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The role of maternal cognitive ability on child health


  • Rubalcava, Luis N.
  • Teruel, Graciela M.


The literature on child health suggests mother`s schooling is a key determinant of child health. Little is known of how other sources of maternal human capital contribute to her children`s health. This paper investigates the differential returns on child health of three sources of maternal human capital: schooling, cognitive ability and childhood background. Conditional on schooling and mother`s height, we first analyze the effect of maternal cognitive ability on her children`s health. Next, we relax the assumption of mother`s schooling and reasoning ability as predetermined variables and study the extent to which both returns reflect observed mother`s childhood endowments. We conclude by investigating the importance of mother`s schooling and cognitive ability in enhancing her offspring`s health during first-time motherhood. Results show maternal cognitive ability is an important factor in improving her children`s health. We find these returns robust to the inclusion of mother`s observed childhood endowments. However, estimates of mother`s schooling drop by 30 percent when we control for these variables. This suggests that unlike mother`s schooling, maternal returns to cognitive ability on child health are less likely to reflect mother`s childhood background. Finally, we find maternal reasoning ability to be an important factor in improving her children`s health in first-time motherhood. Our analysis is based on information gathered in the Mexican Family Life Survey (MxFLS-1), which administered Raven`s Colored Progressive Matrices, and collected anthropometric outcomes. Our results focus on child height-for-age (0-17 years) z-scores as long-run health outcomes.
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  • Rubalcava, Luis N. & Teruel, Graciela M., 2004. "The role of maternal cognitive ability on child health," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 2(3), pages 439-455, December.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:ehbiol:v:2:y:2004:i:3:p:439-455

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    2. Bhargava, Alok & Fox-Kean, Melanie, 2003. "The effects of maternal education versus cognitive test scores on child nutrition in Kenya," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 1(3), pages 309-319, December.
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    Cited by:

    1. Viviane Azevedo & César P. Bouillon, 2009. "Social Mobility in Latin America: A Review of Existing Evidence," IDB Publications (Working Papers) 1656, Inter-American Development Bank.
    2. Mayer-Foulkes, David, 2008. "The Human Development Trap in Mexico," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 36(5), pages 775-796, May.
    3. Behrman, Jere R., 2010. "Investment in Education Inputs and Incentives," Handbook of Development Economics, Elsevier.
    4. Behrman, Jere R. & Skoufias, Emmanuel, 2004. "Correlates and determinants of child anthropometrics in Latin America: background and overview of the symposium," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 2(3), pages 335-351, December.
    5. Steckel, Richard H., 2009. "Heights and human welfare: Recent developments and new directions," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 46(1), pages 1-23, January.
    6. Emmanuel Skoufias, 2012. "The Poverty and Welfare Impacts of Climate Change Quantifying the Effects, Identifying the Adaptation Strategies," World Bank Publications, The World Bank, number 9384.
    7. David Mayer Foulkes & María Fernanda López Olivo & Edson Serván Mori, 2008. "Habilidades cognitivas: transmisión intergeneracional por niveles socioeconómicos," Estudios Económicos, El Colegio de México, Centro de Estudios Económicos, vol. 23(1), pages 129-156.
    8. Skoufias, Emmanuel & Vinha, Katja, 2012. "Climate variability and child height in rural Mexico," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 10(1), pages 54-73.

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