Essays on the economics of early childhood development: spatial inequalities, service provision, and parental investment

Type Thesis or Dissertation - PhD thesis
Title Essays on the economics of early childhood development: spatial inequalities, service provision, and parental investment
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2024
Healthy development in early childhood is a promising mechanism for the reduction of intergenerational poverty, but multiple inputs are necessary at the same time for this to occur, which renders healthy child development a challenge in resource constrained environments. While there is increasing consensus regarding the elements that children need for healthy development, there is a gap in the literature as to how these elements can successfully be provided, especially in low- and middle income countries (LMICs). The home, the neighbourhood and the local government capacity for service provision are all critical elements of the context for effective early childhood development (ECD), or they present risk factors. This thesis addresses this knowledge gap by exploring how children in LMICs can be provided with the socioeconomic and government services they need to support healthy development. ECD refers to the healthy physical, cognitive, and socioemotional growth of young children. Economists have added their voice to those of other social scientists, documenting how ECD lays the foundations for cultivating skills that ensure socioeconomic security later in life, but also improves labour market productivity and economic growth potential. The discourse has increasingly emphasised Early Childhood Education (ECE) intervention, however, at the expense of prioritising a wider package of ECD services of which ECE is only one critical component. This thesis addresses this gap and emphasises the wider package which is needed for healthy child development. This dissertation will explore three topics in three essays related to the economics and spatial distribution of early childhood development. Chapter two addresses the concept of nurturing care and proposes a measurement of ECD services to account for the combination of services needed. The study is conducted using South African data, and applies Multidimensional Poverty Index methodology. The result reveals that many children lack essential services for healthy growth in South Africa. A positive correlation between public infrastructure service delivery and child cognitive outcomes is also revealed, indicating that improved municipal environments complement attendance in Early Learning Programs. Chapter three investigates barriers to providing services like water, sanitation and roads, which support ECD but require a network of infrastructure. Uneven regional provision perpetuates developmental inequalities in children. The study analyses the impact of terrain ruggedness and local state capacity on the implementation of national policies and access to public health infrastructure. Regions with poor historical state capacity have lower access to services, but improved capacity overcomes the ruggedness effect. Chapter four analyses internal household caregiving dynamics and studies the health implications of parental death or absence. Unsurprisingly, orphans and children with absent parents face worse health outcomes than those living with their parents. Paternal orphans show severe disadvantages in chronic health by age four; children without fathers are disadvantaged in terms of food security. The household environment plays a crucial role in counteracting the negative effects of paternal orphanhood. Household resources moderate the stunting penalty, but some effects remain unexplained, not linked to reduced socioeconomic status. The study emphasises the importance of multiple good-quality inputs for healthy child development.

Related studies