The effects of negative economic shocks at birth on adolescents’ cognitive outcomes and educational attainment in Malawi

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Article (peer-reviewed)

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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 scores, which are measured using working memory, reading and mathematical tests. 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.