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A Better Vision for Development: Eyeglasses and Academic Performance in Rural Primary Schools in China


  • Albert Park

    () (Division of Social Science, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology
    Department of Economics, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology
    Institute for Emerging Market Studies, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology)

  • Paul Glewwe

    () (Department of Applied Economics, University of Minnesota)

  • Meng Zhao

    () (Faculty of International Social Sciences, Gakushuin University)


About 10% of primary school students in developing countries have poor vision, but very few of them wear glasses. Almost no research examines the impact of poor vision on school performance, and simple OLS estimates could be biased because studying harder may adversely affects one’s vision. This paper presents results from a randomized trial in Western China that offered free eyeglasses to rural primary school students. Our preferred estimates, which exclude township pairs for which students in the control township were mistakenly provided eyeglasses, indicate that wearing eyeglasses for one academic year increased the average test scores of students with poor vision by 0.16 to 0.22 standard deviations, equivalent to 0.3 to 0.5 additional years of schooling. These estimates are averages across the two counties where the intervention was conducted. We also find that the benefits are greater for under-performing students. A simple cost-benefit analysis suggests very high economic returns to wearing eyeglasses, raising the question of why such investments are not made by most families. We find that girls are more likely to refuse free eyeglasses, and that parental lack of awareness of vision problems, mothers’ education, and economic factors (expenditures per capita and price) significantly affect whether children wear eyeglasses in the absence of the intervention.

Suggested Citation

  • Albert Park & Paul Glewwe & Meng Zhao, 2016. "A Better Vision for Development: Eyeglasses and Academic Performance in Rural Primary Schools in China," HKUST IEMS Working Paper Series 2016-37, HKUST Institute for Emerging Market Studies, revised Jun 2016.
  • Handle: RePEc:hku:wpaper:201637

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    Cited by:

    1. Derksen, Laura & Leclerc, Catherine Michaud & Souza, Pedro CL, 2019. "Searching for Answers : The Impact of Student Access to Wikipedia," The Warwick Economics Research Paper Series (TWERPS) 1236, University of Warwick, Department of Economics.
    2. Domenico Rossignoli & Sara Balestri & Simona Beretta & Mario A. Maggioni, 2019. "International Child Sponsorship and School Performance: Evidence from Goma (DRC)," DISEIS - Quaderni del Dipartimento di Economia internazionale, delle istituzioni e dello sviluppo dis1905, Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Dipartimento di Economia internazionale, delle istituzioni e dello sviluppo (DISEIS).
    3. Hong, Kai & Dragan, Kacie & Glied, Sherry, 2019. "Seeing and hearing: The impacts of New York City’s universal pre-kindergarten program on the health of low-income children," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 64(C), pages 93-107.
    4. Boudreaux, Michel & Lipton, Brandy, 2018. "Medicaid Benefit Generosity and Labor Market Outcomes: Evidence from Medicaid Adult Vision Benefits," MPRA Paper 83916, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    5. Wang, H. & Guan, H. & Boswell, M., 2018. "Health Seeking Behavior among Rural Left-behind Children: Evidence from a Randomized Controlled Trial in China," 2018 Conference, July 28-August 2, 2018, Vancouver, British Columbia 276955, International Association of Agricultural Economists.
    6. Mizunoya, Suguru & Mitra, Sophie & Yamasaki, Izumi, 2018. "Disability and school attendance in 15 low- and middle-income countries," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 104(C), pages 388-403.
    7. Susie Miles & Jo Westbrook & Alison Croft, 2018. "Inclusions and Exclusions in Rural Tanzanian Primary Schools: Material Barriers, Teacher Agency and Disability Equality," Social Inclusion, Cogitatio Press, vol. 6(1), pages 73-81.
    8. Derksen, Laura & Leclerc, Catherine Michaud & Souza, Pedro CL, 2019. "Searching for Answers: The Impact of Student Access to Wikipedia," CAGE Online Working Paper Series 450, Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy (CAGE).

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    poor vision; impaired eyesight; school performance; eyeglasses; eyesight; academic performance;

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