What determines adult cognitive skills? Influences of pre-school, school, and post-school experiences in Guatemala

Most empirical investigations of the effects of cognitive skills assume that they are produced by schooling. Jere R. Behrman, John Hoddinott, John A. Maluccio, Erica Soler-Hampejsek, Emily L. Behrman, Reynaldo Martorell, Manuel Ramírez-Zea & Aryeh D. Stein, drawing on longitudinal data to estimate production functions for adult verbal and nonverbal cognitive skills, we find that: (1) School attainment has a significant and substantial effect on adult verbal cognitive skills but not on adult nonverbal cognitive skills; and (2) Pre-school and post-school experiences also have substantial positive significant effects on adult cognitive skills. Pre-school experiences captured by height for age at 6 years substantially and significantly increase adult nonverbal cognitive skills, even after controlling for school attainment. Post-school tenure in skilled jobs has significant positive effects on both types of cognitive skills. The findings (1) reinforce the importance of early life investments; (2) support the importance of childhood nutrition (“Flynn effect”) and work complexity in explaining increases in nonverbal cognitive skills; (3) call into question interpretations of studies reporting productivity impacts of cognitive skills that do not control for endogeneity; and (4) point to limitations in using adult school attainment alone to represent human capital.

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Latin American Economic Review aims to be the leading general interest journal on topics relevant to Latin America. The journal welcomes high-quality theoretical and quantitative papers on economic, social and political-economy issues with a regional focus. Articles presenting new data bases or describing structural reforms within a rigorous theoretical framework will also be considered. A few (illustrative) examples of topics that may be of special interest to this journal include: inflation, informal sector, corruption, crime, drug policy, unions, social exclusion, price controls, energy and environmental policy, natural resources, and technology transfer.