Maternal Age and Offspring Human Capital in India

Human capital
Marriage and parenthood
Journal Article

A discussion paper titled 'Maternal Age and Offspring Human Capital in India' by Marcello Perez-Alvarez and Marta Favara, has been published by the Courant Research Centre, Georg-August-Universität Göttingen 


Early motherhood remains a widespread phenomenon in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). While the consequences of early motherhood for the mother have been extensively investigated, the impact on their children is severely understudied, especially in LMICs, which host 95% of teen births globally (WHO, 2014). Using panel and sibling data from India, this paper investigates the effect of early maternal age on offspring human capital development in terms of health and cognition, and relies on mother fixed effects to allow for household and mother unobserved heterogeneity. Furthermore, this paper explores the evolution of these effects over time during childhood and early adolescence for the first time. Results indicate that early maternal age has an overall detrimental effect on offspring health and cognition. We show that children born to early mothers are shorter for their age and perform poorer in the math test. Interestingly, the effect on child’s heath is observed at early ages and weakens over time, while the cognition effect surges only in early adolescence. The analysis on heterogeneous effects suggests that children and in particular girls born to very young mothers are worst off. The transmission channel analysis tentatively hints at some behavioral channels driving the relationships of interest and documents a positive (and modest) association between height-for-age and subsequent math performance. Overall, our results support both restorative policies assisting children born to early mothers and preventive policies tackling early pregnancy. 


Are We Counting What Counts?

I recently attended a consultation entitled ‘Women’s Voices from the Informal Economy’ in Ahmedabad organised by the High Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment . Co-hosted by the Indian trade union, the Self-employed Women’s Association (SEWA), the consultation aimed to make recommendations to improve economic outcomes for girls and women. Institutions such as ILO, WIEGO, Institute for Human Development (IHD) as well as Young Lives were invited to make presentations.

What really struck me was the field visits organised by SEWA to listen to voices of women and girls in the slums of Ahmedabad. It was truly inspiring to visit the home of one of the child-care workers and hear from the family members how she had had managed to run the home only on the salary she earned. The pride in being able to sustain the family and respect she had earned from community members and family was apparent and very moving.

The fact that 93 percent Indians still work in the informal sector and that we need 10 million new jobs to be created every year with a focus on women and girls to meet the SDG Goal of gender equality – is truly challenging. However, what was even more disconcerting was the fact that India does not have data that captures how many girls and women continue to do invisible work at home- caring for their siblings, family members as well as doing long hours of household chores or unpaid work in family farms and household enterprises.

Young Lives data provided a snapshot of work profile both paid and unpaid from all four countries (Peru, Ethiopia, Vietnam and India i.e. Andhra Pradesh and Telangana) at different ages and the decreasing enrolment of girls as they turned 19. The Young Lives analysis showcases the importance of recognising adolescence as a critical stage where key investments and effective social support systems can set girls towards the path of economic empowerment. 

Achieving women’s economic empowerment is not a ‘quick fix’ and must take into consideration the life course perspective to design interventions for girls at a much younger age for instance providing quality pre-school education, ensuring they learn to read and write in early grades and not making them work for more than two hours a day in household chores at age 12 and 15, to ensure they complete secondary education.

As Young Lives collects data for its older cohort aged 22 years, we look forward to new evidence that will inform policy and practice to ensure that girls and women from the poorest and most socially disadvantaged households can both contribute and gain from the growth process and stop the cycle of intergenerational poverty.


Human Capital Development and Parental Investment in India

Human capital
Working paper

In this paper we estimate production functions for cognition and health throughout four stages of childhood from 5-15 years of age using two cohorts of children drawn from the Young Lives Survey for India. The inputs into the production function include parental background, prior child cognition and health and child investments. We allow investments to be endogenous and they depend on local prices and household income, as well as on the exogenous determinants of cognition and health. We find that investments are very important determinants of child cognition and of health at an earlier age. We also find that inputs are complementary and crucially that health is very important in determining cognition. Our paper contributes in understanding how early health outcomes are important in child development.

Paper written using Young Lives data from the UK Data Archive by by authors from University College London and Yale University.


Orazio Attanasio, Costas Meghir and Emily Nix (2015) Human Capital Development and Parental Investment in India, Cowles Foundation Discussion Paper No. 2026, Yale University.