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The Production of Human Capital: Endowments, Investments and Fertility


  • Anna Aizer
  • Flávio Cunha


We study how endowments, investments and fertility interact to produce human capital in childhood. We begin by providing empirical support for two key features of existing models of human capital: that investments and existing human capital are complements in the production of later human capital (dynamic complementarity) and that parents invest more in children with higher endowments due to the complementarity between endowments and investments (static complementarity). For the former, we exploit an exogenous source of investment, the launch of Head Start in 1966, and estimate greater gains from preschool in the IQ of those with the highest stocks of early human capital, consistent with dynamic complementarity. For the latter, we are able to overcome the potential endogeneity and measurement error associated with traditional measures of endowment based on health at birth. When we do, we find that parents invest more in highly endowed children. Moreover, we find that the degree of reinforcement increases with family size. Thus, an increase in quantity leads not only to a decline in average quality (the quantity-quality tradeoff) but to an increase in the variation in quality, due to both greater variation in endowments (from more children) and greater reinforcing investments. These findings can be explained by extending the quantity-quality trade-off model to include heterogeneous child endowments and parental preferences that feature complementarity between quality and quantity and moderate aversion to inequality in child human capital within the household.

Suggested Citation

  • Anna Aizer & Flávio Cunha, 2012. "The Production of Human Capital: Endowments, Investments and Fertility," NBER Working Papers 18429, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:18429
    Note: CH ED LS PE

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Ashlesha Datar & M. Rebecca Kilburn & David S Loughran, 2006. "Health Endowments and Parental Investments in Infancy and Early Childhood," Working Papers 367, RAND Corporation.
    2. Mark R. Rosenzweig & Junsen Zhang, 2009. "Do Population Control Policies Induce More Human Capital Investment? Twins, Birth Weight and China's "One-Child" Policy," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 76(3), pages 1149-1174.
    3. Gabriella Conti & Christopher Hansman & James J. Heckman & Matthew F. X. Novak & Angela Ruggiero & Stephen J. Suomi, 2012. "Primate Evidence on the Late Health Effects of Early Life Adversity," Working Papers 2012-008, Human Capital and Economic Opportunity Working Group.
    4. Janet Currie & Duncan Thomas, 1999. "Early Test Scores, Socioeconomic Status and Future Outcomes," NBER Working Papers 6943, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. James Heckman & Rodrigo Pinto & Peter Savelyev, 2013. "Understanding the Mechanisms through Which an Influential Early Childhood Program Boosted Adult Outcomes," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 103(6), pages 2052-2086, October.
    6. James Heckman & Seong Hyeok Moon & Rodrigo Pinto & Peter Savelyev & Adam Yavitz, 2010. "Analyzing social experiments as implemented: A reexamination of the evidence from the HighScope Perry Preschool Program," Quantitative Economics, Econometric Society, vol. 1(1), pages 1-46, July.
    7. Christina Paxson & Norbert Schady, 2007. "Cognitive Development among Young Children in Ecuador: The Roles of Wealth, Health, and Parenting," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 42(1).
    8. Orley Ashenfelter & Cecilia Rouse, 1998. "Income, Schooling, and Ability: Evidence from a New Sample of Identical Twins," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 113(1), pages 253-284.
    9. Joshua Angrist & Victor Lavy & Analia Schlosser, 2010. "Multiple Experiments for the Causal Link between the Quantity and Quality of Children," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 28(4), pages 773-824, October.
    10. Joseph Price, 2008. "Parent-Child Quality Time: Does Birth Order Matter?," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 43(1).
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    JEL classification:

    • I24 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Education and Inequality
    • J13 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Fertility; Family Planning; Child Care; Children; Youth
    • J24 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Human Capital; Skills; Occupational Choice; Labor Productivity

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