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The effect of child labor on mathematics and language achievement in Latin America


  • Sanchez, Mario A.
  • Orazem, Peter F.
  • Gunnarsson, Victoria


The authors use a unique data set on language, and mathematics test scores for third, and fourth graders in eleven different Latin American countries, to determine whether child labor raises or lowers school achievement. Their findings are amazingly consistent across countries. In every country, child labor lowers performance on tests of language and mathematics proficiency, even when controlling for school and household attributes. The magnitude of the effect is similar to the percentage reduction in adult wages from child labor reported by Ilahi, Sedlacek and Orazem. The adverse impact of child labor on test performance is larger when children work regularly, rather than occasionally. Even modest levels of child labor at early ages cause adverse consequences for the development of cognitive abilities. These findings strongly refute the presumptions that child labor may be neutral, or complementary to academic performance, provided that the child remains enrolled in school. Instead, child labor consistently makes a year of education less productive in the generation of human capital.

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  • Sanchez, Mario A. & Orazem, Peter F. & Gunnarsson, Victoria, 2005. "The effect of child labor on mathematics and language achievement in Latin America," Social Protection and Labor Policy and Technical Notes 32747, The World Bank.
  • Handle: RePEc:wbk:hdnspu:32747

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Heady, Christopher, 2003. "The Effect of Child Labor on Learning Achievement," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 31(2), pages 385-398, February.
    2. Ronald G. Ehrenberg & Daniel R. Sherman, 1987. "Employment While in College, Academic Achievement, and Postcollege Outcomes: A Summary of Results," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 22(1), pages 1-23.
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    Cited by:

    1. Khanam, Rasheda & Ross, Russell, 2005. "Impact of Child Labour on School Attendance and School Attainment: Evidence from Bangladesh," MPRA Paper 9397, University Library of Munich, Germany, revised Apr 2008.

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