulative in nature and that early disparities will persist until effective and early remediation is undertaken. Chapter 2 estimates the effect of cognition and five specific personality traits on entrepreneurship and selection into different labor market segments for a sample of young adults in Madagascar. The personality traits examined are know as the Big Five Personality traits: Openness to Experience, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism. Examining the effects of specific noncognitive traits will help to better compare results across studies and target policy. I find that both cognition and personality are significant predictors of labor market selection and entrepreneurial activities. Personality matters in determining labor market outcomes of interest and should therefore be considered when discussing and designing human capital targeted policies. If the policy implications of the literature linking personality and outcomes are to be realized, then a better understanding of how these noncognitive traits are developed is needed. However, to date, the literature detailing how the Big Five Personality Traits are formed is much smaller. Chapter 3 explores the environmental and familial determinants of the Big Five Personality Traits. While I cannot directly control for genetics, we use information on maternal extended family to express a degree of genetic predisposition. I find that maternal background, extended family characteristics and other environmental determinants all interact and play a role in determining the five personality traits we examine.

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child development; noncognitive skills; development economics


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Barrett, Christopher
Sahn, David Ezra

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Just, David R.
Just, David R.
Evans, Gary William
Jakubson, George Hersh

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Agricultural Economics

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Ph. D., Agricultural Economics

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Doctor of Philosophy

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dissertation or thesis

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