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Are infant/toddler developmental delays a problem across rural China?


  • Wang, Lei
  • Liang, Wilson
  • Zhang, Siqi
  • Jonsson, Laura
  • Li, Mengjie
  • Yu, Cordelia
  • Sun, Yonglei
  • Ma, Qingrui
  • Bai, Yu
  • Abbey, Cody
  • Luo, Renfu
  • Yue, Ai
  • Rozelle, Scott


Using the Bayley Scales of Infant and Toddler Development-III (BSID-III), we examine the rates of developmental delays among children aged 0–3 years in four major subpopulations of rural China, which, altogether, account for 69% of China's rural children and 49% of children nationwide. The results indicate that 85% of the 3,353 rural children in our sample suffer from at least one kind of developmental delay. Specifically, 49% of the children have cognitive delays, 52% have language delays, 53% have social-emotional delays, and 30% have motor delays. The results suggest that these high rates are due to two main factors in the parenting environment. The first is micronutrient deficiencies, which are reflected in a high prevalence of anemia (42%). The second is an absence of interactive parenting inputs, such as storytelling, reading, singing, and playing. Although we find these inputs to be significantly and positively associated with better developmental outcomes, only a small share of caregivers engage in them. With this large and broad sample, we show that, if China hopes to build up enough human capital to transition to a high-income economy, early childhood development in rural areas urgently requires more attention.

Suggested Citation

  • Wang, Lei & Liang, Wilson & Zhang, Siqi & Jonsson, Laura & Li, Mengjie & Yu, Cordelia & Sun, Yonglei & Ma, Qingrui & Bai, Yu & Abbey, Cody & Luo, Renfu & Yue, Ai & Rozelle, Scott, 2019. "Are infant/toddler developmental delays a problem across rural China?," Journal of Comparative Economics, Elsevier, vol. 47(2), pages 458-469.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:jcecon:v:47:y:2019:i:2:p:458-469
    DOI: 10.1016/j.jce.2019.02.003

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Orazio Attanasio & Sarah Cattan & Emla Fitzsimons & Costas Meghir & Marta Rubio-Codina, 2015. "Estimating the Production Function for Human Capital: Results from a Randomized Control Trial in Colombia," Cowles Foundation Discussion Papers 1987, Cowles Foundation for Research in Economics, Yale University.
    2. Heckman, James J. & Moon, Seong Hyeok & Pinto, Rodrigo & Savelyev, Peter A. & Yavitz, Adam, 2010. "The rate of return to the HighScope Perry Preschool Program," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 94(1-2), pages 114-128, February.
    3. Robert J. Barro, 1991. "Economic Growth in a Cross Section of Countries," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 106(2), pages 407-443.
    4. Orazio P. Attanasio, 2015. "The Determinants Of Human Capital Formation During The Early Years Of Life: Theory, Measurement, And Policies," Journal of the European Economic Association, European Economic Association, vol. 13(6), pages 949-997, December.
    5. Orazio Attanasio & Sarah Cattan & Emla Fitzsimons & Costas Meghir & Marta Rubio Codina, 2015. "Estimating the production function for human capital: results from a randomized controlled trial in Colombia," IFS Working Papers W15/06, Institute for Fiscal Studies.
    6. Jakob B. Madsen & Fabrice Murtin, 2017. "British economic growth since 1270: the role of education," Journal of Economic Growth, Springer, vol. 22(3), pages 229-272, September.
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    8. Arthur J. Rolnick & Rob Grunewald, 2003. "Early childhood development = economic development," Fedgazette, Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, issue mar, pages 1-14.
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    10. Homi Kharas & Harinder Kohli, 2011. "What Is the Middle Income Trap, Why do Countries Fall into It, and How Can It Be Avoided?," Global Journal of Emerging Market Economies, Emerging Markets Forum, vol. 3(3), pages 281-289, September.
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    More about this item


    Development outcomes; Anemia; Interactive parenting practices; Rural China;

    JEL classification:

    • O53 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economywide Country Studies - - - Asia including Middle East
    • O15 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Economic Development: Human Resources; Human Development; Income Distribution; Migration
    • J13 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Fertility; Family Planning; Child Care; Children; Youth


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